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Sheriff Asks For Semi-Permanent Solution Away From Comatose Building As Issue May Linger Up To a Year

| August 30, 2018

Robert Sweeney, left, presenting his analysis of a county report on the Sheriff's Operations Center at a County Commission workshop today, with Sheriff Rick Staly and County Administrator Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Robert Sweeney, left, presenting his analysis of a county report on the Sheriff’s Operations Center at a County Commission workshop today, with Sheriff Rick Staly and County Administrator Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

A workers’ compensation judge looking over 22 sheriff’s employees’ cases today ordered the “preservation” of the Flagler County Sheriff’s troubled and evacuated Operations Center, though the order does not apply to the county, which is not a party to workers’ compensation issues.

The order may derail or at least suspend whatever plan the sheriff and the County Commission may have devised after today’s presentation to the commission of a new report on the building’s air safety. That, plus a visit by the Centers for Disease Control next week and the election in three months is adding to a state of suspended animation as far as the sheriff’s exile from the Operations Center is concerned.

There’s no plan to reoccupy the building for at least the next several months. Sheriff’s personnel has been scattered between its old administrative office, the courthouse and other locations since the evacuation. But the sheriff said today that situation is “untenable,” and must be addressed with a “mid-term solution” until the county figures out whether and how to reoccupy the building.

The sheriff said that may mean doing what the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office did a couple of decades ago when faced with a similar situation: bringing in double-wide trailers, and consolidating the operation in one location. Staly proposed just such a solution in June, just before evacuating the building. County Administrator Craig Coffey did not want to go that route: the expense and the timing were an issue, and at the time the evacuation was seen as temporary.

Now it’s turning into a matter of semi-permanence, again changing the dynamics of the discussion and the politics surrounding it: while figuring out the illnesses of two dozen employees is n abeyance, figuring out the logistics of Sheriff’s operations is not: Staly wants a ready solution soon, and today asked the county commission to put the matter on its next agenda and direct County Administrator Craig Coffey to execute a solution that would presumably be reached between sheriff’s officials, Coffey and commissioners.

The latest report on the building’s interiors was commissioned by Staly, in response to a report commissioned by the county that found the building safe to reoccupy. The new report, by Robert Sweeney, a specialist in air quality who retired in Flagler Beach, disputes the previous report, saying the building had to be evacuated and mold was likely present within.

“I wouldn’t hire them,” Sweeney said of Engineering Systems Inc. (ESi), the company the county hired to do the previous testing. That was his most explosive statement of the afternoon. He realized it was and quickly softened it, saying the company just “missed the boat. I don’t want to knock the company.”

Sweeney was recommending a series of steps to try to fix the problem at the Operations Center. Those steps cannot be taken for now. And the CDC team’s findings, following its walk-through the building next week and meetings with sheriff’s employees, may not be disclosed for “three months to a year,” according to Staly.

Robert Sweeney. (© FlaglerLive)

Robert Sweeney. (© FlaglerLive)

All of that added more fog than clarity to an issue that has created serious tensions between the sheriff and the county administration, that may have played a significant role in the defeat of County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin in this week’s primary, that will play a central role in County Commissioner Greg Hansen’s contest with challenger Dennis McDonald, and that has made the sheriff’s office’s operations less effective, according to Staly.

It’s been three month since the sheriff evacuated its building in June, decentralizing its operations. Local agencies have cooperated, but “there really hasn’t been a solid plan forward.” Today the sheriff for the first time described what the nomadic past three months have been like.

The Records Department is in a cramped space without any ability to store records. It’s working out of bankers’ boxes. Physical evidence from crime scenes is still at the Operations Center: it can’t just be picked up and moved out of a secure facility. “There’s just frankly no place to move it to,” Staly said. New evidence is in the old evidence room at the old administration building, with gym lockers being used for storage.

