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Flagler Ready to Pay $1 Million To Fix Sheriff’s Building? Bogus Claim, County Says

| September 18, 2018

Dennis McDonald, second from left in the background, writing notes during a recent workshop on the Sheriff's Operations Center, with--at the table, from left--County Administrator Craig Coffey, County Attorney Al Hadeed, and County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

Dennis McDonald, second from left in the background, writing notes during a recent workshop on the Sheriff’s Operations Center, with–at the table, from left–County Administrator Craig Coffey, County Attorney Al Hadeed, and County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County officials say a claim by a commission candidate that the county is ready to pay $1 million to fix the Sheriff’s Operations Center is patently false.

The claim by Dennis McDonald, who is running against Commissioner Greg Hansen, triggered a brief but intense reaction from Hansen and County Administrator Craig Coffey at a Monday evening meeting of the commission, with odd statements by both along the way, and yet again illustrated the raw sensitivity and uncertainty on all matters relating to the troubled Operations Center in the midst of an election season. Based on the administrator’s reaction, the response also points to a willingness by the county to spend money on the building, though how much is unclear.

An informal Sunday conversation is at the center of this latest controversy.

On Sept. 9, the Knights of the Inferno Firefighters Motorcycle Club organized its annual motorcycle ride commemorating the 9/11 attacks. Hundreds of bikers gather at the parking lot of the Flagler County courthouse. Dozens of politicians and, in election years, would-be politicians, gather as well to gladhand, hear speeches, see and be seen.

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan was there. He’s not running for anything. He was there just for the commemoration. McDonald was also there. He’s running for the county commission seat held by Greg Hansen. McDonald and Sullivan often talk. They’re both staunch Republicans, current registration aside: McDonald changed his to independent to challenge Hansen in the general election.

As McDonald and Sullivan talked, the conversation turned to the Sheriff’s Operations Center, as it usually does whenever McDonald talks to anyone these days: the building was evacuated in June, its interior air questioned and thought to be the source of what made upwards of two dozen employees ill. The illnesses are a certainty: employees did not invent the rashes, the headaches, the more serious issues in some cases, the medical bills in many, nor the workers’ compensation claims. The cause is a mystery, to the extent that sick building syndrome is one of the harder environmental illnesses to diagnose and certify as the reason why people get ill in affected building.

As Sullivan and McDonald talked, Sullivan told him that if it came down to it, he might be willing to spend–as a county commissioner–up to $1 million to fix the building. But he stressed that he would be willing to do so only if such repairs to the air handling system or other structural issues were manageable, and that spending up to that kind of money would be preferable to building a new structure, which Sullivan estimates at $14 million.

McDonald can have a tenuous grasp on facts. That’s not a subjective claim or an editorial statement in a news story. It may even be an understatement, based on what the Florida Commission on Ethics, an Administrative Law Judge, the city of Palm Coast, the County Commission and a circuit judge have called his facts: “frivolous,” “false,” “malicious,” “knowingly false,” uttered with “reckless disregard” for the truth, and so on. Plus, he’s having to pay back $59,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs for forcing the county to defend against the false claims.

Monday evening at the County Commission, McDonald again presented spoke words that this time caused Sullivan to say he was “done with McDonald,” and to suggest that if McDonald wanted to fight him physically or mentally, he’d beat him either way.

“If he wants a hand to hand battle I’ll kill him. That’s it. If he wants [to battle] on puns, I’ll beat him on puns.”

“I had a conversation with one of the commissioners,” McDonald told the commission during the opening public participation period, without naming Sullivan. “It was rather enlightening. What I was told was that the county administration has been told or what you guys have been told, or at least what he was told, was that we can fix the sheriff’s department for about $1 million, is what’s thought. So I’m sure that I hope that all of you are aware of that and have been told of that, and certainly what comes to mind immediately for me is, we’ve got a trim coming up on Thursday, the 20th.” He was referring to the budget hearing where the commission is scheduled to approve next year’s budget and set next year’s property tax rates. “So if it’s going to cost $1 million to fix, what Mr. Coffey built, just not less than two years ago, then how exactly are we going to pay for that next year is my question that I’d like to leave with you, so maybe I can get an answer from you guys on Thursday, on the 20th, when you set that final trim notice.”

He also urged the commission to fire Coffey. Then he walked out. (“I had another meeting I had to go to and I wanted to make sure I got that in,” McDonald said later in an interview, saying he had to meet John Ruffalo, a current ally and fellow-critic of all things county.)

“I have not heard an estimate of what it’s going to take to fix the sheriff’s office, because we don’t know that anything is wrong with the sheriff’s office,” Commission Chairman Greg Hansen said, himself delivering an assessment of the building that sick employees and, so far, three sets of scientists called to look over the building, would not make so categorically.

