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Sheriff’s Operations Center Will Evacuate To Courthouse and Old Administration Building

| June 6, 2018

It's going to be empty at the Sheriff's Operations Center for a while, but not entirely so: some functions, like evidence, will still generate a small amount of traffic in and out of the building as it is tested. (c FlaglerLive)

It’s going to be empty at the Sheriff’s Operations Center for a while, but not entirely so: some functions, like evidence, will still generate a small amount of traffic in and out of the building as it is tested. (© FlaglerLive)

The Sheriff’s Office’s Operations Center has begun what will end up being a full evacuation of the building’s 68 employees, including the top administrative staff, as the sheriff and the county seek to determine whether the structure is safe to work in.

Sheriff’s personnel will for the most part be distributed between the old sheriff’s administration building on Justice Lane, near the jail, and the Flagler County courthouse. The length of that temporary arrangement is not known for now. The county administration, which is effectively the landlord for all those government properties, is just now re-launching a series of tests in the building, whose interiors more than two dozen sheriff’s employees are blaming for making them sick.

Sheriff Rick Staly and Chief Mark Strobridge met with County Administrator Craig Coffey and Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, along with IT staff and union leadership, this afternoon to discuss immediate relocation plans, and walk through the courthouse. Solid plans should be in place by Friday as to who is relocating where.

Staly has asked the county administration to be transparent and inclusive of those concerned with all its deliberations. Late in the workday today he issued an email to all his employees to update them.

“Our staffs are now working on developing a relocation plan by section/unit and a relocation schedule,” the sheriff wrote. “I have directed that sections and units be moved as intact groups if at all possible and that we start with areas located in the east end of the building.” In reference to the old administration building, he added, “Today I also authorized the emergency relocation of a few people to the Detention Administration building while the relocation plans are being finalized. I am hopefully that a final plan will be available late tomorrow (Thursday) and a move out schedule with coordinating IT issues by late Friday. We will likely be spread out among three floors and some sections/units will also be relocated to the Detention Administration building.”

The 68 sheriff’s employees include the command staff but don’t include up to half a dozen county employees. The aim of the relocation is to keep the sheriff’s operations as cohesive as possible.

“It’s not as much a complete evacuation as it is unity of command,” Strobridge said. “It’s about being a unified sheriff’s office not a fragmented sheriff’s office.”

“We’re just pitching in however we can help, we understand it’s probably a good idea for the sheriff to vacate his building for a while” while testing takes place, Bexley said. Additional sheriff’s employees will be welcome to work out of the courthouse “for as long as needed,” he said. (A contingent of sheriff’s employees already work there, including bailiffs and civilian employees.)

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly. (© FlaglerLive)

“The sheriff’s priority is to get those affected most by this building out first, and in that team concept,” Strobridge said. “For example, he doesn’t want to leave one person behind in a unit.” While the top administrative staff will–like officers on a sinking ship–be last to leave, some have already been relocated, including sworn and non-sworn employees.

The move out of the building is the result of a series of unfortunate events that have yet to play out. The building was once a hospital then a disused relic for more than a decade when it accumulated mold, detritus and battalions of unknown organisms. The county bought the structure in 2013, demolished much of it but kept the shell and rebuilt it as a sheriff’s operations center for occupancy in 2015. Then-Sheriff Manfre, in a brief history of his involvement published here Tuesday, said he opposed the building all along–his public pronouncements at the time, documented in several articles, paint a more nuanced picture–and that odor issues were almost immediate. Sheriff’s employees working in two particular rooms developed health issues last November. The employees were moved to other locations, the county tested the rooms, mold was discovered, remediation took place, and the all-clear was given, only for many more employees developing health issues several weeks ago. Concerns mounted quickly and Staly, characterizing the county as slow-moving in response, prompted renewed testing and asked the county for alternative space meanwhile.

A county workshop on the issue earlier this week shed little additional light but showed Coffey, the county administrator, relatively isolated, with a majority of commissioners adopting the sheriff’s come-what-may approach in defense of employees. Two of the commissioners are running in this year’s election, including Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, the only member of the commission still on it who voted to approve the purchase of the building in 2013 (when concerns were raised about the structure even then). Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, the other member of the panel who was a commissioner then, voted against the purchase.

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Coffey meanwhile is attempting to balance the sheriff’s and his employees’ concerns with evidence, and with a $7 million taxpayer investment and his own reputation in the balance. He’s hired an environmental engineer who spoke to the commission and the sheriff at the workshop Monday, after taking his first look at the building earlier that day, and who will be conducting the new round of testing.

A memo by Zdenek Hejzlar, the environmental engineer the county hired to do further testing, wrote County Engineer Faith Al-Khatib today, was not entirely reassuring as it repeatedly sought caution against expectations of black and white answers ahead. “There is little that the investigation may accomplish to change the perceptions of the building of some of the people,” Hejzlar said.

He went on: “During the workshop, I explained the importance of having a medical professional evaluate the employees and see if any medical evaluation can point to a particular set of potential causal agents that can cause the reaction in the affected employees. If we had that information today, we may be able to focus the investigation in a particular direction. We do not have that information and Sheriff Staly was not very confident that we can get that information quickly. Thus, if we decide to test further at this point, we will have to do it without the benefit of the medical evaluation. Trying to prove a negative is not scientifically defensible. Even with negative results, I cannot say that nothing in the building is causing the symptoms. I can only say that the levels of the contaminants that we tested are at X levels which is below/above accepted standard (when defined) and/or below/above levels that individuals would be exposed to in a typical home or comparable workplace environment.”

