Mark Phillips, a frequent presence at city and county meetings who aggressively rushed the dais during the Palm Coast City Council meeting Tuesday to confront Mayor Milissa Holland, was trespassed from City Hall the next day, records show. He has the right of appeal. He says he will sue the city.
A statement by City Manager Matt Morton, who was on the dais at the time of the incident, described Phillips in a statement attached to the trespass warning as approaching the dais “in a menacing manner. He was attempting without authority to confront the Mayor during the ongoing conduct of the business of the City Council meeting.”
Phillips, a member of a group that calls itself the “Flagler Liberty Coalition,” had spoken to the council during public comments earlier in the meeting and done so respectfully, opposing a planned expansion of the city’s tennis center. “It’s absolutely insane that you’re bringing this up and trying to push this through,” he said. But after the council’s 3-2 vote approving the proposal, as Holland had announced the next item on the agenda–the council was not yet at the midway point of the agenda–and Morton had begun reading the summary of the next item, Phillips briskly walked toward Holland from her left side of the dais and stood in front of her before a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy stepped between him and the mayor.
Phillips is no stranger to Holland or council members: he and his supporters are in the habit of aggressively taking cell phones videos close to their subjects with or without consent (such consent is not required in public venues), and city staff have recently had confrontations with similarly aggressive individuals that have prompted the addition of armed security and, this week or next, the installation of a metal detector at the entrance to the Community Wing, where public meetings are held. So there’d been a string of unnerving precedents that amplified the uncertainty of Phillips’s behavior Tuesday. Holland, who later said she and her colleagues were in fear, unaware of Phillips’s intentions.
“This in no way is acceptable,” Holland said on Free For All Fridays this morning on WNZF. “In 11 years of local governments we certainly have dealt with our share of controversial issues that are on agenda items. I’ve always respected the public’s input tremendously, continue to do so. But when there’s a line that’s crossed that not only puts a serious sense of fear within those serving the public but those residents that attend these meetings to provide equal input, it’s not okay, and it should never be tolerated by anybody, and it certainly shouldn’t be minimized by saying there’s an overreaction to this moment.”
Phillips’s frequent attendance at city and county meetings would have familiarized him with the way meetings unfold. Meetings never recess or adjourn without explicit agreement from council members. Even to those who are just coming into the room, it is immediately clear when the council is in session, its members sitting at the dais, discussing or debating an issue, as was the case at that moment, and when they’re not, even if there’s shuffling in the audience.
Phillips in an email to Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and a message to County Commissioner Joe Mullins, an ally, claimed it was “a simple misunderstanding.” In the message to Mullins, he claimed he was in the hallway, “and saw a bunch of people start coming out the doors and looked in the room and saw people standing and talking on their way out, so I went to ask Holland a question about how she could just reject the common sense motion Ed Danko put forth.” Danko, a council member, had proposed tabling the tennis center matter. His motion died and he voted in the minority. “I had no idea the meeting was still in session when I approached the dais, and when I was told to back away, I did immediately.”
While some members of the audience had gotten up to leave and the noise in the room was clearly elevated, Morton had raised his voice so his summary of the item could be better heard, and none of the city staffers had moved any more than council members as Phillips approached. According to video footage of the meeting, he was within eight or nine feet when Holland immediately told him, “No, sir! no, sir!” her voice rising as she gaveled and a deputy immediately approached Phillips. Phillips had gotten to within less than two feet of Holland before backing away a couple of steps, but not moving away just yet. He and the deputy exchanged a few words, Council member Eddie Branquinho spoke about taking “firmer action,” another member of the audience approached Phillips and, the deputy behind him, walked him away from the dais.
A sheriff’s body cam video captures Phillips’s exchange with a deputy immediately after the incident.
“I understand your heat about this issue, OK, you can’t approach the mayor like that. There’s obviously safety concerns that she has. She’s an elected official. I know you’re aware of it,” the deputy tells Phillips. “You may not agree that she was elected fairly, or whatever the case may be.”
“Please state the law that says that I cannot go up to the mayor and say a question,” Phillips asks, crossing his arms and pursing his lips.
There is no such law, and under most circumstances other than during a meeting, Phillips would have had every right to approach a council member, a staffer or anyone else in the meeting room: it’s a public space, and public officials are routinely approached at the dais by members of the public, the press, other officials before and after meetings, or during recesses. The difference, of course, was hat the meeting was still in session. A few months ago, Flagler Beach passed an ordinance amending its meeting rules to specify that no one was allowed past a certain point in front of the dais during meetings without the commission chair’s permission. There were no exceptions.
