On March 26, County Commissioner and Flagler County Republican Party of Florida State Committeeman Frank Meeker was attending his mother’s funeral in Georgia.
The same day, back in his home county, a group of his fellow Republicans were voting at a regular Republican Executive Committee meeting to remove Meeker from the REC for missing its meeting to attend the funeral.
“He had asked for an excused absence due to the fact that his mother had passed, and he had to attend the funeral that day,” said REC member and former chairman Dave Sullivan, who attended the meeting. “It’s a valid excuse.”
But it was denied.
Meeker said in an interview that he’d emailed REC chairwoman Anne-Marie Shaffer ahead of time to request an excused absence that day to attend the funeral. Republican Executive Committee members are permitted two consecutive unexcused absences from REC meetings. The REC can kick them out for a third missed meeting, either by voting to deny their request to be excused or voting against them for not submitting one.
Meeker had missed the previous two meetings, he said, for good reason. For the first, he’d been attending the Florida Association of Counties meeting, which included ethics training for commissioners. He missed the second to see County Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Helga van Eckert speak at a Republican Club of Palm Coast meeting the same night; he considered it his duty to attend to support a member of the county’s staff.
Meeker didn’t request excused absences for those meetings. He thought he’d be at the next one.
Then something else came up: Meeker was to represent the county at Legislative Day in Tallahassee, and the date conflicted with the REC’s March 26 meeting. Meeker contacted the new REC chairwoman, Anne-Marie Shaffer, requesting an excused absence and noting in his email that it would be his third absence in a row. She never replied, he said.
Then Meeker’s mother died, on March 12. It took time to arrange the funeral. Relatives from Oregon and California wanted to attend, as did Meeker’s nephew, an Army officer stationed in Seoul, South Korea, who would be back in the U.S. the week of the March 26 on Army business. The funeral was scheduled for March 26, and Meeker again wrote to Shaffer, explaining that he was amending his request for an excused absence to attend Legislative Day to instead attend his mother’s funeral in Georgia.
He never received a reply. Instead, he arrived home after the funeral and found a message from a friend on the REC explaining what had happened.
“I asked twice for an excused absence under two sets of circumstances, and they denied allowing me to attend my mother's funeral,” he said. “I have no idea what they were doing, or even thinking."
Shaffer wrote in a Facebook message to the Palm Coast Observer that Meeker had already "not been a member in good standing" because of a spotty attendance record.
"It is sad that his mother passed away," she wrote. "She seemed like a vibrant woman who brought joy to those who knew and loved her. Mr. Meeker, however, had already submitted a request for an excused absence" — to represent the county at Legislative Day, Meeker said — "before his mother passed. He had no intention of ever being at the March 26th meeting."
Shaffer wrote that Meeker "should have been automatically removed" in the past under Sullivan's leadership for missing three consecutive meetings without requesting permission — Sullivan said in an interview that Meeker had requested permission — and that his removal was an automatic consequence of the REC voting to deny his excuse to miss the meeting.
"As must be done with every third consecutive absence where a request for excused absence has been submitted, a motion was made to vote on approving the absence. It was a simple Yes/No vote. The result of the vote is a direct consequence of Mr. Meeker's attendance record."
Tobin and Sullivan said it was a result of something else: Before calling for the vote, they said, Shaffer told REC members that she'd researched Meeker’s request and discovered that Meeker's mother had died three weeks before the meeting.
"And so, everybody just believed it," said Tobin, who voted in Meeker's favor. "And when I came home, I found the actual obituary by Googling .... and I saw that it wasn’t three weeks previous. She gave the members incorrect information."
The vote, Meeker said, doesn’t make sense for another reason. Meeker is the county’s state committeeman for the Republican Party of Florida, an elected position that is an integral part of a county's REC leadership. The REC does not have the authority to remove Meeker from the position of state committeeman.
That makes the result of the REC vote to deny Meeker's request for an abscence — a vote that would mean automatic removal for other members — unclear.
Sullivan said he wasn't sure whether the vote, taken against a state committeman, was legal under party rules or not. Meeker wasn't sure how the vote affected his REC status, as its usual consequence of removal is at odds with state party policy.
“I think as the state committeeman, I’m automatically a leader of the REC,” he said. “And the state committeeman is elected by all the Republicans in Flagler County. It’s an elected office. I’m not sure what they think they’ve accomplished, because if their efforts were to remove me as a state committeeman, they have to then file under Rule 25 with the Republican Party of Florida. And even if the chairman rules that way, I could appeal to the executive board.”
Meeker checked with Republican Party of Florida officials after the REC voted to revoke his membership, he said, and was told he remains the county’s state committeeman.
‘Very, very bizarre’
The vote against Meeker is the latest in a string of moves by the new REC leadership — now dominated by the right-wing Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly of Flagler County, of which Shaffer is a member — that local Republican leaders have called divisive.
She soon changed the Flagler County REC’s meeting dates from Wednesdays to Thursdays because of a conflict with the Palm Coast Community Center, where the REC holds its meetings, Tobin said. But the move also made the REC’s meetings conflict with those of the Republican Club of Palm Coast — a RRR rival — forcing local Republicans to pick one or the other.
They didn’t have to worry about making that call for very long. The REC has authority under Republican Party of Florida rules to determine which Republican clubs are chartered and permitted to use the Republican Party’s name, and on Feb. 18, Shaffer wrote a letter to the presidents of the Republican Club of Palm Coast and the Flagler County Republican Club informing them that the REC would not renew their charters.
Both clubs were disbanded at midnight on March 31.
“Anne-Marie Shaffer seems to be alienating as many Republicans in Flagler County as possible,” Tobin said. “At no point was the membership of the REC consulted as to ‘Is this a good idea, is this something we should really do?’ What really makes me mad as a member of the REC is that she became chairperson, and she never called the clubs and the officers of the clubs to any kind of a meeting to discuss what she felt they were doing wrong. She railroaded them right out. That’s like convicting somebody without a hearing.”
Wes Priest, the Flagler County Republican Club’s president, said in an interview March 30 that because Shaffer never contacted him or met with the club before her announcement, he wasn’t sure where allegations of club misconduct that she cited in her letter were coming from.
Tobin said she thought the vote against Meeker was “payback time” on the part of the RRRs, who had supported Dennis McDonald in his unsuccessful bid to replace Meeker on the County Commission last year. Meeker had also opposed the dissolution of the Republican clubs.
“The whole thing is extremely unusual, I think, and very, very bizarre,” Tobin said. “This is just the last straw, to have the county commissioner ousted.”
As of the evening of April 2, Meeker had still not received any formal messages from REC leaders mentioning the vote or stating that his membership had been revoked.
“I don’t know if that was on the agenda for that meeting or not, nor was I at the REC meeting to hear how it was portrayed, or anything else,” he said. “I was very dismayed at the leadership there. I know they have never appreciated my pursuits in the political realm, having run candidates against me in every election. But I think it’s time they grew up and moved on.”
This story has been updated to inlcude comments by Anne-Marie Shaffer.