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Combative Statements and Threats of Litigation Belie Claim of Unity Meeting on Sheriff’s Operations Center

| July 16, 2018

The Flagler County Commission, with Sheriff Rick Staly at the table, listens to Zdenek Hejzlar, the engineer hired to test the Sheriff's Operations Center this morning. (c FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Commission, with Sheriff Rick Staly at the table, listens to Zdenek Hejzlar, the engineer hired to test the Sheriff’s Operations Center this morning. (c FlaglerLive)

There was more heat than light, more anger than answers at today’s much-anticipated workshop on the results of air testing inside the troubled and currently evacuated Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell.

At the beginning of the meeting, Commission Chairman Greg Hansen said everyone around the table–the commission, the county administration, the sheriff and his employees–were part of a single team, with the safety of employees everyone’s priority.

But that hope was belied by the rest of a meeting in turns tense, questioning, combative, threatening and personally revealing (when employees spoke of their own health issues). It started with a lengthy introduction to the discussion–not by Hansen, the sheriff, scientists or someone who might speak for all of them collectively in a reflection of unity, but by the county attorney. The usually voluble Craig Coffey, the county administrator, sat silent throughout. The hope for comity was further belied by Sheriff Rick Staly’s response to the report, which questioned the county’s motive to speed it along and questioned its scope: “Do we really know that the appropriate testing was done?” the sheriff asked.

And it was belied by the aggressively adversarial statements of by Geoffrey Bichler, the attorney the sheriff’s employees hired to represent them, who in minutes questioned the county’s attorney grasp of the law, accused him of wanting to send employees back into a sick building, and threatened negligence litigation.

Others questioned the validity of the report at the heart of today’s discussion or the sincerity of county government’s pledge to look out for employees’ welfare. One sheriff’s employee spoke of her own experiences with health issues that flared whenever she was in the building and subsided the moment she’d be out of it. “This is not just a little rash, as some may think,” she said.

“I have made unbelievable improvements since I left that building,” Annie Conrad, another employee–a detective who’s as been at the forefront of the controversy because of the severity of her symptoms–told commissioners. Joe Costello, another detective, said he saw any sense of unity on the issue deteriorating, not improving. “I question whether we’re truly working together here even more than before,” Costello said.

Hadeed described the current situation as “a holding pattern,” with the sheriff seeking further testing and analysis and the county commission unclear on what step to take next. County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said testing options have not been exhausted and giving a move-in date for employees evacuated from the building last month was “premature and ill-advised.”

And in fact commissioners made no decision at the end of the nearly three-hour meeting.

Staly in his statement sought to balance severe criticism with hope for further analysis. “Our actions and results need to be deliberate and methodical. Just like a criminal case, no investigation should be rushed,” the sheriff said, on two occasions suggesting that the testing has been rushed. He also alluded to the legal posturing taking place behind the scenes: “We now have four attorneys involved representing all perspectives and sides to this issue, and it just takes time,” he said. (See Staly’s full statement here.)

In the most critical words he’s used to date on the controversy, Staly said the report implied that his employees were to some extent at fault for the health issues they were suffering–the sort of blame, Staly says, he sees in domestic violence situations, when the victim is blamed. Staly said he would not tolerate such an approach, again questioning the accuracy of the report and its numerous “outstanding questions.”

He urged the County Commission to delay accepting the report, drawing applause from a crowd of several dozens, a third of it made up of sheriff’s employees, including many of the affected employees.

County Attorney Al Hadeed in his introduction said he was going to “set the platform for the discussion we’re now going to have” before the environmental engineer hired to test the Operations Center’s interiors presented a report on recent testing.

Hadeed’s preface defended the fact that the report was written in the absence of any medical information regarding the 30-some employees affected by health problems at the Operations Center. He did not downplay the importance of those records by any means. But he said “what our expert did was to proceed in a way so as to make the submittal of the employees’ medical records and more importantly their evaluation… to be moot.” It was likely not the best choice of word to describe records he had himself just spent several minutes describing as usually integral to any complete analysis of a potentially sick building.

Rather, he said, the report is now “going to significantly contribute to the effort of the occupational physician” the sheriff hired to evaluate employees’ complaints. But that did not explain why the county administrator had seemed to give the all-clear for a move back into the building, since Hadeed was clearly signaling that there was more analysis ahead.