“Narcotics being held for evidence can often be smelled throughout the building,” the sheriff said, with visitors at the jail, who conduct video calls with inmates through a big room at the old administration building, joking about the smell. The only place to process a vehicle used in a crime is at the Operations Center. Training is now limited, with sheriff’s personnel at the mercy of generally smaller classroom space in other agencies’ buildings. “The relocation has totally disrupted the smooth and ongoing process of training new employees,” he said. Detectives have no interview rooms. They’ve been using those at the Flagler Beach Police Department. Face-to-face interaction has diminished between staffers, when people aren’t “playing hunt and seek” The sheriff himself, whose office is ensconced at the county courthouse, has been far less accessible to people than he would rather be.

“We need to look for a better mid-term solution, certainly as we figure out what the long term is,” Staly said. “Despite all this, no interruption of our service to the community has occurred.”

The Sheriff’s Office has lost one employee so far to a resignation tied to the building issue. Staly says more will resign, and many will do so if the building is reintegrated.

Staly earlier this month had said that if it were up to him, he’d never return to the building. But he was referring to a comment by County Commission Chairman Greg Hensen, who’d told the sheriff that it would be entirely up to him whether to return there or not. Hansen had either worded his statement poorly or made it without his fellow-commissioners’ consent: it is not Staly’s sole decision. The building remains a county responsibility, and Staly remains a tenant of the county. So today Staly re-opened the door, if only slightly, to the possibility that he could see a way back in there.

“Reoccupying is not my sole decision,” Staly said today, giving Hansen a lifeline. “I know what he was trying to say at the last meeting, we’re in this together.” But current working conditions are not tenable, he said.

His revelations and his request to the county for a semi-permanent solution to his agency’s exile displaced the importance of the Sweeney report, mushc of which had been previewed in local media anyway.

Several people addressed the commission during the public comment period. But the haze surrounding the meeting’s disparate issues left those commenting mostly with reiteration of previous statements. With one or two exceptions, there was less anger this time. Those who spoke included attorneys, sheriff’s employees, family members of sheriff’s employees–who were more emotional than their partners–all of them, aside from the attorneys, reiterating the need for transparency, working away from “covering butts,” helping the agency to be more effective, and continuing to find a solution to the employees’ health.

Most were thankful for Sweeney’s report, but mostly because it confirmed their predisposition to doubt the county’s approach. Whether the report would stand the test of peer reviews is an open question, soi whatever its scientific validity, its political weight was clear: it validated the position the sheriff and his employees have adopted.

At the beginning of the meeting, Staly joined his introduction of Sweeney by asking him a series of questions that established that Sweney had not been given a pre-determined conclusion or that anyone from the Sheriff’s Office interfered with his analysis beyond his being hired to carry it out (for $5,000 from the sheriff’s budget).

Sweeney then presented his findings, previously reported here. In sum, he said the previous tests did not take into account fragmentary mold that could be carriers of mycotoxins, and could have been causing illness among sheriff’s employees.

He said the Operations Center was contaminated by mold fragments that entered the building through four “make-up ports,” resulting in illnesses. “I don’t think they originated from inside the building. They were brought in.” But that conclusion was in startling contrast with any findings or assumptions to date: previous testing in November had discovered mold in at least two rooms. The county addressed those findings, or thought it addressed them. Since then, the assumption among employees has been that the source of mold is persisting, but has not been uncovered–and that the source was likely to be from within the building. The sheriff has been pressing the county for months to drill behind certain walls or ceilings to put to rest (or verify) a fear that rotten wood isn’t the culprit.

Sweeney is putting the blame for mold on the air conditioning system and the ultraviolet light intended to demolish mold spores when air enters the building: spores are being captured and fractured, before being pulled into the Operations Center’s air. He proposed reconfigurations of the system and a testing regimen stretched over 34 days to have more accurate samples. “Concentrate on the spaces that were a problem,” he said. If testing shows reduced fragments within norms, “reoccupation of the building could be considered,” he said.

“In my opinion Dr. Sweeney has outlined a good plan,” Sheriff Rick Staly said, but only after the air conditioning system has been “upgraded or adjusted.” That may not be possible just yet.

“We are prohibited from doing anything or inducing anything that would modify the building at this point,” Kayla Hathaway, the sheriff’s attorney, said. That means no one can change out air conditioning filters, knock down walls or do anything else that alters the present state of the building.

