The Public Safety Coordinating Council can be one of the most influential but least visible government advisory panels in the county. Its membership collectively is certainly the most powerful of any local board. It gathers circuit and county judges, prosecutors, public defenders, the sheriff, the Bunnell police chief, probation officials, a county commissioner, and representatives of cities, social service and other agencies, including the county’s shelter for abused individuals.
The council has little authority to enact anything of its own, but its advisory power can be substantial. Over the years it was instrumental in directing local felons who’ve served their time to a recovery house, it was instrumental, with Judge Raul Zambrano (now the chief judge of the circuit) in the creation of Sally’s Safe Haven in Bunnell, the location for supervised visitations and exchanges for families in crisis. In 2016 it approved a proposal to decriminalize pot in some circumstances, though the County Commission never took up the measure. And it’s the only panel where judges, law enforcement and social service agency heads speak openly and publicly of how such things as the opioid crisis intersects between those different spheres, allowing each side to see it from a different perspective.
Over the past decade it’s been chaired by county commissioners Barbara Revels, Nate McLaughlin and Joe Mullins. Over the last few years, it’s been losing its focus even as meetings, on the rare occasions when they’re held, had been getting longer, taxing the time of judges and others who don’t have time to waste on rhetoric or well-meaning and informative presentations that just as easily devolved into grandstanding. Quorums were difficult to attain, and monthly meetings were routinely cancelled. After the departure a year and a half ago of Sally Sherman, the deputy county administrator who’d kept the council on the path it’s required to keep by law, it was no longer clear whether the panel was following the responsibilities set out in state statute.
So after Mullins this morning announced he was stepping down from the chairmanship and Circuit Judge Terence Perkins heard Sheriff Rick Staly as the only nominee to take his place, Perkins zoomed in: “Good! I’m good with that.” The membership voted for Staly unanimously, then did likewise for Trish Giaccone, who heads the Family Life Center–the agency and shelter for abused people–as vice chair. Carrie Baird, executive director of Flagler Cares, the local mental health services coalition, was appointed staff liaison or secretary.
Staly said Jerry Cameron, the county administrator, had been asking him for “five or six months” whether he was interested in taking over the chairmanship, though until now Mullins had not wanted to step down. Today Mullins said he wanted to focus on other things such as the opioid task force.
Staly said the panel needed more focus and a better use of time.
“It has kind of wandered, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing because it brings issues to light and allows a forum to get out in the community. But there wasn’t a lot of results from that, from my perspective,” Staly said. His intention as chairman is “to keep the council moving. None of us like long, drawn-out meetings, especially if we don’t feel like they’re accomplishing anything, especially if we want to be productive.”
She sheriff intends to return the council to its statutorily-required responsibilities, which include reports on the status of the jail and its population, mental health issues in the county and developing a public safety plan if the county is receiving related grant money. It can also delve into additional, more optional issues beyond that, but only if the membership agrees. In the last couple of years, the agenda frequently featured items that were not presented with the council’s consensus. The council will decide at its July meeting what additional issues it may take on.
“I don’t think we’ve really looked at pre-trial intervention programs, gain time schedules, bail bond schedules, those other kind of things, or at least they haven’t been looked at in a long time,” Staly said. “So I think you’ll see a more in-depth report on what’s going on at the jail. Mental health, we know there’s mental health issues in this community, and we’re kind of fractured I think on providing the services, so clearly we need to look at that and see what we as a council can recommend.”
The meeting of the council was the first since February, and the second this year, meetings in intervening months having been canceled because of the coronavirus emergency. The meeting is usually held at the Emergency Operations Center. This morning it was held at the Government Services Building’s meeting chamber, with a total of 19 people in the room, including the council members and county staff members, all spread out across the room. Up to 50 would have been allowed in. (In what appeared to be his last act as chairman, Mullins was very effective in saying who should sit where.)
The council is also likely to move to a quarterly meeting, rather than a monthly meeting. Cameron, who attended the meeting, said by-laws will be developed at a subsequent meeting. “There’s some inconsistencies in the way this committee has been conducted,” Cameron said. He has been doing likewise at other advisory panel, most notably at the Airport Advisory Board earlier this year. Until the resignation of two of its members, that board had also become more contentious, its mission blurred by controversies over noise issues and potential new construction at the airport.
One looming key question is what money, if any, is the county administering that should fall under the advisory purview of the public safety council. “As you can tell from the meeting,” Staly said, “I didn’t know the answer to some of those and Mr. Cameron I don’t think was 100 percent sure either, so I’m going to have to meet with him and find out–OK, here’s what the statute says, do we get a) any of these moneys, and if the answer to that is yes, how much, and what’s being done with it.”
Public Defender James Purdy, who is in the waning months of his 16-year tenure in that post, asked whether Zoom, or electronic, participation from remote locations would continue in the future. (Only Perkins and Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis participated by Zoom today.) Staly said he sees no reason why Zoom access should not continue, including Zoom for public access, particularly in the current climate, with public safety agencies under scrutiny.
“I think the public should be involved,” the sheriff said. “I can only talk for the policing side, really, but policing with the community, not policing the community, so part of that is transparency and involvement. But we’ll have to see if it continues to be legal. It sounded like the only way that you can legally do zoom is if you have at least a forum in person, outside the Covid-19 emergency.”
Mullins is an empty suit. Glad to see him go
Long time resident says
Good. Mullins is a clown and an embarrassment.
Trailer Bob says
Good move. Staly is a smart man and has done very well in for our community.
We are fortunate to have him as our Sheriff.
Thank God. Mullins is a worthless blowhard. I think even deep down inside, even HE knows this…
Joke F Mullins says
One day, we’ll see Mullins walk off the dais for the final time. There will be dancing in the streets.
denise calderwood says
Looking forward to working with you Sheriff Staly. We all know your a man iof action and not just words.
Thank you for taking the leadership role.
Hopefully our mental health and homeless issue will be addressed.
As a part of public safety we the citizens of Flagler County emplore our Sheriff remove itself from any contracts with the Police Union until they agree to put stipulations in place that will allow the punishments put in place for cops breaking the rules to be enforced.
Justice For Anthony Fennick says
Could not agree with you more!!!! It’s too easy for them to turn a watching eye on themselves, since they’re the ones who investigate themselves.
Mike Cocchiola says
Another Mullins success! I’m so tired of winning.
This is great news and another step towards integrating public safety issues with community needs. The Chair and Vice-Chair are proof of this.
Name (required) says
That sucks that Mullins is going to focus on a different task force that we all know he doesn’t give a damn about either. Bravo, Mullins… kudos!
Dennis C Rathsam says
Seems like every time I see a local paper, our busy sheriffs photo is in it. He is always about giving his take on everything here in Palm Coast. He is a busy man, he wears many hats, he tries to do too much. I hope he doesnt burn out, or we will be in deep donkey do do. I have never met our sheriff, but some day our paths will cross.And I will personally thank him for a job well done!
Jane Gentile-Youd says
I look forward to offering citizen participation Sheriff Staly is welcoming.
What can say great change! Congratulations Sheriff Staly and you are so right about that “our law enforcement does not police the community” but instead “works with the community policing it!” I can attest to that as in our block we worked together with our sheriff department and also city code enforcement to rid us of drug and prostitution users and dealers! So peaceful, safe and quiet now!
And I’m the one that got kicked off the k section for speaking out against him