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Craig Coffey Isn’t Fired, But Meeting Is Set to Decide His Fate As Sheriff and Others
Blister His Management

| December 3, 2018

County Administrator Craig Coffey, upper left, sat silent as Sheriff Rick Staly publicly criticized his tenure before county commissioners this morning. Staly stopped short of calling for Coffey's firing or resignation. (© FlaglerLive)

County Administrator Craig Coffey, upper left, sat silent as Sheriff Rick Staly publicly criticized his tenure before county commissioners this morning. Staly stopped short of calling for Coffey’s firing or resignation. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 3:09 p.m.

County Commission Joe Mullins tried to fire County Administrator Craig Coffey this morning and failed, but but what followed may have damaged Coffey beyond repair as County Commission Chairman Don O’Brien and Sheriff Rick Staly separately and publicly leveled what amounted to a searing indictment of the administrator’s tenure on many grounds, and the commission agreed to set a January 14 meeting to discuss Coffey’s fate.


O’Brien had been expected to provide a second to Mullins’s motion, but said he was reluctant to decide Coffey’s fate in the absence of Charlie Ericksen, who did not attend this morning’s meeting. Commissioners Dave Sullivan and Greg Hansen were not interested in firing Coffey, and Hansen went as far as saying that the record doesn’t warrant his firing. But by late morning, after others had spoken, and especially after the sheriff spoke, Sullivan’s and Hansen’s position looked increasingly isolated, their commission chairs beginning to resemble wagon wheels.

“This building issue is a crisis and it takes crisis leadership to solve it,” Staly said, referring to the evacuated Sheriff’s Operations Center, a still-unresolved problem with all the signs of a sick building. “In the 13-months I have seen virtually no leadership from the administrator on this crisis. What I have seen is resistance, denial, legal posturing, inappropriate and demeaning comments about my employees to county staff members and, from what I am told, to other elected officials and administrators in this county and at conferences and delaying tactics.”

O’Brien provided a lengthier, point-by-point indictment of Coffey, who sat silent throughout at his usual desk to the right of the commissioners’ dais. O’Brien cited the Operations Center, the re-hiring of Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman, the Bing’s Landing controversy over the Captain’s BBQ lease there, the budgeting process that Coffey started in a place different from where commissioners wanted it (they wanted no tax increase), Coffey’s lack of responsiveness from a customer-service perspective, the deterioration of relations between Flagler’s legislative delegation and the administration, and the more serious deterioration of relations between Coffey and two constitutional officers: the sheriff and Tom Bexley, the clerk of court.

Describing Coffey, O’Brien used words like “combativeness,” “bad judgment,” “lack of empathy and caring,” and “poor judgment” before describing himself frustrated. “And so I think about the big themes here,” O’Brien said, “which are competency, empathy, decision making, future-focused and adapting to new ideas and technologies, and I arrive at a point where I am extremely frustrated with Mr. Coffey’s performance.” But he said “it’s wrong to take an action when there’s only four commissioners here.”

He was especially critical about Coffey’s management of the troubled Sheriff’s Operations Center. “I am very frustrated with Mr. Coffey’s performance,” he said, calling the Operations Center issue “ground zero for my frustration.”

“I can remember very specific conversations between him and I where,” O’Brien said of his conversations with Coffey on the operations center, “what came across to me was, those employees were faking, they were not sick, there were no symptoms, they’re just trying to further a worker’s comp claim or whatever the case may be, and I was kind of appalled at that. I don;t think that’s the right behavior that I want someone working for me to have.”

Mullins then followed with remarks he’d prepared to go along with his motion: though it had failed by then, he made his points, saying the administrator’s tenure was no longer tenable in light of other officials’ refusal to work with him directly, or their difficulties doing so. Mullins’s motion to have a future meeting on Coffey’s fate, which was approved, was explicit: “To put the discussion of termination of our county manager.”

O’Brien seconded it.

“I would not have made the motion, would not have seconded the motion, but given what’s been said, I don;t have any problem discussing things,” Sullivan said.

“Despite everything that’s been said, I have not seen cause to terminate Mr. Coffey,” Hansen said to disbelieving titters from the audience. “Would you all please be quiet? And I just want to state that, I think he’s had problems and he and I have sat down and discussed them, and I’ve seen corrections. And I’m a leader and a manager, and that’s the way I fix problems, is I teach, and I expect response, and I’m getting it.”

Mullins wasn’t mollified. “I’m very concerned moving forward with our elected officials, the sheriff and the clerk of court and many others not being able to work with him, and if we don’t wake up and see this, this is something that’s very clear in this community.”