Annie Conrad, a sheriff’s detective and one of the more severely affected employees, asked Sweeney about how those who have already been exposed to mold may have had their sensitivity to mold heightened, making a return to a previously affected building more difficult. Sweeney said that “even with their high sensitivity,” people could return to a building that had previously made them sick as long a sit’s been cleaned properly–a finding that seemed to clash with Conrad’s–a detective who does her research, after all–who said individuals so affected have been found to need a year or two before their immune system can handle even normal mold levels.

The workshop adjourned in something of a fishtail ending after just 80 minutes.

A note about missing comments: While switching this story from its lead position to the left column, we committed a stupid by costly error, briefly trashing the story instead of slating it for the local column. The story itself was easily restored, but the momentary trashing caused several comments to be lost, one of them by Dennis McDonald. We have asked him to send it back in. We are asking anyone whose comment was lost to please resubmit. Our apologies: the error was entirely at our end, but there was nothing conspiratorial about it. It was mere carelessness.

13 Responses for “Sheriff Asks For Semi-Permanent Solution Away From Comatose Building As Issue May Linger Up To a Year”

  1. Knows Jack says:

    Hansen, step up. Now is your chance to pin the tail on the Donkey..or the idiots who promoted and voted to buy it . Two issues, new housing and old dump. One at a time. Build new. Move on. Address the “asset” , old property on it’s own.

  2. Dave says:

    Omg just get to work. Have you ever witnessed such a circus? Like I said months ago, get some portables, put them in the parking lot of the so called sick building and there u go, a temporary fix till they clean ur little a/c ducts and everyone can get back to it. Just face facts, you work in the Bunnell projects. It doesn’t make you less of a person and shouldn’t make you feel a certain way. Just deal.

  3. Dennis McDonald says:

    The ESi report was a FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLAR CYA by Coffey, Hansen and McLaughlin to force the Sheriff back into the building that McLaughlin Voted to buy because it had “good bones”. Chairman Hansen knew about the ESi conclusions many days before the Sheriff was given the report. Coffey, Hansen and McLaughlin operated in lock step for 18 months. Today Hansen said the newly known court order was an unacceptable delay in this process. Seriously, this trio has KNOWN about the issues with this building for 10 months ALL on Chairman Hansen’s watch and now he finds this “freeze order” unacceptable ! This commission has sat on it’s hands for four months while I have been going to meetings and asking them to help pay for medical tests for the Deputies and staff. NEVER once did they ever do anything other than string this along. TO date they have done NOTHING but talk and hold the Sheriff back, NEVER addressing the human element of the LARGEST man made disaster in Flagler History.

    From the onset many months ago this has ALWAYS been about covering McLaughlin for re election. How could the three[Hansen, McLaughlin,Sullivan] Flagler County Republican Executive Committeemen allow one of their incumbents to get caught in a REAL investigation that should have been taking place ! I spoke with McLaughlin last Saturday about his FAILURE to act. He said “it takes three votes to do something”. Really, well how would he know that he did not have the votes to move a motion to help the Deputies ? The reality is McLaughlin KNEW that Hansen, Sullivan and HE {Nate} were the NO VOTES.

    This subculture of these select Flagler Republican Committee members with it’s Campaign Chairman Bob Updegrave [a former RRR Board Member] has operated with little or no knowledge of the Republican Committee Membership to the detriment of our community. They did so by using the large infusion of $$ that Chairman Hansen poured in to the coffers. Who was going to object unless they knew the end game ? The FCREC Members should demand resignations for this UN ethical practice….NOW before they invite Adam Putnam back to give another 20 minute SURPRISE speech of drivel !

    These “leaders” continue the Flagler practice of “benefiting the few at the expense of the MANY….us.

  4. Dennis McDonald says:

    [Dennis McDonald’s comment drew questions, to which he answered. The comments who asked the questions are lost. McDonald sent back his answers so they could be restored.–FL]

    Facts says

    All of those legal actions by the THEN BOCC and Hadeed are directly related to trying to stop this Sheriff HQ from being bought and constructed. It was orchestrated pay back with your tax$$ by political bureaucrats Coffey/Hadeed. I do not have a figure for those legal actions STARTED by the then BOCC. What I do know is the current dollar amount for this old hospital mess is well over eight million and counting for a building that is ABANDON !

