Sheriff Rick Staly this morning delivered a 2,000-word statement on the Sheriff’s Operations Center, his first full-length perspective on the troubled building since the county issued a report analyzing air and dust and other compounds inside the building. The building was evacuated last month out of concerns over nearly three dozen employees’ health issues. The Flagler County Commission met in workshop this morning to hear a presentation on the report and discuss options. The story about this morning’s meeting is here. The full statement appears below as provided by the sheriff.
As I speak today I am not speaking to you individually but instead as the governing Board of Flagler County government. I do not intend to point fingers at you or anyone and I hope you and your staff accept my comments in that spirit. I am speaking as the Sheriff leading a group of more than 300 dedicated employees that just want to come to work and serve our community. No one planned to be here today but it is our responsibility to work together to find a solution, whatever that may be.
As you know we just received the report of over 1,700 pages late last Thursday afternoon and then a revised page Friday afternoon so my team has not had time to fully review and analyze the report. We need to take our time to do a proper review as the health and safety of those who serve and protect the citizens of Flagler County hangs in the balance.
I will not rush our analysis. There are indications in the report ESI felt rushed to start and finish the testing and deliver its findings quickly. I do agree the investigation needed to be started quickly but our actions and results need to be deliberate and methodical. Just like a criminal case, no investigation should be rushed. By the way the report was written I can’t help but think ESI was encouraged to complete the investigation quickly so the County could “solve this problem” and move on. I know I did not ask ESI to do a quick job. In fact no one from my team has had any contact with ESI since the day the samples were taken except for receiving the report four days ago. But now you are quickly saying the building is fine and it’s okay to move back in. I say slow down, not so fast. The Sheriff’s Office must take our time to fully review the report, with expert independent guidance that I will be hiring, before I consider any future steps with my employees.
An investigation must always follow the evidence and not jump to the perceived desired conclusion. The report indicates the medical records were not available for review prior to the investigation starting and ending. Which is true. The medical records are now becoming available and are being forwarded for review and inclusion. It took time to work through the legal posturing that is occurring to be able to receive the medical records. Dr. Z. had stated in his original workshop meeting that he is a scientist and works through a hypothesis and having the medical records was an important part of the process to ensure he is conducting and testing properly. Why was this report rushed when the medical records are just now being received. (See the email thread the sheriff referred to here.) Do we really know the appropriate testing was done? Again, an investigation should never be rushed and it appears to me this one has been.
While reading the report and through the emails that have been received there could be an interpretation to look for or blame other factors for the problems of the building or to those of who occupy it. For example:
The observations and discussions with building personnel and employee representatives during ESi investigation indicate that an improved understanding of air quality control by occupants, people responsible for housekeeping and people in charge of the operations and adjustment of the HVAC systems is likely to lead to improvements and minimize the impact of inappropriate attempts to improve air quality by opening doors, overuse of fans, deodorants, aerosols, potpourri, antibacterial chemicals and disinfectants. Many of these approaches can actually adversely impact the air quality and interfere with the proper operation of the system.
Additionally, there are repeated assumptions that personnel occupy the building for only one third of the day and other places, including their homes are environments that could be a problem. While it is true they don’t live 24/7 in this building, I ask you, is there a scientific foundation to blame the activities of the occupants and Sheriff’s custodial staff for the issues within the facility? In my opinion, no. For example, it is doubtful our employees changed any personal office or home environmental habits when they moved in to the building in September 2015.
The same cleaning crew and probably the same cleaning materials being used today are the same that were used in the old operations center. No one got sick then, so why now? This same cleaning crew and chemicals clean the Jail Administration and Palm Coast District Office and no one has gotten sick there. And, what were the chemicals found in the environment that can be connected with the comment that “…, deodorants, aerosols, potpourri, antibacterial chemicals and disinfectants” that prove this statement and could be a contributing factor. Also, what were the chemicals found in the soil samples from the property and under the foundation? We didn’t see them listed in the report but remember its only been 4 days to go through a more than 1700 page report.
The way this report is written it’s like the old days of blaming victims of domestic violence that it’s their fault. I will not tolerate blaming victims of this building, my employees, that it is their fault. They had no choice but to work in this building or find another job. I will tell you this starting October 1 the County can clean all the Sheriff’s facilities and I am reducing my Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget request to reflect this change. No longer will my custodial staff have fingers pointed at them or be blamed for this situation.
My employees tell me symptoms started shortly after they moved in to the Operations Center in late 2015. So my hypothesis is this: something is wrong with this building and we have not discovered it.