The vote was 4-0, including Hansen, who–like Sullivan–may be recognizing that tethering his fate to Coffey’s may not be the sort of leadership other local politicians with more capital than he has are looking for. Hansen, no longer the commission’s chairman, sat grim-faced for most of the meeting, either listening to speakers or looking down.

After the meeting, Coffey said he would continue working. “I take some exception with some of the things said here today,” he said. “I will respond to those in due time, but obviously some things were new today, and simply, some things are not true. But you don’t win battles arguing stuff totally in public like that. So I will take my time and make a calm, reasoned approach and defend myself and my integrity.” He said he would respond to “clearly false accusations” from the sheriff, particularly regarding claims the sheriff made about Coffey interfering with hurricane relief missions by sheriff’s deputies on the west side of the county. He said he’d not heard those claims before.

Coffey said he was not getting any pressure from commissioners behind the scenes to resign, though Sullivan, leaving the chamber after the meeting, said that approach may be preferable to Coffey getting fired.

Clerk of Court Tom Bexley. (© FlaglerLive)

Clerk of Court Tom Bexley. (© FlaglerLive)

Bexley, speaking with a reporter, said the relationship with Coffey is not irreparable, but is significantly damaged. Bexley was initially hired primarily to deal with Coffey, almost a decade ago, because then-Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth had an adversarial relationship with Coffey, he said. There’s been improvements over time, he said, “and then I can say definitely since my election there’s been some additional frustrations in place about certain issues like this,” Bexley said, referring to the ongoing clash over the county administration plan for a new, $2 million software program to run the back end of county government accounting, along with constitutional officers’ back-end systems. The clerk’s office, Bexley said, “was not take into account” with that planned roll-out, causing the planned purchase to stall: commissioners don’t want to alienate the clerk, and have required Coffey to work out his differences with Bexley.

“I’ll just say it, there’s some resentment from my office,” Bexley said. “Is the relationship irreparable? Absolutely not. I will not put an absolute on it. But it’s very stressed right now, to say the least. And I will tell you, I’ll put this on the record, if the Board of County Commissioners moves forward with the software package as it sits in its current posture right now, the clerk’s office will not participate in it.”

The battle over the software system has taken place mostly in the background, spilling into the open only in mid-November. But it reflects the same sort of dysfunction that other issues bedeviling Coffey’s administration have reflected–a lack of transparency coupled with a desire for more control on the county’s part than its partners are comfortable with. The issue with the clerk has degraded so much that Bexley was now urging commissioners to start from scratch: “My recommendation to the board right now if they choose to listen to it, would be to start from scratch, to take this process, move everything off the table, to bring all five constitutional officers and county commissioners and county administration, and to start the process over with us all together, so we can make a decision that benefits the collective instead of just one or two.”

Bexley, in other words, was no longer confident that dealing directly with the administrator, in the absence of the commission or other constitutional officers, would lead to a resolution. That’s the sort of breakdown Staly and two commissioners were referring to when they said that working with the administrator, who should be a reflection of commission policy, was no longer what it ought to be.

About 100 people filled the commission chamber, a very high and unusual number for morning commission meetings that usually draw no more than the few usual gadflies and government staffers. Some 10 Sheriff’s Office employees, many of them detectives, were in attendance (not including two security deputies). Two other constitutional officers (Bexley and Jay Gardner, the property appraiser, though both routinely attend commission meetings) were present in addition to the sheriff. The detectives’ offices were among those most affected by the Sheriff’s Operations Center’s unhealthy air, making the building unsafe and causing its evacuation last June. It remains empty, sheriff’s operations spread between the courthouse and other locations.

There was little doubt why the chamber was so full: the audience was anticipating a move to fire Coffey. Mullins said he’d make the move. O’Brien has been dissatisfied with the administrator. But Sullivan and Hansen have previously signaled that they had no interest in firing Coffey, as has Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, who was absent today, readying for a cruise.

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18 Responses for “Craig Coffey Isn’t Fired, But Meeting Is Set to Decide His Fate As Sheriff and Others
Blister His Management”

  1. Percy's mother says:

    Mr. Hansen

    Whom are you working for?

    Aren’t you listening? Apparently not.

    The PEOPLE are not happy with Mr. Coffey’s leadership, or lack thereof.

    Are you working for Mr. Coffey or are you working for the citizens of Flagler County? I think you should take time to seriously ponder the question.