Hadeed then defended the fact that testing was limited to certain toxins, mold and dust. “We cannot be put onto this treadmill of constantly going down and checking every thought that everyone has,” he said, without citing examples. Dennis McDonald, a candidate for the county commission, has been critical of the testing’s limited scope, saying the building’s slab is not up to code and citing a few other issues he said the testing did not address. Hadeed also defended the county’s approach that led to the hiring of the Zdenek Hejzlar at Fort Myers-based Engineering Systems Inc. for the testing, noting that the county did not want to hire a company it had previously worked with so as not to send the wrong message. As an endorsement of Hejzlar’s work, he added: “Those who slant their reports, they’re not going to continue to be hired.”

Only then Hejzlar presented a summary of his own executive summary to a more-than-thousand-page report County Administrator Craig Coffey released last week. It was a brief presentation that summarized what’s been previously reported–that the building does not have a mold problem, nor a toxin problem, nor a slab problem. In other words, that the building is not sick. (Paul Pavlik of the Bureau of Radiation Control and Suzanne LeViseur, a mechanical engineer who addressed the building’s air-conditioning system, also spoke, one to say the building has no radiation issues, the other to caution against a revamp of the air-conditioning system as unnecessary overkill.)

Click On:

Staly spoke after Hejzlar, reading from a lengthy statement that questioned the speed of the analysis and its incompleteness, and described his employees’ personal experiences with health issues, including the way some of their own initiative discovered mold infestations in parts of the building. “My team and I have no confidence in this building,” he said. But, he later added, “I want us to work together.”

“This commission supports you 100 percent,” Hansen, the commission chairman, said.

Hejzlar said he’d not been given a deadline to produce the report, but in the days leading up to the testing it was clear there was urgency from all side for action, since the sheriff had ordered the building evacuated and was not thrilled at having his ranks split between the county courthouse and the old sheriff’s administration building.

Gabe Fuentes, a sheriff’s detective who represents the sheriff’s employees’ union, spoke in the public portion of the meeting and questioned why the county forbade Hejzlar to speak with sheriff’s employees, undermining the county’s claims of transparency. “The picture that we’re not cooperating is ridiculous and it’s not right to be painted that way,” Fuentes said, referring to the numerous occasions when the county and Hejzlar’s report have blamed employees for not making medical information available.

“If you guys think the building is fine, are you willing to occupy the building?” Fuentes asked the commission.

“We may go with a civil negligence claim, that’s another option,” Geoffrey Bichler, the employees’ attorney, said. “We are communicating with defense counsel, we are giving defense counsel the medical records, so if there is any confusion about that I would recommend talking to the defense attorney that’s been hired in this case.” (Later in the meeting Hadeed countered, regarding the threat of civil litigation: “Unless we go off the rails in some unusual way I don’t see that we have that concern.”)

Jane Gentile-Youd, long a critic of the building and a candidate for the county commission, had one prescription for the building, drawing applause: “Please, tear this piece of crap down.”

Toward the end of the meeting commissioners weighed in, with McLaughlin insisting, despite the 140 previous minutes’ evidence to the contrary, that any suggestion of finger-pointing or blaming was false. Moments later Abby Romaine, another candidate for the commission, spoke of the meeting reflecting a “sad day” of “rancor” and the hurt of employees, and pressing for “a more exhaustive analysis” of contaminants “so we don;t have to have our employees feel like they have to move out of the building and find a job elsewhere” rather than move back into the building, or have the feeling of being “revictimized.”

Commissioners Dave Sullivan and Don O’Brien qualified the ongoing discussion in less cheerleading terms. “If fixing it means tearing the building down, that’s what we’re going to do,” Hansen said.

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26 Responses for “Combative Statements and Threats of Litigation Belie Claim of Unity Meeting on Sheriff’s Operations Center”

  1. 12 says:

    See Ya in Court!

  2. Dave says:

    They all deserve each other, haha

  3. Michael Cocchiola says:

    I think the commission should be very cautious before moving employees into the building. More testing and an evaluation of medical records seem to be in order.

  4. John Dolan esq. says:

    What we have here is, Failure to communicate! Cool hand Coffey v. Shire of the Rife Staley.