    The biggest COST is 38 Deputies/Staff that work every day to protect us. They are having medical issues that can not be measured in $$. What effect does this have on their families and friends ? The personal injury suits will be significant all brought to you by Mr Coffey and Hadeed who should have advised Revels she had a Voting Conflict 5/6/2013 !

    Thanks for asking. This community needs to do a better job at fixing this mess than they did at stopping the purchase that was all for “business associates” of a then Commissioner.

    Kathy..The county does all it can to deflect any requests made for information. That is why Rufalo and I had to go to Tom Bexley and follow the money which resulted in the FDEP maximum fine for the four wings of the old hospital torn down. If you read the FDEP fine letter the FAC section listed was a violation of the Federal Clean Air Act.

    I have repeatedly appeared and asked for $$ to test all persons claiming medical problems due to that building. The BOCC sits on their hands. How else can we begin to make up for what this administration/commissioners have knowingly done. This was a “brownfield building” from day one.

    Chairman Hansen’s comment about the judge’s action in granting the injunction to preserve the HQ in its present state ..”that’s an unnecessary roadblock”. My take away is the action was unacceptable. More important is who is this Chairman to make a comment like this about an action by a Judge to preserve the conditions that the County Administration worked so hard to eradicate a few weeks back. Why would you do “deep cleaning” without full agreement and notification to the Sheriff ? Because Al Hadeed said it was required by the insurance policy ! The public is much smarter than that.

    I have long ago given up on the County providing full disclosure.

  5. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    What is done is done. Nate is paying the price for his big big mistake. The only other Commissioner who remains on the commission today from the May 6, 2013 disastrous purchase is Charlie Ericksen and he voted NO!.
    If we don’t give our precious employees a new completely safe environment to work we will lose many valuable law enforcement personnel – we scream ‘ Public Safety’ at every budget hearing and the board just approved taking a $13 million loan ( for starters – more like $18 million when done) for 8 ‘EMERGENCY TOWERS’ that are ‘needed’ – yes needed by the very people we are playing ping pong with their minds as well as their welfare. WHO IS GOING TO NEED $18 MILLION NEW CELL TOWERS IF WE HAVE ALMOST NOBODY TO USE THEM ! huh?
    For starters we can sell land we don’t need like the useless barn way out west and use whatever we get towards a new building. We can postpone the ‘urgent’ 8 new towers because we have towers we are still paying for now – until our previous employees have a safe place to work.

    Word is getting around that Flagler County doesn’t have everything – not at the moment anyway so there goes a bunch of tourist dollars as well as perhaps new businesses and residents who will think twice about visiting, investing or moving to a county with unhappy ‘cops’ and public safety personnel!
    Let’s get real. I don’t want to borrow $18 million for unlit towers while our staff is living in cardboard boxes !

  6. Kathy says:

    Thank you, Dennis.

    Here is the gist of what I had posted…(though, Dennis, I appreciate your effort but it didn’t answer my question)…

    It was made clear at the meeting that the county made all of their records available to the public freely via an online portal but also there are documents missing ~ Sheriff Staly’s emails…where are those or what is he hiding?

    Of the list of documents shared with Robert Sweeney (shared by Staly, I believe) it seems that there is a gap in time…From September 2016 to November 2017 there was nothing of concern with this building? We went from nothing unusual to approximately a year and 6 weeks later a request to test for mold? What did I miss there?

    Where is anything that transpired in documentation and or email from September 2016 to November 2017 between Sheriff Staly/the employees/& BOCC in any & all direction or form of communication?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Coffey should be fired for deep cleaning the building and monkeying around with the AC unit a week or two before the. DC is to srrive. He did this for one reason—to cover up and deflect the problem. His lack of integrity and hobesity warrants termination and prosecution.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    You are so right Dennis. You are battling out there for the best interest of the taxpayers residents, the preservation of our trees and green areas and fair elections absent of fraud and they want to silence you while exercising your first amendment by wasting our tax funds by suing you!
    I really hope you are elected to the county commission this time as the last time you run you lost for only 211 ballots and we needed you there then and now. You have spent your time, money and construction expertise trying to uncover wrong doing and waste by the County Mananger and the FCBOCC and is time we give you the representation we need in Flagler County!