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But he was seconded by County Administrator Craig Coffey. “We have no evidence of anything wrong with the sheriff’s office,” Coffey said. “We know that there might be some HVAC things we need to do to better control humidity. Never once have I told you that there’s a million-dollar cure out there or anything remotely associated with that.”

Oddly, Sullivan remained mute.

“So what is that, it’s just made up?” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin asked of McDonald’s claim.

“Apparently, there’s some magic person that hears in my office of numbers I make up sleeping subconsciously,” Coffey said. When he started talking about the “if” of a $1 million expense and how it would be paid for, Hansen interrupted him.

“Once again I want to point out that the man who raised the question doesn’t stick around to hear the answer,” Hansen said of his old allies (McDonald and Hansen were fellows-in-indignity at all things governmental when they were members of the now-defunct Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, the ultra-right club).

Coffey continued, saying repair dollars would not come out of property funds (though November and spring bills for analysis and mitigation of air issues at the Sheriff’s Office have come out of the general fund). “It would come out of some other source, like your local-option sales tax or something like that, if they’re including repairs to the HVAC or something like that. But it’s not anywhere near–any of those kinds of things as far as humidity are minor costs, not in the millions.”

“It’s fair to point out that the inspector the sheriff brought in said there’s nothing wrong with the building. We have to do a better job of filtering the air coming in,” Hansen said, referring to Robert Sweeney, the scientist Sheriff Rick Staly hired to review the available analyses and other documents relating to the building issue. “You get people like that to come up here and just make it up,” Hansen said, gesturing toward the void McDonald’s departure left.

“If there’s one of you commissioners that feels you’ve been told $1 million and somehow uttered that,” Coffey said, “please, let me correct the record as it stands now, I’ve never said that, and if I did, it was in total error.”

When McDonald made his statement about the $1 million cost, most commissioners’ jaws dropped. “When he made that statement I saw everybody on the commission look at each other and I didn’t get the impression that it was a true statement,” said Commissioner Charlie Ericksen (also a former member of the Triple R’s whose first campaign for the County Commission McDonald claims to have managed. Ericksen says McDonald did no such thing).

Asked in an interview to relay what he had heard Sullivan say, McDonald said: “‘I’m being told by my guy that we can fix it for $1 million,’” Sullivan’s “guy” being Coffey. “So it’s not that big of a deal is essentially what he was implying, it’s only a million bucks.”

dave sullivan flagler county commission

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan. (© FlaglerLive)

Sullivan in an interview this evening categorically denied saying Coffey gave him the $1 million figure this way: “Did Coffey give me that $1 million number? He did not.”

“The key issue here is did I get that million dollar number from Coffey, and that’s just no, absolutely not,” Sullivan said. “I am sick of Dennis McDonald pulling these stunts like he did last night. He raises these issues and just walks out, doesn’t even wait for an answer. I’m tired after years of dealing with him, that’s it. If he wants a hand to hand battle I’ll kill him. That’s it. If he wants [to battle] on puns, I’ll beat him on puns.”

Regarding the Sheriff’s Operations Center, he specified: “If it’s a million or less, probably worth fixing it. Now, no one knows if they’re even going to put another dime into the building. We have to wait to receive kind of a unified final inspection process with recommendations on what to be done if anything to make it sound.”

Told of Sullivan’s statements, McDonald called Sullivan “a big liar,” saying he was “not surprise of any of that at all, especially as he sat there in the chamber there and was red-faced over the whole thing.” But moments later McDonald took a more tempered approach, saying of Sullivan’s statements: “That’s not the way I understood it,” and “Could I have misunderstood what Dave told me? It’s a possibility.” The he said that putting tit for tat aside, “You guys want to talk about words, let’s go find the facts” and “find out what’s behind the sheetrock.” He was speaking metaphorically and literally.

23 Responses for “Flagler Ready to Pay $1 Million To Fix Sheriff’s Building? Bogus Claim, County Says”

  1. 107 says:

    Why did no county commissioner own the conversation with McDonald last night and set the record straight then?

    Why did it take Julie Murphy till late this afternoon to post a public comment on another thread regarding this issue, after she had time for all heads to get together to discredit McDonald?

    Why did Julie Murphy use tax payer owned equipment while on the county’s payroll to read and respond on a blog? This should warrant immediate termination and demonstrates desperation to spin the story.