  5. Only Me says:

    Thank you Sheriff Staly for supporting your employee’s. The County officials should be as concerned about their well being since, they are county employee’s who keep our community safe. Their well being should be a top priority.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    Yes lets tear that piece of contaminated garbage down and given over 8 millions of our hard earned taxes wasted on it by Coffey, Rebels and FCBOCC demand that the same FCBOCC fires Coffey over the fraudulent purchase and waste of our tax funds on it! Yes like all the signs around town “Fire Coffey” and if so defends him so much boot Hadeed too. Never send our sheriff employees to work inside that infectious forced on our pockets structure! Boot Coffey!

  7. Dennis McDonald says:

    Hadeed’s statement… (Later in the meeting Hadeed countered, regarding the threat of civil litigation: “Unless we go off the rails in some unusual way I don’t see that we have that concern.”)

    Fact: The County Staff and BOCC was presented pictures in May of 2015 that showed my concerns of Florida Building Code 2318.1.4 requiring treated sill plates in the rotten and black mold cover tie down walls. Coffey and his Building Official did not heed the public warning. The BOCC acted with full knowledge when they bypassed my complaint and issued the Building Certificate of Occupancy for 901 E.Moody Boulevard. The BOCC is both the owner and Controlling “local authority” per the Legislature. In this case the classic “fox guarding the chicken house” has resulted in 37 Sheriff employees to suffer medical issues of some type. Coffey and Hadeed are directly responsible for this happening.

    Today the Sheriff said the BOCC/County must open the walls above the ceilings and prove this condition does not exist. When they finish that violation I will ask the Sheriff to have the BOCC/County demonstrate that they have complied with Florida Building Code 1907 which was openly displayed in the recent FL. picture for the article “Doubt and Mistrust” July13 2018.

    My professional opinion based on 40 years as a large GC./developer. I believe this building failed the terms of the Florida Building Code when CO 9735 was issued 10/2/2015. My direct conversations with the building official 10/6/2015 reaffirm that belief.

  8. Vinny says:

    Perhaps the Sherriff could play a guitar solo at the next meeting while lip synching a Brittany Spears number.

  9. Only Me says:

    Mr. McDonald from what your wrote the building slid through Certificate of Occupancy when it shouldn’t have. shouldn’t someone be held accountable for that happening? Especially when humans health was at stake?
    This smells like a good law suit for sure…….

  10. carol says:

    Have them all go back to work, if they are not happy with the building, they can quit and find another job.
    Just sayin.

  11. Just the facts says:

    What a disaster. This is going to be costing the taxpayers for years to come.
    And what a bunch of cowardly politicians. They want to sit on the fence until after the elections because they don’t have the courage to take a stand.

  12. Really says:

    One fuster cluck after another around here. Comical except for thr people who are getting sick

  13. Rose says:

    In addition to, and not to make lite of those that were and are, of the sickest, and who’s evacuation from the building was imperative… let’s keep in mind all of the employees of the Sheriff’s Office… all of which are called to that building for training, various meetings, personal human resource matters, uniforms, etc. they all have concerns about re-entry and exposure! This matter goes a lot farther and deeper then most realize!

  14. Hayride says:

    Vinny, I just knew the sheriff would catch heat for that video, ha ha

  15. Concerned Citizen says:

    To all those saying make them go back to work or they can quit and find another job. You obviously aren’t sick from working in a contaminated building. There have long since been issues with this building and now its rearing it’s head. You might support Craig Coffey and that’s fine but why don’t yo go work in that building for a bit and let’s see how your health is after.

    I applaud those taking a stance against Craig Coffey. He knew there were issues with this building and failed to address it. That’s his job as County Administrator. Whether you work for the Sheriff or General Services it’s his JOB to take care of staff. If he doesn’t want to do said job then it’s time to find another County Administrator.

    @ Craig Coffey and Al Hadeed

    I have a simple solution. Let the Sheriff’s Office employees stay where they are at. You two and Sally Sherman go set up office in that building for 6 months or so. You can do it easy enough. And if you aren’t afraid of anything then it’s a piece of cake.

    After those 6 months or so let’s see how you feel after breathing in a contaminated environment day after day. With all these other challenges floating around are you up for it?

