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Doubt and Mistrust From Sheriff’s Employees Against County’s ‘All Clear’ on Operations Center

| July 13, 2018

The concrete slab flooring the Sheriff’s Operations Center has been a controversy of its own, largely due to the questions raised about it by Dennis McDonald, a builder and a candidate for the County Commission. McDonald claims the barrier is not up to code. County Administrator Craig Coffey dismisses the claim, terming it a conspiracy theory. ‘We determined that the State Building Code required it and unfortunately we could not lift up the building and check, nor did we want destroy the building in many places trying to disprove a claim with no evidence unless absolutely necessary to address a detected problem,’ Coffey wrote county commissioners in an email to which was attached the image above.

It’s not clear what the Flagler County Commission will decide, if anything, when it meets Monday morning to hear the results of air testing at the Sheriff’s troubled Operations Center in Bunnell. It may not even matter.


This much is clear: sheriff’s employees have little trust in the report, some are saying they’re not willing to return to the building regardless, especially since the report makes no medical findings explaining their problems, and the sheriff himself is cautioning that “it’s going to be an extremely hard sell to the employees.”

For the more than two dozen employees who reported health issues before the evacuation, those issues have all cleared up since the employees were evacuated to the county courthouse and the sheriff’s old administration building. They don’t want to return to the building they blame for those problems, especially not when their medical issues have not been explained.

The report doesn’t explain what made employees sick, one veteran employee of the agency who contended with health issues said today. “We still have people that haven’t even received medical attention, we had another diagnosis of skin cancer,” the employee said. “Our immune systems were so suppressed we can’t even handle a mild exposure, not to mention the hypersensitivities we have developed because of the exposure. They fail to examine the medical side of things, and just keep blaming it on not having the medical records.”

That hurdle may have started to be resolved: medical records from at least two employees are being produced through attorneys, with more expected. Still, “there is a large number of us that will not return no matter what they say,” the employee said. “We will be looking for other jobs, its not worth the health risks. Our people don’t have the money or even a doctor that is specialized to help them. Some have lingering lung issues. I don’t know what it is either, but until they get someone to examine and test all of us as a piece of the puzzle, I really have no faith in testing of the building at this point. I dare anyone to walk in there right now and tell me there is nothing wrong. I have no faith in the county overseeing the maintenance of our HVAC system either.”

The employee ridiculed parts of the report that appeared to blame health issues on employees’ environments away from work. “Every affected employee showed improvement once they left the building, only one is still struggling and that’s because she’s in the old admin building,” the employee said.

Sheriff Rick confirmed the assessment, saying the only employee who still shows symptoms is assigned to the Crime Scene Investigations unit and had been spending time working in the building with evidence and equipment. She stopped going into the building two days ago.

Another long-time employee provided a response to the report in bullet points:

“1. Coffee and the County Administrators have no interest in publishing anything that would corroborate the claims of the sick employees. 2. There is something in that building making people sick. The amount of legitimately sick people cannot be a coincidence. 3. If the employees are made to go back to that building I suspect you’re going to lose some experienced and valuable employees to a Sheriffs Office that has already had a mini exodus of experience.”

The County Commission is scheduled for a workshop and potentially a special meeting, where it could take action, now that a lengthy if not fully conclusive report on the air quality in the troubled building has been issued. The county contracted with Fort Myers-based Engineering Systems Inc. to provide the testing, which was carried out in one day last month.

The report concludes that the building has no mold or toxin contamination and that what air-quality issues it does have could be fixed through “housekeeping” or air-conditioning maintenance.

But the report stops short of explaining why more than two dozen of the sheriff’s employees have developed health problems usually associated with sick-building syndromes, some of them severe, all of them leading to the sheriff’s decision to evacuate all 67 employees last month.

And there are no plans on either the sheriff’s part or the county’s part to provide an objective third-party analysis of the Esi report–a form of peer review that would not only evaluate the rigor, depth and validity of Zdenek Hejzlar’s method (the consultant the county hired), but that would also–as peer reviews of scientific work are intended to do–point to gaps or necessary next steps in the process.