  9. John Brady says:

    One point that appears to be overlooked is that there maybe toxins in that building that no test has been yet been developed to test. The very simple fact is that a significant number of people did get sick in that building.So what do we you if we spend 100’s of thousands or millions in testing and remediation and we order the employees back in and they get sick again.

    Give up on that building. Add on to the EOC or build next to the EOC.

    I just do not want to take a chance of harming the men and women of our law enforcement community.

    This expensive but once and done solution is coming from a well known fiscal conservative.

  10. Percy's mother says:

    Jane Gentile-Youd is way, way, way and WAY out of her league when matched with Dennis McDonald.

  11. I will not says:

    John Brady,

    How about you pay for my portion of a new facility for the Sheriff’s Office. I have already helped pay for one in the past five years.

  12. Anonymous says:

    To Jane Gentile-Youd: The purchase of the “barn”, as you call it, on the west side is I believe a good investment and will save the county money over the long haul. The west side is in need of a fire department building to house it’s trucks and equipment. The counties’ road and bridge department also needs a place to house securely it’s equipment as well as place out of the weather to maintain both fire and road and bridge equipment to keep from driving or transporting the equipment back to the main county maintenance facility in Bunnell. These two uses alone would save an enormous amount of money over time. As for the firefighters, there should be a new building built to accommodate their sleeping and non active on duty hours, not necessarily within or a part of the existing metal structure you call a “Barn”. The entire 10 acre complex is fenced by a 8′ chain link fence which is a plus for security of the equipment being stored there. In the future the vacant portion of this property could be used as a local gathering point for larger community functions such as a polling place, a community park, a ball field, another Sherriff’s substation{as needed in future}, a place to hold the Santa Run each Christmas event, and numerous more possibilities. I believe overall the county did a very good thing by acquiring this “Barn” and the 10 acres or so that it is located on. Don’t get rid of this prime piece of real estate with so much promise to try and raise money to build a new Sherriff’s Administration building. If that building can’t be reoccupied safely in the not too distant future, first try to obtain a federal grant or just cut your losses and create a tax increase{bond issue} to build a new Sherriff’s office at a different location.

  13. 107 says:

    The “Barn” as it has been referred was only acquired by the county because they wouldn’t give the OK for power to be turned on because all the permitting process wasn’t followed. Yet, the county gives themselves the OK to have power at this location once they buy it at a bargain price and run the property owner out of town by being so hard to get a long with. The county took advantage of the property owner and most likely because they were eyeing the property to begin with. The fact is the first station on county road 2006 has worked just fine for a very long time and it was ran by volunteers–yes those like Ralph Santore that were never recognized or given an ounce of appreciation for their time and service of keeping people in that area safe. The county has decided to again go BIG TIME and buy and invest in over kill for this area. We don’t need firemen camping in this area of the county and we pay for it. If it wasn’t broken, it never should have been fixed. Coffey and Petito has an agenda and had friend and friends of friends that could use a full time job, a job to do a little to nothing, at a premium salary with high retirement and other benefits all at the cost of the tax payers. If this is going to be offered in that area of the county then do the same for Espanola, Korona, Rima Ridge and the Hammock!!! This was a conniving calculated plan by Craig Coffey and again the screws were put to the people. Let us not forget it was Nate McLaughlin that was wheeling and dealing with Bunnell City Commissioner, who is a land owner on the west side of the county who has his property illegally zoned in the city limits of Bunnell-when it is not contagious to swap the fire station land on county road 2006 for Tucker land on county road 305 by Santore and Sons and after it was out of the bag, the ordeal fell through. All of this talk with Tucker was done long before the county bought the “Barn”. The county didn’t need the volume of land purchased, and didn’t need to invest in the barn when there was already a fire station in place and when the county already owned land in Daytona North.

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