Mullins had insulted two fellow commissioners during a Sept. 9 meeting, referring to one as a 'fat son of a b----.'
Flagler County commissioners upbraided commissioner Joe Mullins Sept. 21 for his profane outburst at a previous County Commission meeting, but stopped short of formally censuring him.
"His actions were not only uncalled for, they have left an indelible stain on the fabric of Flagler County government.”
— GREG HANSEN, county commissioner, proposing that the commission censure commissioner Joe Mullins
A motion to censure Mullins died in a three-two vote, with the two commissioners Mullins had personally insulted — Commissioner Greg Hansen, who Mullins had called a "fat son of a b----," and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, whose Mullins had called old and lazy — voting in favor of censure, while Mullins and commissioners David Sullivan and Donald O'Brien voted against censure.
A group of residents also came to speak against Mullins — recommending that the commission censure him and prevent him from taking the rotating position of chairman when his turn comes up in November — while other residents spoke to defend Mullins.
Resident complaints about Mullins have become a common feature at County Commission meetings, often stemming from Mullins' behavior on Facebook, where he's mocked people for their weight, offered to send Trump supporters to Democrats' homes for a "Trump welcome," suggested putting liberals on a train and driving them out of Flagler, and on multiple occasions falsely accused people of having had sex reassignment surgery or of pursuing it.
A half-dozen residents speaking during the Sept. 21 meeting referred to that kind of behavior, as well as to Mullins' recent outburst at the dais, as they urged the commission to censure Mullins and prevent him from becoming the commission's chairman.
Mike Cocchiola told the commission it needs to decide between unity and further division during a divisive election season.
“You’re going to have to make a choice between further dividing Flagler County — to bring hate, fear and chaos to Flagler County — or to try to heal the wounds of this election," he said. "It’s going to be your choice what you want to do, as to whether Flagler County will come together or will continue to be divided.”
A handful of people spoke in Mullins' favor, with one man saying, "He may not always be politically correct, but he is politically effective."
THE SEPT. 9 INCIDENT
Mullins' outburst at the dais occurred during a Sept. 9 commission meeting as Commission Chairman David Sullivan found himself in a standoff with a group of residents who'd entered the commission chambers without masks — violating the building's rule — and were refusing to leave.
Sheriff Rick Staly was calming the anti-mask crowd when Mullins said he wanted to weigh in, but Sullivan and Hansen told him not to, angering Mullins.
"One person can sincerely apologize, but it takes two to have peace. As far as I'm concerned, this is over and I'm ready to move forward."
— JOE MULLINS, county commissioner
The anti-mask group began shouting, and Sullivan called for the meeting to adjourn for 15 minutes.
As deputies began guiding the audience out of the room, Mullins walked over to Hansen, jabbed a finger at him and called Hansen a "fat son of a b----" and also insulted Ericksen.
Mullins briefly apologized to Hansen before the meeting resumed, saying he'd misspoken.
Within a few days, Mullins was back on Facebook mocking Hansen's weight.
But on Sept. 18, Mullins emailed his fellow commissions, writing that he wanted to "sincerely apologize about my action in a very intense situation. As I said during the meeting I am truly sorry for inappropriate remarks and actions."
He did not mention Hansen or Ericksen by name, but said, "I by no means want our great accomplishments we have all been able to achieve as a team the last two years to be overshadowed by personal issues. (We all know a house divided cannot stand) and I truly regret my actions in heightening the tension subsequent to the unfortunate event that occurred at last meeting. I am committed to a positive path forward."
Toward the end of the Sept. 21 meeting, Hansen motioned to have Mullins censured, noting that the commission relies on the ability to discuss issues without fear of harassment.
"Therefore, I move that this commission censure Mr. Mullins for his inappropriate and unprofessional actions at our last commission meeting," Hansen said. "He willfully disregard instructions from the chair, he left his position and menacingly approached his fellow commissioners, and used threatening and abusive stance and verbiage. His actions were not only uncalled for, they have left an indelible stain on the fabric of Flagler County government.”
Ericksen seconded Hansen's motion.
Mullins read the apology he'd emailed a few days before, then added, "One person can sincerely apologize, but it takes two to have peace. As far as I'm concerned, this is over and I'm ready to move forward."
Commissioner Donald O'Brien said he wanted to say something as well.
"Mr. Mullins, your behavior at our last meeting was embarrassing and hurtful. You've admitted to that," O'Brien said. "... This nonsense and lack of leadership results in a huge distraction and a waste of time for everybody," including citizens who are writing in to complain, he said.
O'Brien said he wondered if the dysfunction on the commission would make legislators less likely to pick up the phone when Flagler calls, or make residents less likely to run for office.
But O'Brien he also called Hansen an "agitator, constantly poke, poke poking" with negative personal comments.
"I think we’re all adults and we should start acting like that," O'Brien said.
Ericksen said he'd been in a situation with Mullins a few months prior that had prompted him to complain to the sheriff. And, Ericksen said, "I know I'm the oldest person on this thing, but when somebody starts calling me an old, lazy guy, that hurts. ... We've got to do something that guarantees that we act like adults."
Sullivan said he'd looked over the county records to see if the commission had ever censured one of its members. It had not done so since its formation in 1917.
"Censuring is a pretty significant action to take," Sullivan said. "I’m not sure it’s going to do the county or the board, or anyone, a lot of good."
But, he said, "It is true that the actions and words used by Commissioner Mullins on Sept. 9 — I want to be specific, this is concerning his actions on Sept. 9 — were unacceptable, especially since they were directed specifically at commissioners Hansen and Ericksen. ... There has been an apology made, so I would like at this point to do something along the lines of a consensus that we all agree that it was bad action at that point in time, but I personally, as chairman, don't want to be the chairman who's the chairman when we voted to censure someone."
Sullivan did not allow public comment before the 3-2 vote.