The lack of connection between the report’s findings and the employees’ health conditions is one such dark hole that has not been addressed, and that Hejzlar is saying is beyond his scope. But that means the heart of the matter remains a mystery.

Because of the paucity of medically-based conclusions in the air-quality report, it may scarcely matter what the county’s consultant will say Monday in addition to what the report has concluded, or what the county administration or even commissioners may say: there simply is no trust in the findings to enable sheriff’s employees to feel as confident about the building as does County Administrator Craig Coffey.

Coffey disseminated the report on Thursday and said his understanding was that”the building is deemed safe to occupy from all the tests we have conducted to date.” He added: “Pending some other major issue, IT and General Services has been advised to be prepared to relocate the Sheriff’s Office staff back in the building as soon as possible after July 25th.”

That sent the sheriff’s office staff into a “panic,” according to Staly, and angered Staly, who fired back that he’d never been consulted about that timeline. He then sternly wrote his staff this afternoon, putting his remarks in bold: “I would also like to remind you that you do not work for the County. You work for the Office of the Sheriff. As I said in yesterday’s email I have not agreed to any move back in to the Operations Center.”

Staly met with his top staff this morning. Chief Mark Strobridge said the report is too extensive to have enabled anyone to go through it properly this soon, and that the analysis is ongoing. Staly, interviewed this afternoon, said he was not ready to address the substance of the report but expected to have something to say about it at Monday’s meeting.

“I can tell you that in my meeting today, my employees still have unanswered questions and they are certainly not convinced that the building is safe,” Staly said. He was displeased with the administrator’s reference to preparing sheriff’s staff to move back in later in July. “I don’t control what he does with his employees, I know at this point my employees are not going back into that building,” Staly said. Of Monday’s meeting, he added: “I think it will be highly unlikely that there will be a resolution.”

Coffey, at any rate, had retreated from the wording of his email regarding sheriff’s employees. “I did not give the Sheriff a move in date and I don’t believe it is my place to do so,” Coffey wrote county commissioners. “I understand that the Sheriff has a lot to deal with on his end, which is different than our [role] as the building owner/manager. I simply indicated that I believe the building will be ready for re-occupancy after the 25th and that our team members in IT and General Services have been told be prepared to assist the Sheriff’s staff to relocate anytime after that date. Improvements desired by the Sheriff could delay building ready date by about 2 weeks. I plan to relocate our County team members back there as soon as I can as I am comfortable with safety and environmental aspects of the building.”

The county administration is responsible for providing and running the sheriff’s facilities. It is a landlord, in effect. So it’s the county’s responsibility to ensure and certify the safety of those facilities. What’s not clear is the potential gray area that is taking shape even ahead of Monday’s meeting: the possibility that the county will certify the building “safe” while a constitutional officer–the sheriff–may decide it isn’t safe enough for his employees to move back in.

Politics then begins to play a role, this being an election year. Staly is not running. But two county commissioners (Greg Hansen and Nate McLaughlin) are. There are signs around town calling for the firing of Coffey, though it’s entirely possible that the anonymous signs are funded by supporters of Dennis McDonald, one of the candidates for the commission who’s made the sheriff’s building the centerpiece of his campaign. What’s certain is that Coffey is not popular the way Staly is, and that the building controversy will likely play a role in the election. That’s why Coffey is eager to put it to rest. Sheriff’s employees appear disinclined to accommodate the political timeline.

Staly said nothing was decided. “I know I’m going to protect my employees to the best of my ability,” he said.

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32 Responses for “Doubt and Mistrust From Sheriff’s Employees Against County’s ‘All Clear’ on Operations Center”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    Shame on the county commission for allowing Coffey to run a muck. They should fire him at the meeting Monday. He is an unelected bureaucrat who has wreaked havoc. I’d also like to point out that it was the Flagler County’s own PBA Union that blindly endorsed Nate MacLaughin for county commissioner. While he stands in the side lines and allows deputies to become ill, their union endorsed him. Shame on them all.