The indication in the testing synopsis is there are higher than normal levels of fungus (mold) in 12 of the 23 samples tested that are a result of the humidity in the building. It is clear the HVAC is not adequate or properly working, regardless of the cause, to keep the building dry enough to reduce the levels of fungus. So it would appear the system needs adjustment or replacement to reduce the level of humidity, increase air movement throughout the building, install HEPA filters, etc. before the building is occupied. I also personally believe the evidence storage areas should have their own air handler to ensure no air is being contaminated today or in the future.
It is very important to note the acceptable levels for Carbon Dioxide and humidity cited in the report and levels being used for comparison are levels for when a building is occupied. The building was virtually unoccupied during the testing period, so are these test results even accurate?
There are still outstanding questions that are not addressed in the report to include, but are not limited to, the rotted wood replacement verification. We received information from an employee of one of the contractors that the rotted wood was simply covered up by new plywood. These concerns are still in the community and among our employees. The replacement of the top (wood) plate and supporting rotted wood structure replacement is not proven in the photographs provided. We have been provided photos of before and after along with emails that say the wood “was supposed to be replaced.” We have been provided photos of the “drilling” that was done to disprove this allegation when it was first made, long before I was Sheriff. Here is the problem with the photos. The photo being circulated to “prove” the wood was replaced upon close inspection indicate the drilling of the stucco and mesh stopped at the outside of the new plywood and did not penetrate through the plywood so you could see behind the new plywood and verify the rotted/moldy wood was removed. This issue must be proven or disproven. I am requesting to have the interior drywall above the drop ceiling removed in selected locations that we pick to prove or disprove these allegations once and for all. If you don’t immediately do that then my question is why not? What are you afraid of? I have given you a less expensive option and with the drywall above the ceiling tile if nothing is found put the cutout piece back in and tape it and leave it. It doesn’t have to be pretty above the ceiling. I will state this. I will never accept this building until this issue is proven or disproven as a possible cause of the employee illnesses. Let’s put this issue to bed once and for all now!
During the initial air quality testing by H2H a tape test was used in HVAC # 2. It is my understanding that is the only way the mold was found in HVAC # 2. Why has there been no tape testing of HVAC 1, 3 and 4? I understand that air quality testing was done but not to this level. Dr. Z. had also stated that he wanted to test the filters from the HVAC units and my understanding he was provided them but when he was told the air filters had been recently replaced and the old ones discarded he mentioned that he would have preferred the old ones to test. So, in my opinion we need to do the tape testing to see what may be lurking in the duct work.
These are but a few questions the report creates among our team and we have just started to analyze the report.
I want to give you my personal observation on one employee as an example on why I believe there is an issue with this building. This is an outstanding and dedicated employee that just does her job and doesn’t complain. She was originally assigned as an Internal Affairs investigator and assigned to one part of the building. She was not sick. She was reassigned to major case investigations located in another part of the building and within weeks developed the symptoms of a rash, itching, etc. that other employees have indicated. I’m no scientist but I would say that’s a clue.
Frankly, my team and I have no confidence or trust in this building. After the first round of testing and remediation we were told the building was safe to occupy by employees that I had moved for their well-being. When some of these employees returned to the building, their symptoms returned. Now that they have been relocated from the building for a little over a month all except one employee has stated their symptoms are gone. The one employee that still has the symptoms, I recently learned that she had been going back into the building to process evidence to do her job. While I appreciate her dedication she has been directed to not go in to this building. This is the best personal evidence I have that the building is not safe and something is wrong.
Many years ago Seminole County built a new Sheriff’s Administration building. The employees moved in and a short time later employees started getting sick. The county told the Sheriff nothing is wrong with the building. The Sheriff and his employees finally had enough and started tearing out drywall themselves. They discovered it was infested with mold. The Sheriff’s employees had to evacuate. I tell you this to help explain why my employees do not have confidence in how this has been handled.
One good thing has come out of all this but for another Sheriff. Volusia Sheriff Chitwood has been dealing with a moldy evidence building and trying to get his employees moved until their new building is done. Sheriff Chitwood told me that because of our situation the county finally agreed to provide modular buildings and get his employees moved out. Like Sheriff Chitwood, I am just looking for a proper and safe resolution for my employees.
We are going to have the ESI report reviewed by a consultant that is agreeable to the union. The medical records are starting to be received. I would encourage you to delay accepting this report as a final “all clear” report, not just for my employees but for yours too. Let’s see if even the proper testing was or is being done. Once our independent and medical review is completed, then, and only then, can or should we speak further about the future of the Sheriff’s Office use of this building. Thank you.