“Mark also stated he ‘thought the meeting was over,’ which is completely untrue,” Eric Cooley, chairman of the Flagler Beach City Commission, said today. “Mark knows how to read an agenda. Mark also knows what public comment is.”
The deputy sought to explain meeting procedures to Phillips. “This is a business meeting, OK, there’s procedure that’s involved, OK, this is city property, the city has asked you not to approach the mayor in that manner, OK?” he said.
“I talk to Staly on a regular basis, I will contact him tomorrow to clarify this,” Phillips said of Sheriff Rick Staly.
“And you’re welcome to. That being said, the mayor has requested that you be trespassed for approaching her in that manner, the manner that you did.”
“In what manner?”
“You approached her in what some could describe as an aggressive manner,” the deputy says, before Phillips protests, disagreeing and turning to his supporters, saying he was being trespassed. He said he did not have an ID on him. In a separate video he described himself as “the press,” though it’s not clear where, other than a YouTube channel with disparate, spur-of-the-moment videos taken of public officials or others, he disseminates his work.
Cooley, who’d reviewed the meeting video and only weeks ago experienced an issue with two anti-maskers who refused to leave a city commission meeting–and were trespassed and arrested–said: “Body cam footage from the meeting puts any lie or argument Mark Phillips had to rest. You can see intent and demeanor of mark at the meeting. If he is being confrontational with an officer, what would he do with the Mayor?” No body camera footage was provided of the initial encounter between Philips and the deputy inside the meeting room. The footage of Phillips and the deputy in the parking lot shows sarcasm and indignation, but not confrontation.
When the deputy asks him his first name, Phillips pauses, smiles, then says “Mark,” before asking if Staly could be contacted immediately. He then goes on to provide the rest of his information. “I’m going to go to sue the city now,” Phillips says. Throughout, Phillips;s supporters stood by at a distance, at times laughing in response to his sarcasm, at least one of them taking video of the encounter with the deputy, as Phillips’s group is wont to do.
The deputy went on to prepare the paperwork, and request additional back-up. “I just wanted somebody else here because there’s a bunch of them and they’re all relatively heated,” the deputy tells his back-up.
Mullins has sought to distance himself from Phillips since Tuesday’s incident. “I know you[‘re] desperate for muck-raking news but I can’t help you here,” Mullins told th News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez, whom Mullins, who frequently resorts to bigoted allusions and put-downs, would later disparage as “Francisco Fernandez” on his Facebook page before saying it “time to defund” the News-Journal. He told Fernandez that he’d given money to Trump and Republican groups, and that Phillips “was with one of those groups… But again I don;’t know him personally.”
In fact, Mullins had sponsored the bus trip Phillips had organized and publicized with Mullins on YouTube days before the trip as they stood in front of the Flagler County courthouse for a video. “We just want to thank Commissioner Mullins for sponsoring us and helping us out a little bit,” Phillips says. “Amazing time, it’s history, like Joe says, America is the last hope here for the world.”
“That is why there’s so many people going up there rallying,” Mullins said. “There are a lot of Democrats I’ve run into this said, Look, we don’t want to win this thing this way if this is the way it happened, we’d rather see Trump stay in, And I have appreciated their honesty with that.” He added, “I’m just excited to represent Flagler to be able to go with these guys and show that our community we voted we voted for Trump.” (In fact, Mullins flew to the rally and flew back. Of Trump, he said, “He is our president, and we’re gonna support him to the end.”
Mullins and Phillips again appeared together at a “security briefing” the sheriff’s office provided the demonstrators at the county fairgrounds before their trip to Washington. Before and since, Phillips has been at the forefront of attempts to push back against local covid-safety regulations such as masks. Last spring he either organized or was part of a demonstration in Flagler Beach protesting the closing of businesses, though such closings had been ordered by the governor, not by local governments.
And Phillips was among a group of demonstrators at a County Commission meeting where the group defied orders to put on masks. The defiance delayed the start of the meeting and required the intervention of Sheriff Rick Staly, who had calmed the group down and appeared to have moved them toward a resolution before Mullins sought to intervene from the dais. Dave Sullivan, the commission chairman, would not allow him to, though Mullins’s intervention had renewed the defiance in the audience.
Phillips did not return a call before this article published, so it’s not clear whether he intends to appeal his trespass warning. Defying the warning would result in a misdemeanor charge. On the sheriff’s warning, Phillips’s address was listed first as an address on Bristol Lane, but that was struck out and replaced by an address on Las Casitas Boulevard, in the relatively new development south of Lakeview at the north end of the county, where Phillips bought a house last September. The same document shows Holland’s name struck out as the requester of the trespass, replaced by that of Morton. “I left the dais, located Commander Reynolds and requested Mr. Phillips to be trespassed from City property,” Morton’s statement reads.