  2. 107 says:

    It wouldn’t destroy the building to do a test to prove Mc Donald wrong—Coffey would rather try to cover it up than admit the truth. He knows McDonald is right and that if any testing were done to prove McDonald wrong would prove McDonald right and Coffey wrong and show him to be the liar he is. Since 2007 Coffey has been spinning government news in the media as to how he wants the public to believe it is rather than how it really is. Coffey needs to be fired and when it is tested and proven there is no barrier then Coffey needs to be criminally charged for knowingly endangering the lives of our citizens. McDonald is smarter than Coffey and far more honest. McDonald has had one and only one mission since being a watch dog for this county was to protect the people and our tax dollars. Dennis McDonald will be elected to replace Greg DO NOTHING Hansen in 2018 as our next COUNTY COMMISSIONER. You can bet then Coffey will not slip crap in the consent agenda and under the rug and Hadeed will not be sucking up a quarter of a million dollars of tax payers money a year to do NOTHING!

  3. John says:

    I think it’s funny they recorded their lip sync battle in the sheriffs operation center that isn’t safe to be in???? Safe enough to goof off in and waste tax payers $$$???

  4. 107 says:

    Hey Craig Coffey—There is a HUGE difference between the building being safe and YOUR UNDERSTANDING that the building is deemed to be safe. If it was safe, say it is safe. It is obvious that you are not willing to stick your neck out that far for a reason. If the building is so safe then you, Heidi Petito, Mike Dixon, Sally Sherman, Al Hadeed and Joe Mayer move in it tomorrow and stay there. The fact of the matter is you WON’T and HAVEN’T said the building is safe because you would rather lie than tell the truth! You want to move this along in hopes that it will help retain Greg Hansen and Nate McLaughlin in Office for another term to aid in keeping you being handed a quarter of a million dollar salary for years to come, but we all remember how you promoted the purchase of this old hospital with your DECEPTION https://flaglerlive.com/57865/memorial-hospital-deal-pt/ and how Nate McLaughlin voted for the purchase that financially benefitted former County Commission Barbara Revels business Associate Bruce Paige/Intracoastal Bank CEO. What we don’t know is what you got that hasn’t been revealed for your part of the deal. It is apparent that you and Al Hadeed come as a package….you bump up your pay, his gets bumped up too…..guess what, it is time for both of you to be FIRED!

    It wouldn’t take much to prove if the required barrier exists—and it wouldn’t be much damage to repair—after all the building may be required to be torn down anyway. The fact is you don’t want that to be done because then it would prove Dennis McDonald RIGHT! Dennis McDonald and John Ruffalo have been watch dogs at their expense for us, the tax payers who pay for all your screw ups and scams like that of rehiring Sally Sherman after retiring her at $190,000! Nate McLaughlin and Greg Hansen deserve to be unseated this election for the simple fact they voted to approve that Sally Sherman sweet heart deal—AT OUR EXPENSE!

    The EPA needs to step in and do additional testing and if this independent hand pick minion of Craig Coffey is proven to be wrong then he and Coffey should both be brought up on criminal charges.

  5. Lnzc says:

    Make Coffee and his $77.00 an hour helper move into the sheriffs building

  6. Ben Hogarth says:

    We predicted this outcome… it was abundantly clear the county would rely on an “expert” to satisfy their criteria for an occupancy clearance. The truth is that the science is far behind the implications. Again, we have a,ready stated this previously and thus the results (or lack-there-of) of the investigation were not surprising.

    Sheriff, I would refuse any such return of employees to the comrpromised building under the auspices that the science is insufficient to determine or explain the medical conditions.

    The county is using their “expert” as legal justification for their actions. However, any scientist and analyst could easily spot the gaps in their logic and methodology. Hire your own “expert” to make a determination that refutes their own, and the status quo will reflect poorly on county administration.

    These employees deserve justice and so do the taxpayers who were fed a “baloney” (bologna) sandwich when the county first took over the property and attempted to repurpose it.