    The $1 million dollar issues isn’t the only issue that warrants Craig Coffey being terminated, he should have been terminated back in 2010 when Holland raised the issues. Instead, he was given multiple raises a preputial employment contract, and all done while he was deceiving the board he is employed by

    If the Board and Coffey didn’t have anything to hide they would have spoke up with McDonald raises this issue and they wouldn’t have Julie Murphy speaking for them. When Julie Murphy lies for them, they can’t be accused of lying. It is long past time for Coffey to be terminated and his golden parachute to be shredded!!! It is about time the BOCC step up and do the jobs they were elected to do, we the people have had enough, and will continue to vote them out of office until they hear us and represent us!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sullivan never says anything—he is a do nothing county commissioner. He doesn’t accept pay, so he apparently feels like he doesn’t have an obligation to do anything other than keep the seat warm. In 2020 Sullivan is said to not be running for re-election and that is a good thing–we need a commissioner that will represent us and work for us. Shame on you Mr. Sullivan for not speaking up and setting the record straight last night after McDonald spoke–all this did was affirm what McDonald said was true and correct!

  3. Dennis McDonald says:

    If what I said Commissioner Sullivan said was incorrect then WHY did he not open his mouth at the meeting and say something last night ? Did he need time to confer with Coffey today then have Julie Murphy respond ? Flagler we have a problem…the political bureaucrats took over.

    Listen to the tape, all I asked where is the million coming from with a new budget being approved this Thursday?

    FACT..The BOCC got fined the Maximum by the FDEP 4/30/2018 for demolition of 21,000 sq ft four wings of the old hospital. This is a violation of the Federal Clean Air Act. This was done with research material from the County Clerk because Julie Murphy responded there are no records available ! Ruffalo and I found them by following the $$ with help from Tom Bexley.

    FACT..The 4000 sq ft building to the rear of the HQ was shut down again in April and mitigated again for ASBESTOS. This was in the area where the deputies…EXERCISED ! Many of the Deputies put their own time and sweat into that building the exercise area. What were they exposed to during construction and later while exercising ? Ruffalo and I found this again by following the $$. Murphy proved useless in these requests.

    FACT.. Hansen operates in LOCK STEP with Coffey.

    NEXT UP….Let us open the sheetrock and look at the sill plates for conformance to Florida Building Code. Check my 2015 pictures during construction…what changed ? Then we need three votes !

  4. John Brady says:

    Why spend another dime on that sick building. In the words of Kenny Rogers “know when to fold them” No one seems to understand that there maybe some element or combination of elements that we have not discovered how to test for.
    So spend more money, put people back and these people get sick again. What then is Plan B

  5. Ben Hogarth says:

    Let’s play a game called ‘logic and reason’ and for a moment, pretend that we all have some.

    I reviewed much of the documents provided on the County’s webpage that details the rather lengthy history of the Sheriffs Ops Center issue. I was not at all surprised to learn that there had been an abatement of asbestos among other remediation made over the last several years. It does also appear that the building suffers from poor circulation and has a history of bacterial growth (mold). I think all of these factors probably play a role in negative health effects for employees.

    If I were investigating the issue, I would certainly start with understanding HOW the asbestos abatement was conducted all those years ago. It may be possible that it simply was not done correctly and asbestos fibers linger on within the building. The abatement project was rather extensive and much of the ceiling tiling as an example, I believe, contained this material. This would be my greatest concern from a health perspective, followed by any detections of radon and bacterial growth. The scientific studies conducted on the building did not pass my skepticism test – the methodology was as flawed as it was narrow in scope. That’s all I have to really say about it.

    As far as the $1 million claim… is it really important? The county acquired a building that should have never been purchased and adapted for reuse. The millions of dollars that went into the process alone was a waste of taxpayer money and a failure on both administration and the commission to find an adequate supply of funding to build a new operations center from scratch. That failure alone, dwarfs any “patently false” narratives about future costs of remediating the building.

    False claims are made everyday. We can choose to ignore them through the swift application of reason.

    What we can’t “reason,” however, is just why the hell the public has tolerated this complete failure of county government.

    But sure, let’s sweep that under the rug and talk about the hypothetical $1 million in future costs. Nobody talk about the millions that have already been wasted and court battle that will eventually ensue when the county doubles down on its failures.

    I can’t wait for THAT narrative to be written. And I will happily wait in the nonfiction section of the news until it is.

  6. Anonymous says:

    How much county employee time and expense has been spent thus far on the Sheriff’s Operation Center since County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin collected his ribbon from that ribbon cutting ceremony? Seems to me that he should have been collecting air, soil, and foundation samples and all of this current ya-ya and expense would maybe then have been avoided. Sorry Nate, there is more to being a county commissioner than cutting ribbons and collecting them. It is shameful that any amount of time and money was spent on this building since it was opened as the Sheriff’s Operation Center—the county administrator failed miserably and should be fired!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is totally ridiculous and childish. Who cares. Fix that building and get it over with. These are the type of people running our County? Get rid of every last one of them. Including Cofey. If Palm Coast can do it with Landon, so can you guys. Grow a set.

