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More Rehash Than Clarity As Flagler’s Expert Addresses Sheriff’s Possibly Sick Building

| June 4, 2018

There was little light at the end of the tunnel for sheriff's Operations Center, where more than two dozen employees are reporting health issues. Above, the building as seen from within before it was rebuilt. (© FlaglerLive)

There was little light at the end of the tunnel for sheriff’s Operations Center, where more than two dozen employees are reporting health issues. Above, the building as seen from within before it was rebuilt. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 6:48 p.m., with Sheriff interview.

Flagler County commissioners and the sheriff this afternoon heard from an environmental engineer the Flagler County government administration hired to test the possibly sick Sheriff’s Operations Center, where the number of employees reporting health issues has risen to 27.


But the 135-minute workshop, hurriedly scheduled last week after the sheriff wrote the county administrator a stern letter and complained of the administration dragging its feet, achieved little.

“I’m really disappointed in this meeting because we seem not to have progressed,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said. “I just wish I had heard something that made more sense to me as a solution to this problem.”

The expert’s presentation mostly summarized analysis conducted so far, largely echoing County Administrator Craig Coffey’s contention that what analysis done so far has “gone above and beyond” what was necessary, and that “right now we have no factual evidence to suggest there’s anything wrong.”

The expert, Zdenek Hejzlar, put it this way: “So far everything that I have seen, okay, I have absolutely no indication that there is anything wrong in the building,” other than a lack of fresh air or other minor items. “I have no evidence that there is an immediate need to move everything out.”

Sheriff Rick Staly in an interview later was disappointed by the workshop and pointedly noted that it had originally been scheduled with a special meeting to follow, so commissioners could take action on whatever they’d decided in the workshop. There was no special meeting because there was no action to take, Staly said. Of the hired expert, he said: “I think at this point they’ve hired this environmental scientist that I think has the ability to do the job as long as he’s not throttled in what he’s allowed to do.”

But the fact that the sheriff is worried about the county’s expert being “throttled” points to the distrust in play. Staly said he found the administrator’s marginalizing employees’ health problems “very disappointing.”

If the county’s next moves are blurry, Staly’s seem not to be: ““If the county isn’t moving fast enough to protect my employees, then I will, and I don’t know what that’s going to be yet. We’re going to discuss it tomorrow,” the sheriff said of his planned meeting with his command staff Tuesday.

Several discussion points on the environmentally suspect history of the building surprised Staly today for having not been disclosed before.

Hejzlar took his first walk-through of the building only today, with the sheriff, having until now only studied the reports. But from what he saw, he conveyed no significant concern. “Sometimes we tend to overreact to things we perceive that is happening,” he said. “My wife is a good example of that, she will over-clean to the point where she becomes allergic to the cleaning ingredients, and one of the things I noticed this morning, there was a strong smell of Clorox, and that could be an irritant.”

On the other hand, Staly said “Something is a trigger somewhere,” words echoed by Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, who, at least today, took a more vocal lead in insisting that the sheriff’s employees be heard and their safety be the priority.

Hejzlar also conceded that a lot more analysis can be done, including what could be extensive floor testing and more mold testing.

“We haven’t done all that we can do yet,” McLaughlin said, asking at least four times: “In the meantime, what do we do today?”

Eighty minutes into the early-afternoon workshop, Coffey said: “I’m not prepared today to tell you exactly what we’re going to do. That’s going to take some time.” He again repeating that other than anecdotal evidence—he did not mention employees who’ve reported problems, some of them sitting behind him–there’s no evidence that there’s anything wrong with the building.  

“I want to push back on something that you said, it’s not anecdotal, we have employees that have something,” Commissioner Don O’Brien said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have issues, we have health issues.” If nothing can be found and problems persist, then the county has to still consider how to move out the employees.

O’Brien said he saw the issue going forward in only two ways: if there is a problem in the building, it has to be remediated first by being entirely evacuated. If the county concludes that there is no problem, then he wondered who among government officials would be willing to look at sheriff’s employees in the eyes–employees who have been having health problems–and tell them they’re imagining it.

Whether it’s moving employees or explaining the type of testing that will take place, those details are not yet clear.

The Sheriff’s headquarters off State Road 100 is of course exclusively a sheriff’s operation, but the county bought the facility–an old hospital–in 2013 and rebuilt it, and still manages it: under Florida law, the county is responsible for providing constitutional officers all their space needs, and managing those needs appropriately and safely. The sheriff is, in essence, at the mercy of the county.

The engineer said state health officials should be brought in as part of the analysis. “This is a health problem issue, and we should reach out to them because we’re paying them and they’ve always been helpful with me,” the engineer said, “and they have people that can actually run those tests, so you don’t have to trust me or trust that company.”