    @ Flagler Live

    Thank you for shedding light on this serious matter. As an Emergency Services volunteer I have a lot of friends in the Public Safety community and this is a serious issue. I know you don’t often agree with these people but the public needs to stay informed on this issue

  16. Josh Davis says:

    You will not find better people and employees than Conrad, Costello and Fuentes. This entire situation stunk from the very beginning. It’s disgraceful. Maybe a blinking “vacancy” sign, a DUI taxi, lip sync challenge videos, Deputies dressed like Uncle Sam, leprechauns etc., Behind the badge and Fugitive Bingo money could’ve been used to offset the medical bills piling up on our affected officers instead of ridiculous publicity stunts.

  17. woody says:

    Somebody should fry for this other the the taxpayers.

  18. Robert Lewis says:

    The Coastal Florida PBA representing Flagler has endorsed Nate MacLaughin. I think they need to withdraw their endorsement. It is this commissioner who voted for this death trap. And continues to standby and bless Coffey & Coffeymate with unlimited powers. Let’s not forget the 6th Commissioner Al Hadeed; who’s able to run a muck in Tallahassee.

    Vote out MacLaughlin!
    Fire Coffeey!!

  19. Rob Jr. says:

    This was a bad deal from the start and I don’t mind saying I told you so.
    The conditions of the sale only benefited one party.

    The one who smiled all the way to the bank. MC

  20. Dennis McDonald says:

    Only Me says:
    July 16, 2018 at 2:22 pm
    Mr. McDonald from what your wrote the building slid through Certificate of Occupancy when it shouldn’t have. shouldn’t someone be held accountable for that happening? Especially when humans health was at stake?
    This smells like a good law suit for sure…….

    REPLY Answering your question….YES because Mr Coffey, Mr Hadeed, Sally Sherman and Faith Alkhabit had full knowledge that the building failed compliance to the Florida Building Code. They have full responsibility given by statute to enforce and FAILED.

    Ruffalo and I are hopeful that our submissions about a month ago to the US. Attorney will be heard !

  21. Anonymous says:

    These poor employees. Caught in the middle of all this political posturing. Please, have a heart and do what’s right. You make it more difficult than it should be.

  22. Ramone says:

    Dennis McDonald,

    Was this building brand new from the ground up? Or was it a renovation of an existing building? If it’s the latter, some of the FBC code sections you cite may not apply. When doing a renovation, the Florida Existing Building Code guides the construction and some new construction code sections don’t apply. I’d suggest speaking with the licensed Building Official and finding out to make sure you’re correct.

  23. Ria francis says:

    Sure, we should all just shut up. Obey and Comply with the sherrif request and demands with no investigation or proof of there false claims of any for there own benefit/profiting on tax payers money. This organisation of Flagler Sherrif Department claims of any should be investigated as any other crime. Watch how offensive they get when they are not in controll of the facts to be byassely presented in there favour.
    I guess you can say here to that ” I am speaking out of terms” like they say when information is not in there favour. I do not support lying cops testimony as facts, because most likely it a “lye”. Everything this organisation stand for is based on a “LIES”

  24. Dennis McDonald says:

    Ramone says:
    July 17, 2018 at 9:08 am
    Dennis McDonald,

    Was this building brand new from the ground up? Or was it a renovation of an existing building? If it’s the latter, some of the FBC code sections you cite may not apply. When doing a renovation, the Florida Existing Building Code guides the construction and some new construction code sections don’t apply. I’d suggest speaking with the licensed Building Official and finding out to make sure you’re correct.

    In his own words it was “upgraded to meet current code”….
    I think it is important to keep in mind that this project is a renovation of an existing building which is
    essentially being completely renovated and upgraded to meet current Code.

    Correspondence dated June 19,2015 Chris Noel project AIA’

    More important this building exceeds the 50% threshhold for any consideration to be grand fathered.

  25. Ramone says:


    The Florida Building Code no longer has a 50% threshold for anything to be considered grandfathered. The Florida Existing Building Code guides the work through three varying alteration levels (1-3). It would also involve a change of Occupancy from a Institutional Occupancy type to a Business Occupancy which is a less hazardous use and therefore would have fewer requirements . Because this alteration involved more 50% of the building it would be a level 3 alteration and the Chapter 9 governed the work.

    Also, the sill plate section you quote in the FBC 2318.1.4 is for High Velocity Zones (which is Broward and Dade County area) and is not required in Flagler County.

    I definitely want to suggest you check with a licensed Building Official before you keep making mistakes.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Good job Dennis!

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