  8. Beachbum says:

    Why in the world would we want McDonald in ANY elected position? All the guy wants to do is cause trouble, lie about issues and then sue somebody when he gets his panties in a twist. Then he refuses to pay the fines he owes! Gimme a break.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hey Commissioner, How much did we taxpayers pay for that embroidered shirt you have on? Where is the county policy that authorizes is tax payers to clothe county commissioners? By the looks of that belly, you can afford food, so you should be able to pay for your own clothes from the $50,000+ tax payers salary you receive each year. By time way, be careful of that advice from Al Hadeed-he didn’t seem to provide you commissioners with very good advice when he stood side by side with Coffey on the purchase of the old Bunnell Hospital when he was aware of public objection.

  10. Bird Watcher says:

    We should start referring to Dennis McDonald as The Pigeon. He swoops in, drops verbal shit bombs on your otherwise clean meeting, and then nonchalantly flies off.

    And he wants the voters in this county to elect him to office? What a joke!

    I tell you what there, Dennis, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll vote for you if you can make it 6 months without filing a frivolous lawsuit or ethics complaint . Good luck.

  11. ConstantlyAmazed says:

    Now there’s an idea, a “fund raiser” to fix the Op’s center so taxpayer money won’t have to be used ‘AGAIN”.
    Commissioner Sullivan and McDonald can have a “ BATTLE ROYALE” ultimate cage MMA grudgefest. The event would be a massive cash cow for capital improvement.

  12. David S. says:

    This county is a complete mess and a joke. Coffey and all of the commissoner’s need to crawl into a hole from which they came from. Tear that piece of crap down and start over period….

  13. palmcoaster says:

    This time around in November I expect our resident tax waste watch dog and taxpayer Mr. Dennis McDonald elected as we need him. All those here speaking against him have probably their paws in that cookie jar called BOCC and management. By then hope Coffey, Murphy, Dunn and Sherman already “left” or be booted and seat in the FCBOCC McDonald and Gentile Youd, so finally the tax payers wishes are granted. Also by then in these commission meetings receive the respect they pay for to them all and no texting instead, besides a clear sound of the county televised meeting that we are probably paying a rate in gold. We need respect and transparency from FCBOCC and the right manager.

  14. 107 says:

    McLaughlin sticks his nose in it to defend Coffey and that is why McLaughlin was unseated in August….he is a puppet and a wind bag with no ability to even handle his own personal finances. He is now running around to other government agencies begging for work because he has NO experience in ANYTHING! Maybe he can make a living cutting grass instead of ribbons or singing out at the European Village. Why did McLaughlin not ask the board who had the conversation with McDonald instead of saying they were lies—-it is revealed here that a conversation did take place. I am in the opinion that Dave Sullivan didn’t speak up after McDOnald spoke because he was outed and had to confer with Coffey and Company to see how to deflect what he had said. Sullivan is also the same county commissioner that was scheduled to meet with Ruffalo and McDonald months back and Coffey told Sullivan he was not to meet with them, and he did not! Sullivan should be criminally charged for making a threat to kill McDonald with his hands. Sullivan and other board members have proved to be bullies and retaliate against anyone who challenges them. Coffey, Hadeed, Dunn, Mayer, Dixon, Sherman, Petito and others should all be fired!!!!!!!!

  15. Dave says:

    So Sullivan is treating physical violence against McDonald? That doesn’t seem to be the kind of person that should be in charge of anything. Let’s get these workers back to work in this obviously UNSICK building. It’s been proven over and over and let’s just stop the games.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Demolition is the answer. Test the grounds for toxic contaminated because you know that will be next .

  17. tulip says:

    Throwing another million into the building is total fiscal insanity and human irresponsibility.

  18. A Dedicated American says:

    Bird watcher and Beachbum: if you both know what is happening in this county, you would would not be voicing your insulting opinions on what is actual fact. Go back and run all the county commission and workshop tapes to understand the actual truths. Have any of you ever attended any of these meetings.
    I am a tax payer are you.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I agree. Cut the crap and just build a new building. The economy is going strong. They already have the land.

  20. 107 says:

    Did public elected official, Dave Sullivan threatens to KILL McDonald and all because McDonald exercised his first amendment right and left the room? McDonald never stayed a name of which Commissioner told him of the 1 million dollars….it was Sullivan who owned it AFTER the meeting for Julie Murphy to release a blog on this site and for FL to produce this story with Sullivan’s quote and admission. Sullivan should be removed from the BOCC by Governor Rick Scott!! Sullivan is not fit to serve.

  21. woodchuck says:

    Instead of everybody having a pissing match lets REALLY find out what’s wrong with the building fix it and sue the contractor.To many outside vendors get paid do a shit job and bail out.Remember the last park we paid for that the vendor never finished?

  22. Beachbum says:

    Yes, Dedicated American, I am a Flagler County taxpayer and have been for almost 25 years and I’m tired of seeing taxpayer money spent to defend the county or the city from the McDonald’s unnecessary lawsuits. He’s a permanent candidate who sues probably because he’s pissed he never wins.

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