Coffey on several occasions dismissed as armchair analysts people in the community who claim the building harbors serious issues, and several times dismissed with some impatience the allegation—put forth by the sheriff last week—that the county has not been acting swiftly enough. “Bottom line is we’ve taken this serious from day one,” Coffey said.

Coffey also ruled out moving sheriff’s employees into a triple-wide near the property, a proposal Staly talked to Coffey about last week. “Obviously he has the former facility that he can occupy as far as I’m concerned,” Coffey said, referring to the sheriff and the old administrative building on Justice Lane, some of which has been converted into a video communications hub for visitors with jail inmates. “We’re exploring options right now. Moving into a triple wide or something like that, that’s not in the cards,” Coffey said. The reason: logistics and amenities.

“I was really hoping that we would have more of a definitive answer to my letter rather than, ‘I’m going to blow off your suggestion of a triple-wide because it needs power and sewer,” Staly said in the late-afternoon interview. “Well, you could hook up the power and sewer. Those are not insurmountable obstacles.”

During the workshop Staly said when he moved some of his employees to the old administrative space, “it dramatically reduced the efficiency” of the operation. He said he can decentralize the operation and make it work, but not as well as if the operation was cohesive. One option he spoke of is the future Palm Coast precinct off Old Kings Road, which could house the entire detectives’ division. But the county just approved buying that facility and due diligence is still in the works. Plus: it was a funeral home, which may require further testing. McLaughlin quite seriously suggested that building should be leveled and the county should build new there, to avoid repeating any issues the county and the sheriff are now going through with the operations center. Staly replied that if that’s what the county plans to do, he should be told now so he can prepare. (It’s not what the county plans to do.)

That all still left the sheriff and McLaughlin  wondering what happens in the immediate future. Many employees have asked the sheriff for “reasonable accommodations” to avoid contact with the building.  “How can you say yes to one and no to another? You can’t, and I won’t do that,” the sheriff said.

He was also insistent on transparency on the county’s part. “Credibility is critical. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with cops and we’re always skeptical because that’s how we are,” the sheriff said. He asked that when meetings are held, a union representative and a sheriff’s administrative representative be included around the table.

Meanwhile a physician the sheriff hired will be conducting analysis and examinations and working jointly with the engineer on the findings.

The engineer said it could take “three, four days” to do some testing. “This has to be a team effort.”

Coffey said that “At some point we have to say we have tested all we can test.” But he cautioned against imagining that it could all actually get done in a matter of days, as one set of tests could then lead to further tests. But he said he won’t schedule dates for follow-up meetings until there’s substance to be presented at those meetings. “This is being approached in a very constructive way,” he said.

McLaughlin, in what he termed a closing statement, defended the 2013 actions of the County Commission, saying “we were all for that new building” at the time (an exaggeration: none of the votes that eventually led to the building’s acquisition were unanimous), and that all sides, including Coffey, acted out of good faith. He also suggested the Emergency Operations Center could be one of the buildings where sheriff’s personnel could move.

During the public comment period, former Sheriff Jim Manfre addressed the commission and revisited the history of the building’s purchase. “I was adamantly against this from the beginning,” he said, believing that the building should be “knocked down” and a new building built in its place. He remembered hearing from employees in the old hospital who spoke of health issues there back then.

“If you have a shred of humanity, this building should be abandoned immediately,” Manfre said.

Staly disputes the former sheriff’s interpretation, saying he’d told Manfre–while Staly was undersheriff–that he should tell commissioners that he (Manfre) wanted a new building. “His response to me was, ‘I’m not doing that,’ that’s his exact quote, and then I was told I was not allowed to say anything.”

Joe Costello, a detective with the Sheriff’s Office, said he had “a lot of frustration and anger” that he said he would try to control as he addressed the commission. The first employee reported symptoms in August 2016, he said, then several more did in November, when the county first conducted some remediation. He dismissed the engineering expert’s review of reports as “shameful” without a more thorough investigation and contact with employees. “Something’s got to be done and it’s got to be done yesterday, even further back than yesterday,” he said, referring to employees affected as having been “brutalized” by their illnesses. “Are we truly working together here or are we trying to cover up something, something larger?”

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20 Responses for “More Rehash Than Clarity As Flagler’s Expert Addresses Sheriff’s Possibly Sick Building”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nate is the only serving commissioner who voted to buy the old hospital. No one at the EOC or GSB are sick like this. But he voted “no” to expand either of those facilities to accommodate the FCSO.

    Just swap all GSB personnel to FCSO and all FSCO to GSB!