  2. deb says:

    Commissioners Dave Sullivan and Greg Hansen were not interested in firing Coffey, I guess not, as Coffey does their work for them. Hansen you are not a leader and a manager, you are a paid representative of the voters that put you in office. You work for us. Remember that.

  3. Dave says:

    Sheriffs operation building should be finished with the mold remediation soon! Oh wait have they even started fixing the building or is the Sheriff still wasting our time pushing for a completely new and unnecessary building? I agree on Coffey getting the boot but the Sherrif is just as guilty with feet dragging, the operations building could have been done being remodeled by now.

  4. Michael Cocchiola says:

    I believe the Board of Commissioners listened to citizens and made some good decisions – relook at the Bings lease and hold a workshop to evaluate Coffey’s performance.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Today’s FCBOCC meeting was an open window to over 100 of us residents taxpayers attending, of many more problems than just the Bing’s Landing Park Bbq restaurant lease extension as transpired from the Chairman complaints and the discord between administrator and some of our Constitutional (elected) officials.
    Applause to our new commissioner Mr. Mullins and Chairman Mr. O’Brien for their motions presented to revisit the hurried approval for the restaurant lease extension and also revisiting the County Administrator permanence. Its time that our commissioners get a good oversight of every agenda item presented for discussion, as Mr Mullins said, some millionaire items were presented at times in “consent agenda’s”.
    Capt’s Bbq issue was one of them. The current FCBOCC needs to use the magnifying glass in those agenda items presented to also avoid the waste of our taxpayers monies in high ticket attorneys to defend wrong doing, because also voters opinions really matters: http://www.votersopinion.com/2016/11/27/the-dirtiest-little-county-in-florida-starring-tallahassee-lawyer-mark-herron-part-2/

  6. Mary Oexmann says:

    Thank you Mr. Mullins for leading
    the way to do the right thing for
    Flagler County.

  7. Concerned Citizen says:

    The BOCC is to busy thinking about the lifetime supply of BBQ sandwiches they are getting. Coffey does their work for them and has for a long time. Today was an unwelcome distraction.

    Had you or I gone thru such a meeting like today at work we would be unemployed by the end of it. The documented issues alone are enough to get anyone fired in the non government work place.

    Mr. Hansen no we will not be quiet. We saw thru your BS today as well. You are afraid of Coffey. What kind of dirt does he have on you?

    People remember this at next election. Or better yet demand a recall of election promises aren’t kept.

  8. atilla says:

    Hansen was just re-elected so he has nothing to loose. I hope those who voted for him come to the meetings to support him and be identified.

  9. woody says:

    Staley should be next. He’s lost the rank and file with his storm trooper command staff. Cant wait for the next election.

  10. Palmcoaster says:

    I didn’t vote for Hansen, so have no guilt. Our vote was for Dennis McDonald a fighter for the residents taxpayers and tax watch dog. He was in today’s meeting along us all just speaking for what is right and in support of his beliefs that are also our own. I hope next time around elections he runs again for city or county seat as in spite of controversy or partisanship, in local government we all need him.

  11. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Coffey gives away county owned land to his pals for pennies ( that we know about) but he doesn’t have a dime to spend on the unsafe drinking water he is forcing upon the stooges who paid another of his pals – with our money – double the value and now double the former rates with the same contamination – if not possibly worse than when he crafted the deal -using our money without us having a vote – I maintain to this day that he and staff- including Hadeed -knew that they would probably get away without calling a special election and they were right! It is pitiful that even though we were never told our water failed state testing 4 times in a row Coffey had the audacity to include the ‘improvements – ‘ in his presentation of the 2018-2019 budget when in fact every damn dime comes out of the user’s pockets and not a dime generated by ad valorem taxes…

    And now Coffey, while covering up the ‘taxation without representation’ on a growing multl-million fiasco by hiding the safety issue – risking our heath as well as our wallets he has no problem giving away land we own for private profit and squandering our tax money at the same time.

    He needs to go and sorry to say my once favorite county attorney, Al Hadeed, should go with him. His concern about the owners of Captains possibly suing the county to enforce the ‘lease’ he never should have signed in the first place is misplaced. My concern is his failing to protect us in the first place by allowing this deal to be ‘barbequed in the first place! I smell possible legal malpractice and misfeasance but I am by now means qualified to make a formal allegation. Just sharing my ‘gut’ feelings.

