- July 25, 2019
An argument between Flagler County Commission Chairman Joe Mullins and a fellow commissioner's wife escalated outside the county library early voting site on the first morning of early voting Aug. 13, alarming witnesses and leading Sheriff's Office deputies to respond.
"I simply told her she had no right to tell these kids they couldn't be here."
— JOE MULLINS, Flagler County Commission chairman
Mullins and his campaign workers had wanted to place Mullins' signs at a Republican Club campaign tent manned by Linda Hansen, the wife of County Commissioner Greg Hansen, City Council candidate Sims Jones told the Observer.
The morning of Aug. 13, Mullins' teenage campaign assistants had been filming people at the library and ween't stopping after they'd been asked to, Linda Hansen said to the Observer. She'd found their behavior intimidating, calling it "pure harassment." She told Mullins he couldn't place his signs at the tent because he wasn't a Republican Club member.
"[Mullins] went ballistic," Jones said. "He just kept raising his voice, getting louder and louder, his hand was going up — I'm hoping he was talking with his hands, but if he was going to hit her, I was getting ready to hit him. ... To me, it was too close to her."
Mullins said he'd put his arm out to keep Hansen from approaching his campaign worker, Jaiden Chavez, who was holding a phone to video record the incident.
"[Mullins] went ballistic. He just kept raising his voice, getting louder and louder."
— SIMS JONES, Palm Coast City Council candidate
"I never raised a hand aggressively towards her. Just was trying to keep them apart," he wrote in a text message to the Observer.
"I simply told her she had no right to tell these kids they couldn't be here," Mullins wrote, adding that they'd made a complaint to the Republican Party of Florida. He said he had told the teens to take video because he wanted video evidence that they were being barred from placing his signs.
Hansen told the Palm Coast Observer that she didn't think Mullins was being threatening, and that the incident had been blown out of proportion.
"I did not feel threatened. He was just frustrated," she said. "At no time was anybody threatened or in any danger. He's a lot of things, but he's not violent."
But, she said, "He went from walking up to just immediately angry."
Leann Pennington, Mullins' challenger in the District 4 County Commission race, had heard the argument and called the Sheriff's Office's non-emergency line when she thought she heard a remark that included the word "hit."
"He was really angry, red," Pennington told a deputy later. "I was just worried he was going to hit her."
Deputies didn't find that anything illegal had occurred.
Watching Chavez's video, they referred to the incident as "bickering."
"They're just arguing," a Flagler County Sheriff's Office deputy said after viewing the video.
Jones and Hansen both said the video deputies saw started after Mullins had largely calmed down. Mullins said that's not true.
Chavez's video opens with Linda Hansen telling Mullins, "Please leave."
Mullins replied, "What are you talking about?"
"We are having an argument here, and people came to vote. Please leave," she said. "[Republican Club President Bob Updegrave] will settle this. Please leave."
"He will settle it," Mullins had said, "But I got every — wait a minute, wait a minute — do I not have a right to stand right here?"
"Not if you're going to harass people," she replied.
They continued arguing.
Someone challenged Chavez for recording, saying he was "doing something illegal."
"No, he's not," Mullins said.
"Without somebody's permission, you don't have the right to record," Linda Hansen said, standing up abruptly and walking toward the teen, and saying that her attorney would sue him.
Florida has a "two-party consent law" for the recording of audio conversations: All parties to a conversation typically must consent to be recorded, or the recording would be illegal. However, the state makes an exception for conversations in which the parties would have no reasonable expectation of privacy, such as those occurring in a crowded public place.
By the time deputies arrived, Mullins had walked away.
"I knew he was going to cause trouble," Linda Hansen said to a deputy who arrived at the library after the incident. "I sat down; he started bullying people."
A deputy told Linda Hansen to address issues about signs with Kaiti Lenhart, the county's elections supervisor.
Hansen, recalling previous election season tensions at the library early voting site, told the Observer that she worried about how the atmosphere affected people who came to cast a ballot.
"It doesn't reflect well on our community," she said.