  2. Just the Truth says:

    Disgraceful.

  3. john brady says:

    As one noted for fiscal responsible government, I see no alternative but to move these people now and build a new building. The building should be on County land near the Court and Emergency operation Center.

    This needs to be done now

  4. Just So I am clear says:

    They called a special workshop today, for a problem that has been going on for several months, to announce that they don’t have a plan of action? That’s what happened today? Coffey is really earning that $185k/year

  5. John dolan esq. says:

    Zdenek Hejzler phony name? Phony credentials? Where did Mr Coffey find this rare bird. Mold is us?

  6. Josh Davis says:

    Who didn’t see this coming? Put a new coat of paint on disease ridden, mold infested, dilapidated old hospital and then call it a new building? What about we then put all of our law enforcement in there? Now some of the finest, most trustworthy, hard working, team first, non complaining, toughest people I’ve ever worked with are sick. Now we’re going to tell them it’s in their heads? These are well conditioned, health conscious professionals. His wife is allergic to bleach? Disgusting and shameful. Why not let our cops move into the GSB and let the County officials have the old hospital? I bet it’d get fixed in short order. The entire shady deal is nauseating.

  7. tom says:

    Maybe it is not mold, did we ever think that this was a hospital, and who knows what was thrown out ( like medical waste etc. remember there was not much control about medical waste in those days) around the area and in the hospital back it those days, plus the hospital was empty for many years, what does that do to this problem . I do not think that these employees are making up the issue about being sick, there is nothing to gain from that. I think the county needs to get real and find this problem or just level the building, this was a bad decision for them to buy this dump

  8. Kamamani says:

    So what was the outcome? FCSO personnel still have to go to work every day in that building that everyone knows is causing potentially serious or even life threatening health issues? Wow. What would happen if they all called in sick? How can we ask them to continue to put their health in jeopardy? Coffey needs to find another location for them NOW!!! They should be packing now and moving by the end of this week!!!

  9. Need New Leadership says:

    A quick rebuttal. I’m too busy to write everything on my mind.

    The above article states “Hejzlar took his first walk-through of the building only today, with the sheriff, having until now only studied the reports. But from what he saw, he conveyed no significant concern. “Sometimes we tend to overreact to things we perceive that is happening,” he said. “My wife is a good example of that, she will over-clean to the point where she becomes allergic to the cleaning ingredients, and one of the things I noticed this morning, there was a strong smell of Clorox, and that could be an irritant.” Are you serious? I have 4 words. READ THE DAMN REPORTS! Am I the only person in Flagler County that actually did that? Well Mr Hejzal, if you refer to the report from H2H dated Dec 12, 2017 (I will save you some time) on page 10 there is a picture of a sink with the caption “Comment: An acceptable level should be at 100 RLU’s or lower. This area failed at 296 which is unclean” Page 57 states that the Break Room Sink Surface Contamination tested High for ATP. So, while I am not stating that this is what is causing the illnesses, and I am not trying to ding the cleaning staff, it is obviously NOT overcleaning with Clorox as you mentioned it “Could be”. The symptoms started long before there may have been “an overuse” of bleach. And for you as a “specialist” to make a comment like “Sometimes we tend to over-react” before you even pull a freakin sample from the building shows that you already have a pre-conceived notion that there is nothing wrong. I wonder, is that because Coffey is writing your check?

    As for the rest of you over-paid clowns, more to come tomorrow…

  10. Rose says:

    Every employee in that building should show up at the operations center with all their files, and boxes. Set up camp in that meeting room which was offered as an alternative until the issue gets resolved…..
    this is a sheer disgrace on all who are dragging their feet!!!!! What are they waiting for someone to die!!!!!!

  11. Sadie Stevens says:

    Make Coffey move into the building!

  12. gmath55 says:

    Nothing ever gets done fast when dealing with the government. It will be at least an year before there will be any accomplishments.

  13. Pat Patterson says:

    These folks are liable for the potentially life-long injuries these employees may have because these clowns think if they do not do anything the employees will give up and shut up. Just hope when the County gets sued for damages caused by the lack of action on the County’s part to remedy the exposure of this harmful situation, the employees ask for a life-time payout for injuries and not settle for a lump sum. So County Commissioners sit on your duffs and do nothing. It’s not your pockets the money will come out of when these sick employees take your tails to task.

  14. L H says:

    OBVIOUSLY NOT THE BEST SOLUTION & IT ALSO DOES NOT REMOVE MOLD SPORES
    “Mold Removal with Bleach
    Bleach Mold Removal

    Bleach can kill virtually every species of indoor mold that it comes into contact with, along with its spores, leaving a surface sanitized and resistant to future mold growth.

