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Judge Orders Sheriff’s Operations Center Tested for Toxins Again, On Behalf of Employees

| December 5, 2018

The Sheriff's Operations Center has been empty since June, the site only of testing and occasional cleanings and repairs. (© FlaglerLive)

The Sheriff’s Operations Center has been empty since June, the site only of testing and occasional cleanings and repairs. (© FlaglerLive)

For the better part of the last 13 months the troubled 34,000-square-foot Sheriff’s Operations Center’s fate  has turned into that of an ailing patient whose illness can’t assuredly be determined, so more testing or exams are filling in for what certainty has not. 

An administrative law judge overseeing the workers’ compensation claims by more than two dozen sheriff’s employees affected by the building’s interior air has ordered another round of testing in the building for environmental toxins on Dec. 13. It is the same judge who issued a “preservation order” for the building, requiring that no structural changes be carried out as the workers’ compensation cases proceed. 

Sheriff’s employees have been seeking that independent testing for months. “The union is very excited to finally be moving forward with this,” Gabe Fuentes, a sheriff’s detective and union leader who represents the employees, said in a brief interview this evening. He said more detailed information about the scope of the testing would be forthcoming. 

“The testing flows from an ongoing dispute where more than 25 officers have claimed severe health consequences related to mold and other unseen contaminants in the facility,” a release issued by the office of  Geoffrey Bichler, the attorney who represents the sheriff’s employees, stated today. 

It will be the latest in a series of testing rounds conducted there since the building was evacuated in June, and more since November 2017, when employees first began reporting health issues, though the county had been leery of such testing. “There is no ongoing obligation for the County, to the detriment of its citizens and taxpayers, to allow this building to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance so that it will ‘…remain the same…’ indefinitely,” Michael roper, the Orlando-based attorney the county hired for its side in the dispute–and it has become a dispute–wrote County Administrator Craig Coffey, by way of a memo, in August. “If anyone is under the impression that the County has an indefinite obligation to ‘preserve’ the condition of this building, whatever that term may imply, they are simply mistaken or misinformed.”

A small group of employees was moved out of the building initially. As more employees began reporting problems without getting clear answers from the county–the landlord in the equation–the building, including the sheriff’s administrative staff, was evacuated in June.  It has stood empty since but for testing, walk-throughs, cleaning and some repairs to the air handlers.

The building was tested for one toxin or another in January, FebruaryMarchApril (see the fuller report) and June, with radon testing subsequently. The building was visited by the CDC in September, when CDC officials also met one-on-one with employees. All the testing to date has been conducted by personnel the county hired.

The CDC did not conduct any testing, but cautioned local officials about the variability of short-term testing results in a building and a location prone to large fluctuations in environmental conditions. Based on its findings through other analytical means, CDC officials did conclude that there’d been “water intrusion” in the building, and recommended that interior dry-walls be removed to verify what may have accumulated within the structure. 

It isn’t yet clear who will conduct the testing ordered by the judge, or what the parameters will be. The building “will be tested for a number of environmental toxins that may account for ongoing health problems of the officers,” the release stated. 

Bichler, who could not be reached today, intends to be at the building the day of the testing, set for 6 a.m. Sheriff’s personnel will be on hand to provide escorts where necessary, as certain areas of the building remain restricted. The building is still being maintained by the county.  The preservation order was sent to the sheriff, but applies to the county, as the landlord. The county carried out a deep cleaning of the building in August.

The building used to be a hospital. It then stood empty for a decade before the county bought it in 2013 to convert it into an operations center.


6 Responses for “Judge Orders Sheriff’s Operations Center Tested for Toxins Again, On Behalf of Employees”

  1. maybe says:

    Maybe the County should push the building down, clear the lot & call this piece of property sold. The many FCSO employees will never believe the old building is safe, tear it down!

  2. Ben Hogarth says:

    We should all be ashamed. It takes a judge and a court to order people to do the right thing and for others to stand out of the way. All of this because greed and self-serving public officials can’t do the right thing and then try to cover their tracks when they know they have committed a wrong. Thank God for our third branch of government (the judiciary) for having some efficacy and ethics when all others fail.

    I hope that the Commission and public is watching and listening. And I hope every resident who wants to have a voice in the future of the county shows up for the first meeting in January. They need to demand change or start a petition to recall every official who fails to vote accordingly. And then they need to demand a full independent investigation into the entire issue. Enough is enough.

  3. Thetruth says:

    How much more obvious can it be that this old hospital should have been torn down, and still should be when so many employees with the FCSO became ill.
    Tear the building down and take administration steps to hold those accountable for allowing this to happen from the beginning.
    Do what is right, that is what taxpayers expect from officials that are being paid by taxpayers monies.

  4. Dave says:

    Can we get this test over with so the workers can get back in there and stop wasting all our time and money with non sense! Sad to see this turned into a crap show instead of jus fixing the lil bit that’s wrong and getting back in their to work. But nooo ,oh the workers sick from the building, they refuse to go back no matter what. What a load! Get it tested , prove it is fine and they are all just being over dramatic to get their way. There are plenty of people who actually need jobs and are willing to do work in the building.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    That old hospital shouldn’t have been bought by the county to start with. After ten years of seating empty and with no maintenance should have been paid peanuts and just for the land as there was a cost for demolition and clearing. That was a rip off to the county taxpayers committed by then all County Commissioners, administrator and legal team involved and pushing for the purchase of an overpriced and contaminated structure wasting our hard earned taxes.
    Lets be also very worried of tomorrow’s 12/7 workshop regarding the Bings Lading Bbq proposal when it comes to the county attorney liabilities concerns to do away with the plan.
    I remember when in the mid nineties with ITT departure, county legal advise told the FCBOCC to let go on the ITT Palm Coast utility purchase by not confronting the big ticket lawyers of Florida Water -Allette also wanting to acquire it at about 10 or 12 millions then. Sure county let it go to Florida Water and about 5 years later after Palm Coast incorporated we had to pay about $89 millions for it fighting it to the other interested parties; city of Milton Fl in the Panhandle funded by Wall Street investors. , Back then as long time unincorporated Flagler county users we had “First Right of Refusal”. No need to fight any big ticket lawyers.
    Now again county using big ticket lawyers with our hard earned taxes as shown above again like done over and over against its constitutional officials and watchdog residents: What about using taxpayers monies instead first and most to provide the services we pay for? More and more we look at local level as the new swamp in DC.

  6. Taking Applications says:

    FYI the Sheriff’s Office has several vacancies and is always accepting applications. If you’re willing to work at the Operations Center and have debilitating illnesses, go right ahead. Until then, Dave, your opinion on this matter is irrelevant.

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