    The time for debate is over. The elections are around the corner – time to play your hand and end the charade with the county administration. They are entirely at fault – let them own it.

  7. Jw says:

    Im sure some people are sick for some odd reason but it sounds like there is a lawsuit train about to come through town. Lots of “sick” people hopping on. Its really funny how construction works demolished the entire inside and rebuilt it all new and we dont hear of any of them being sick… hmmm

  8. Dennis McDonald says:

    Love the picture FlaglerLive.

    I have read Dr Zs report and no where does it make mention of making contact with any material that could be said to be a plastic membrane type material under the slab. Dr Z did in fact drill two 1/4 inch holes to test AIR, REALLY! Now look at the picture Mr Coffey provides..WHERE IS THE AIR COMING FROM ? Mr Coffey’s picture shows a solid mass under slab. My guess from around the hole he drilled. ALL CLEAR no trouble found.

    Now here is a surprise NO SOIL SAMPLES WERE TAKEN by DrZ…why ? If want to PROVE this is not a Brownfield then soil samples would be the first on the list. How about we start where the old sewer trunk lines were ? Too obvious. Who wrote the Scope of Work for this circus ?

    Look at the picture again but now if you read DR Z’s report he talks of the two test holes he drilled through concrete being 6 INCHES deep. The floor shown here might be 4 inches thick. That’s a 50% difference ! So who do we believe in this very scientific RE investigation of all the studies done in the last 8 months ? This was 50 plus pages of rehash and boiler plate.

    This picture is positive proof that this building FAILS the Florida Building Code. Section 1907 Minimum Slab Provisions Vapor Barriers. Section 1907 requires a continuous vapor barrier with a 6 INCH OVERLAP on any seam. If you “assume” there was a barrier there already[which has not been proven] how do you overlap the new with the old ? Well if you knew what your doing from the start there is away but in this case you can not. How could the County Inspector approve this ? They approved it just look at the inspection log on line.

    No surprise as the County approved removing the rotted facia but forgot to comply with Florida Building Code 2318.1.4 Sills and Base Plates. Fact is the old moldy base plates in the Tie Down Walls that I showed pictures of in 2015 are still in place and never replaced with TREATED lumber. They are a match to those moldy studs that were in the pictures. Why breakup a matched set ? All Part of the ‘GOOD BONES” that the BOCC said they bought for us at a great price.

    If there are toxins under this building they are concentrated where the old plumbing WAS. So now with this super renovation we have endless footage with NO overlap of the new vapor barrier sitting next to the old. Add to it the continuous shrinkage separations in the patched concrete floors that run down all the saw cuts! What a great way to VENTILATE your subterranean foundation moisture and toxins. It is no wonder the moisture content in this building is out of control.

    NICE JOB BOCC, your man Mr Coffey has it covered [But no 6″ overlap]…priceless.

  9. Stephen says:

    All clear , get back to work! No you will not waste more of my hard earned tax dollars to build a new sheriffs office! You have plenty of time to make your weekly videos , you have time to move back into the building and toughen up! Obviously nothing is wrong and it appears this was all another show to try and get what they want ! Get Coffey out and move those people back in!

  10. 12 says:

    Get rid of Hansen, Coffey, Sherman, and McLaughlin and a lot of the this counties’ troubles will gradually go away as new people hired and elected to the county government come in and start to clean up their messes like this one. Fire Them Now!

  11. Flatsflyer says:

    There are plenty if former Sea Ray employees looking for well paying jobs, with benefits, pensions, etc., . Be careful of what you wish for, you could easily be replaced.

  12. John Brady says:

    Now does the attorney representing the deputies get “an expert” to present a different opinion. In poker terms, I see your expert and raise you an expert. The only winners are the attorneys and experts.In the meantime the building can not be used.
    Stop BOCC, fold your hand, This is a sick building. 30 plus people getting ill and the only thing in common is working at this building.
    I recall the former owner had considered applying for a “brownfield” designation, I am not sure if an application was made. However, when the decision to buy the land was made was the “brownfield” info known?