    Unfortunately, however, using bleach is only effective if the mold is growing on non-porous materials such as tiles, bathtubs, glass and countertops. Bleach cannot penetrate into porous materials and so it does not come into contact with mold growing beneath the surface of materials such as wood and drywall. Using bleach on these materials will kill the mold above the surface but the roots within the material will remain and the mold will soon return.

    How to Kill Mold with Bleach
    Bleach produces harsh fumes so make sure the area is well ventilated before you begin. You should also wear gloves during the process to protect your hands.

    For killing mold with bleach use a ratio of one cup of bleach per gallon of water (ie about 1 part bleach to 10 parts water).

    Apply the solution to non-porous surfaces with mold growth either by using a spray bottle or by using a bucket and a sponge or cloth.

    You don’t need to rinse the surface afterwards (unless it is used for food preparation or a surface which may be touched by small children or pets) as the bleach will inhibit mold growing in the future.

    Does Bleach Kill Mold?
    Although the active ingredient in bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is the main ingredient in many mold removal products, there are many reasons to use alternatives to chlorine bleach when killing mold.

    One reason is that bleach cannot completely kill mold growing in porous materials. The chlorine in bleach cannot penetrate into porous surfaces such as drywall or wood. The chlorine is left on the surface of porous materials and only the water component of the bleach is absorbed into the material, providing more moisture for the mold to feed on.

    Some of the mold on the surface might be killed but the roots of the mold are left intact meaning the mold soon returns, leaving you in a cycle of repeated bleaching. Perhaps this is why some people believe that spraying bleach on mold doesn’t affect it but instead just bleaches its color so you can no longer see it.

    Another disadvantage of bleach is that it can damage the materials it’s used on as it is a harsh, corrosive chemical. Chlorine bleach also gives off harsh fumes and it even produces toxic gas when mixed with ammonia. There are safer alternatives such as borax or vinegar which don’t produce dangerous fumes or leave behind toxic residue. For these reasons try to avoid using bleach and if you must use it, only use it on non-porous surfaces.”

  15. Ben Hogarth says:

    As one of the various armchair analysts, I am happy to admit that I know very little about the long term effects of mycotoxins, but I will happily provide everyone with a link so that we can all be on the same page about its complexity with regard to remediation:

    http://www.findingthemold.com/mold-information/mycotoxin/

    This is a great summary source for some of the known biology and health risks associated. With that said, it’s evident that the issue is so under researched that no doctor, PhD/MD can provide a true fix when The science simply isn’t there.

    And there ladies and gentleman is why you simply cannot and shouldn’t make an “adaptive” reuse of old industrial buildings and/or sites. We choose not to do things everyday because we know the science doesn’t support it. You wouldn’t drive your car off a cliff assuming it may fly simply because one day it might.. Why would you keep a structure you know that you can’t truly refurbish for human use?

    I’m sorry to say, but the armchair analysts have this one, because science always prevails. And no amount of track-covering on the dais can erase that.

    Poor judgement will always be poor judgement, no matter how much lipstick you put on the proverbial “pig.”

    Very sad day for the people of Flagler. Will it ever change?

  16. Edith Campins says:

    The owners paid $750,000 for it in 2006. The property appraisal in 2012 is for $353,951. Their current non-negotiable price is $1.23 million. The commission’ estimate is that it will take $5 million to renovate just 28,000 square feet of the building. No estimate on what it would cost to do the remaining 32,000 feet. The sellers would make approximately 60% profit, on taxpayer dollars.Flagler County had a budget shortfall of approximately $8.3 million at the time.

    It was a “sick” deal to begin with and eberyone but he politicians knew it.

  17. Joe Mullins says:

    Yesterday was nothing more than a rambling circus performance. The meeting was all over the place and was never allowed by the one commissioner that filled the room with verbal chaos to focus on a solution to the most important issue: The health and well being of the employee. The county manager needs to remove his ego and the comission needs to stand for the well being of its workers I am calling to action. Move the staff immediately to the EOC building until it can be determined what is causing the illness. The staff’s well being is a priority. . Then figure out why this mess was approved.

  18. Just The Truth says:

    What if those employees and it isn’t just a few but many contacted a lawyer, there is always Morgan and Morgan for the people, maybe then things would get resolved quicker.

  19. South Florida says:

    Flagler county can swap places with sick old hospital.

  20. We tried says:

    Just The Truth,

    Morgan and Morgan were contacted, they didn’t want any part of it. Along with WESH, Channel 13 and others. Once Flaglerlive published the story, everyone wanted a piece of it. Go figure.

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