The engineer put the price of coming tests at just under $18,000. That includes 20 hours’ drive-travel time for two, at $2,800. He plans to make the five-hour drive from his office on June 14, start testing that day, and wrap-up the next.

Staly directed his affected staff to make relevant medical records available to the engineering company and the physician Staly hired independently. “Remember, we can only determine with is going on with cooperation by all and our goal is to get to the bottom of it for a solution,” Staly wrote.

Meanwhile the courthouse and the old administration building will be the primary temporary locations “for the entire team,” Strobridge said.

When the county built the courthouse 10 years ago, it did so with the understanding that all its agencies–the Clerk of Court, the Public Defender, the State Attorney’s Office, court administration and its judges–would grow over 30 years. That means there’s space there. “We probably have 15 work spaces that we can make available to the sheriff on an interim basis that we’ll potentially use in future years,” Bexley said. That’s building-wide. “It’s kind of spread out, that’s the problem.” So it’ll end up being something along the lines of “sticking five here, five there.”

“The really good part about this is after doing some internal discovery about computers and networking and telephones,” Bexley said, “it looks like the majority of this is going to be done at no additional cost to the taxpayers.”

Strobridge was asked how long officials expect the relocation to last. “I wish there was a way to know,” he said. “These issues were years in the making. Many times a law enforcement officer arrives on a scene and spends a very short amount of time to solve family problems, relationship problems that have been years in the making. We are so limited based on what we do on those scenes. It’s kind of like when you start peeling back the onion. It’s layers at a time. The unfortunate thing in law enforcement is, we don’t always get to peel back every layer.”

The environmental engineer’s memo to the county today echoed a similar caution.

The Environmental Engineer’s Memo to County Administration

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15 Responses for “Sheriff’s Operations Center Will Evacuate To Courthouse and Old Administration Building”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why is it so difficult to get a government in Palm Coast that isn’t completely dominated by, and under the thumb of, special interests, leading to repeated debacles like this one?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like they only want to test for mild. They need to look for illegal chemical dumping on the agency’s grounds. God only knows what kind of hospital waste is lingering. My best to the employees of FCSO. I pray they find the cause so everyone can get well.

  3. Donnie riddle says:

    They need to bulldoze that place and get it over with. Ain’t no telling what went on there when it was a hospital!

  4. Just The Truth says:

    Sure took the county administration long enough to do this, they all should be ashamed of themselves at the expense of employees health. Taxpayers need to take a look at who runs our county government and why they are still there.

  5. tulip says:

    Maybe the former commissioner who had a special interest in wanting the sale to take place, and any of the other commissioners who voted yes, should pay for the testing out of their own pockets.

  6. Percy's mother says:

    I would think someone in charge would contact the EPA to find out if there’s been any type of illegal dumping at this site. After all, the building was the site of an old hospital going back years. There could be a lot of toxic medical waste buried on the land immediately surrounding the building.

    Anyone (county commissioners) listening??? Or does someone from the general public have to contact the EPA? Perhaps someone from the FCSO should contact the EPA to come and do an evaluation.

    Nate McLaughlin, you voted for this debacle. How about getting to the root of the issue. You’re silent on the issue. Why? How about contacting the EPA? You’re up for vote and it doesn’t look good for you.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous says:
    June 6, 2018 at 8:19 pm
    Why is it so difficult to get a government in Palm Coast that isn’t completely dominated by, and under the thumb of, special interests, leading to repeated debacles like this one?

    This has ZERO to do with Palm Coast government.

  8. HonkeyDude says:

    Have they tested the soil or water in the canal/ditch behind the building?
    How much more money are they gonna waste on tests, just to play the blame game.
    Doze. Digout. Fill. Try again.
    That just saved millions in tests and legal fees.

  9. Sean says:

    Craig time for you to go or step up to the Plate stop having lower management cover things up !
    sounds paint over the lead Remove it . Yes it costs money but it’s the right thing to do!

  10. Peaches McGee says:

    Old hospitals are harbingers of disease and should be leveled.

  11. Percy's mother says:

    Perhaps someone should become a wistleblower with wistleblower protection under the law. There’s an Environmental Protection Agency office in Jacksonville on Baymeadows.

    You may file a complaint by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), contacting your local OSHA office or filing online

    Workplace Safety and Health:
    Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees for exercising their rights under the OSH Act. These rights include filing an OSHA complaint, participating in an inspection or talking to an inspector, seeking access to employer exposure and injury records, reporting an injury, and raising a safety or health complaint with the employer. If workers have been retaliated or discriminated against for exercising their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged adverse action.

    Since passage of the OSH Act in 1970, Congress has expanded OSHA’s whistleblower authority to protect workers from discrimination under twenty-two federal laws. Complaints must be reported to OSHA within set timeframes following the discriminatory action, as prescribed by each law. These laws, and the number of days employees have to file a complaint, are:

    Occupational, Environmental, and Nuclear Safety Laws
    Transportation Industry Laws
    Consumer and Investor Protection Laws

  12. Hospitals are GOOD says:

    I’m sorry, but since when did old hospitals become sewage treatment plants. The Bunnell hospital was not that old. Hospitals are clean places. This is a public opinion campaign period.

  13. John Dolan says:

    Hey ZED. PhD means pile it higher and deeper.

  14. Agkistrodon says:

    Some people got a lot of money when this deal went down…….

  15. Anonymous says:

    Was there addition space added to either the Justice Center or EOC or are they the same size they were in 2013 when Nate voted to buy the hospital? That deal was dirty.

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