  12. snapperhead says:

    How inept does King Coffey have to be to get fired? I can’t imagine a private sector administrator with his track record still being employed. The constitutional officers, sheriff and 2 commissioners see the need for change. WTF is wrong with Sullivan and Hansen. I’ll bet the soon to be former Sears store they purchased, for over $1 millon, for the tax collectors office turns into another money pit like the Sheriff’s operation center and satellite office in Palm Coast and Plantation Bay ultility.. If you had any integrity King Coffey you’d resign. You’ve burned to many bridges in this county to be an effective leader or administrator. Take the unethical Sally Sherman with you as well!

  13. Interesting says:

    Aren’t there any employees willing to defend coffey???

  14. Ben Hogarth says:

    I wonder Mr. Hansen, just how many millions of wasted public dollars do YOU believe warrants a public official being removed from their post? Because it sounds as if the tens of millions already wasted on “adaptive reuse” for the Sheriffs Operations Center (among many other blunders) is simply not enough warrant it. From a Government perspective, your comments were a department from reality, the likes of which I can’t quite rationalize.

    Mr. O’Bien, I think your handling of the Chair position was very reasoned, fair, and considerate. Your indictment of Mr. Coffey, as FlaglerLive states, was equally well thought out and insightful for the public. I sincerely hope this continues and that you continue down this path of discovery and justice.

    Mr. Mullins, you statement at their very core, echo the general public feelings of dismay and distrust. I don’t think that I could have worded anything you stated any better. I also do not see how if I were in your shoes, I could also find myself able to work with someone in a leadership position who does not share the same ethics and values. The public has not had someone that truly represents their interests in such a bold manner as you did in your first meeting. I’m hoping other public officials were watching.

    And Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Ericksen, I truly hope you see reason in this. The decision you have to make will not be easy, but think abou your legacy and your “WHY.” Do you want to be remember as just another commissioner in a comfortable chair who thought about acting? Or do you want to be remembered for changing the community for the better? I can tell you that nothing will change until YOU make the first change. McLaughlin failed to understand this and paid the political price. He didn’t even win his primary – that should tell you something. He can point to fundraising and other excuses for years to come, but representing the people is not a hard science – it just takes two ears and the wisdom to use them.

    And Having Constitutional officers completely dejected by administration is NOT normal business. How anyone can tolerate this is beyond my ability to reason.

    The public has been very forgiving in past years – but time is up.

  15. Fernando Melendez says:

    Just a reminder to those commissioners that elections come around sooner than they think, and elections have consequences. As I see it, Bozo can run against anyone one of those three except Mullins and win, we need a complete change of slate if we’re to have competent leadership on the County level and we need to do it in the next elections.

  16. Laurie says:

    Kick Coffey to the curb!

  17. Bill harvey says:

    Mr Hansen ,People who brag that they are leaders, managers, decision makers are not, lot of the times they are not who they brag they are . Don’t brag , let others point out your virtues and good points and don’t be an overbearing big shot

  18. Flabbergasted says:

    1. As the review of Mr. Coffey performance continues, I would request from him to substantiate his recent claim that the Flagler County Flight School Airport logged 157, 573 flights. This number is substantially exaggerated and simply an estimate that airport officials would like you to believe to support it’s existence.

    Even given their projected numbers is is clear to everyone that well over 90% of this traffic is directly related to flight schools and 3 % personal single engine planes that have a direct safety and environmental noise impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods from 7:00AM until sometimes 11:30 PM.

    146, 475 Training School Flights……………….. all directly impacting surrounding local county residents. ERAU flight school students account for over 60% of this traffic. The flight schools simple use the airport to repeatedly perform touch and goes and never come to a full stop. These single engine planes are extremely loud and come over the residents homes less than 200’.

    2. Please ask Mr. Coffey to explain in the Flagler County Budget FY 2017-2018 under Summary of Outstanding Debt why we have a General Fund Debt of 117,227,894 and Proprietary Funds a Debt of 19,499,779 ( 6,585,766 Airport…………. )

    3, They have spent over 40 million dollars using our Federal and State money and have had zero growth as it relates to corporate airplane use of the facility…………….This airport has been a white elephant of failed business developments and gives a 7.5 raise to the Director and inclusion into the senior retirement after he resigns and then rescinds his decision. Sounds like a Sally Sherman deal……..

    4. According to Zip recruiter the national average salary for a General Aviation Manager is $53,253/year – 2016 salary for Sieger $ 114,083 plus retirement. Both the County Adm and Airport Director have done nothing, refuse to act to help control the flight schools approach and take off elevations as related to residents homes and the noise impacts from these small engine planes that can be modified to decrease sound levels.

    The Airport is another example of this Administration lack of leadership and concern for the taxpayers. .
    Another Frustrated Citizen….

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