  13. John Dolan esq. says:

    Craig Coffey will decide for us. He is the Big Tater in Flagler and nobody should challenge his authority. Go Coffey Go.

  14. oldtimer says:

    Housekeeping issues, what the hell does that mean

  15. Mythoughts says:

    Mr. Coffey, are you reading these statements how sick employee’s in a county building and have gotten better since, the stayed away from the building? I truly think you need to move your office there and let us know how you feel after six months….stand up for what you believe that the building is safe..

  16. Trailer Bob says:

    Move Coffey’s office to the old building if he feels it is so safe. People got sick but the investigation finds no cause…doesn’t mean there is no cause. As for the upcoming elections, “no clue” Nate has to go. The guy is clueless and I am not in favor of electing someone who filed for bankruptcy to decide on how to spend my tax dollars.

  17. Trailer Bob says:

    Coffey must go. Clueless Nate also. People who file for bankruptcy should not be deciding how to spend my hard earned tax dollars.

  18. thomas says:

    Coffey and crew must go.

  19. Dave says:

    After many years of corruption in Flagler county maybe this a religious type cleanse

  20. Reflect says:

    I wonder, what would happen if any of us “private sector” employees informed our employer that we refuse to return to our work place. I’ll tell you exactly what would happen…we would be fired…immediately. the tax payers of this small county have already spent thousands of dollars testing and treating the multi-million dollar sheriff office. How much more money must be waisted so that Staley will feel good about making his employees feel good? Staley has already raised his budget by 6 million in 2 years, created a top heavy agency again, and offered raises to everyone. Go do your job and stop fleecing us please.

  21. Concerned Citizen says:

    I’m not a McDonald supporter but making a comment like the signs are possibly funded by McDonald supporters is a little biased. Not that you aren’t entitled to your opinion. And if there is proof of this that needs to be addressed. Surely FL has a pulse on the attitude of the County towards Coffey by now.

    Most of us agree that it’s time for change in the County Administrators position. He has the BOCC cowed and pretty much does what he wants. Including dropping large amounts of money on projects that will never see the light of day. Nor does he look out for the welfare of county employees. If he did he wouldn’t be ordering them back into an apparently sick building.

    It is time for a change in Flagler County. We need a BOCC and an Administrator that will look out for our needs. The way we do that is get out there and vote. Change starts at the polls.

  22. oldtimer says:

    after reading the palm coast observer it seems the sheriff is throwing the custodians under the bus because “fingers were pointed at them when this all started”

  23. Agkistrodon says:

    With Coffey being the “Leader” of the County Employees, He should set the Example and Move in HIMSELF. You can’t do one thing and expect your employees to do something completely different. If HE is so certain, man up and PROVE it, Put you money where you mouth is, other wise shut the hell up.

  24. 107 says:

    You mean to tell me with all that pipe removal and concrete cutting no testing was done to ensure there was a barrier? If not Coffey and Comoany was neglectful and should be personally held responsible knowing this is a brownfield property. I saw extensive testing be done and not by some fly by night that Coffey calls in for a wam-bam thank you man job. This BICC should be making these calls and giving direction to stop or prevent liability law suits and for the health and welfare to those exposed. These commissioners are pathetic and need to be removed either by the governor or the voters.

  25. David S. says:

    COFFEY YOUR FIRED !!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. Anonymous says:

    It’s time the EPA be called in. The union should do it. When Flagler Beach PD had a sick building it was not an issue for their Commissioners. Why not talk to them and see how they handled it? Obviously, they cared what happened to their employees. Flagler County is a different animal. More about the money spent and less about the workers. It’s a shame.

  27. Flagler Native says:

    How about this we just let them move back in and do nothing further in determining what caused the illness. Then when they either all quit or document medically with professional doctors they’re illness caused by building and file lawsuits then county will be happy. Either way it will cost taxpayers a lot of money! Since it costs money to do backgrounds and train them or pay out the lawsuits. I bet Flagler will be broke soon, cause they neglected a problem!

  28. Jimmie two shoes says:

    For Years Dennis McDonald , John Ruffallo and Mark Richter all tried to tell you folks these people were dirty. It has come to the light! Just look at their Form 6,found on the Florida Ethics Dept Page. They filed these guys cant even handle their own finances. No wonder Flagler is in the millage range it is in. They all are mortgaged to the hilt. In Debt beyond their means.
    These Commissioners have destroyed Flager County! Flagler will be paying these debts for years to come because of the mistakes made by the voters.
    Think before you VOTE !

  29. Anonymous says:

    Landon,Coffey anyone else see the similarities?Time to clean house.

  30. Mothersworry says:

    Kudos to Staly for backing his employees!!

    This isn’t as hard as some are making it appear. Employees sick in the building, out of the building they are fine. Duh!

    Drill a hole in the darn floor and remove a soil sample. What is so hard about that?

  31. Kathy says:

    This is so confusing…if Staly says “I would also like to remind you that you do not work for the County. You work for the Office of the Sheriff”…what took so long in listening to &/or responding to his sick employees?

    With his doubt in this report why isn’t he or didn’t he, as the leader of his sick employees, get his own testing done instead of buying cars & signs.

    How concerned is he about a building that he and his employees were playing in this week to make a video that centered on him (rather than our many Deputies & FCSO employees) that mocked our system rather than (like most departments) simply have fun trying to show their down-to-earth human qualities?

    So confusing ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  32. Palmcoastresident says:

    Kudos to the Sheriff Rick Staley for standing behind his employees and ensuring their health and well being is of utmost importance. It is easy for administration to side with the insurance carrier when they originally denied these medical claims as not being covered under Worker’s Compensation laws. The WC laws in Florida place the utmost burden on the employee to prove there is a known toxin, and without the exact known toxin causing these illnesses the sick and injured worker’s are left with no medical coverage.

    This was an old hospital building where sick people would come to get better, but ultimately people died at this facility. Notwithstanding the nuclear medicines and radiation that existed on the site for many years, but you also had tons of biohazard waste stored on site. It would be absolutely reasonable to assume spills occurred (as in any work place, issues and accidents occur) and didn’t get reported or cleaned up 100% to the EPA’s standards of waste removal… It happens in every industry and we would all be naive to think it didn’t occur here.

    Too many employees have fallen ill in too little of a timeframe to call any of this a coincidence of any substance. The PBA would be instrumental with the AFL/CIO in lending a hand to get a qualified outside agency to do the proper thorough inspections to ensure everyone is well within the safe parameters of environmental toxins in the work place. It sure is easy to sit behind a key board and arm chair quarterback all of the actions that have or haven’t occurred. We don’t have to endure the pain and suffering of lingering medical mysteries. The sheriff office employees do, and the employees should be extremely proud their boss is fighting this with them to ensure their overall health and well being is not in jeopardy!

    The only thing that matters is to ensure the building is safe. Safe beyond a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. Just because the tests that have been performed may show negative results or otherwise, doesn’t mean the proper tests have been performed at this point, especially if people are sick. A patient’s physical symptoms trumps any negative test results (the right tests have not been ordered to confirm the clinical assessment/diagnosis). This will surely take a Doctor and scientists who have the ability to think outside of the boxes they normally practice.

    This subset of patients should be approached as their own… When a doctor in general hears clip-clop, click-clop, click-clop, most doctors think they hear a horse running. Obviously a zebra makes the same clip-clop! Until these patients get a zebra doctor involved then we will only know to remove the patients from the insult for treatment, no one will know what the issue is, or what is causing the illnesses.

    My two cents… find a zebra doctor willing to figure out what is causing these employees to be ill and this should be the only concern at this point… The building is not safe… No one should enter the building until someone can bee 100% certain the building is safe otherwise all of this safe/not safe is utter speculation. It doesn’t matter if you’re the county administrator, county commissioners, or the janitor for the county administrator at this point; doing the right thing is never wrong!

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