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Beyond Coffey: Alternate Locations Emerge for Sheriff’s Operations Center as Calls to Abandon Troubled Building Mount

| January 10, 2019

The shirt seeking County Administrator Craig Coffey's firing that many sheriff's employees wore at a commission meeting Wednesday could just as well apply to getting rid of one of Coffey's chief legacies: the sheriff's Operations Center in Bunnell, where neither the sheriff nor his employees want to return. (© FlaglerLive)

The shirt seeking County Administrator Craig Coffey’s firing that many sheriff’s employees wore at a commission meeting Wednesday could just as well apply to getting rid of one of Coffey’s chief legacies: the sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell, where neither the sheriff nor his employees want to return. (© FlaglerLive)

County Administrator Craig Coffey’s 11-year tenure wasn’t the only thing that ended this week. It now appears that the viability of the Sheriff’s Operations Center is over, too, whatever last week’s testing may yet reveal. The sheriff, the sheriff’s employee union and at least two county commissioners don’t see a way back into the building. Discussions have begun on finding an alternative, both in the short term and for a permanent operations center elsewhere. 

County officials’ agendas will be full and feverish over the next few weeks. They meet twice Monday, at 9 a.m. to discuss how to fill the interim administrator’s post and to start the process of finding a new manager, and at 5 p.m. to discuss, among other things, creating a task force focused on the future of the operations center. Absent an unexpected reversal, that future will no longer be at 901 East Moody Boulevard. 

Two hours before Wednesday’s special meeting of the commission, where Coffey’s resignation plan was accepted–his last day is Friday–Sheriff Rick Staly stood alongside Commissioner Joe Mullins and Joe Barile, a representative of the sheriff’s employees’ union, outside the operations center to talk to a few reporters about the fate of the building. None of the three saw a realistic, affordable way back into the building. 

They also spoke about last week’s two-day testing, which uncovered old wood and old insulation the county said had been stripped, and extensive water intrusion in numerous spots at the base of the building. “I can’t trust anything in this building after that,” Barile said. “I mean, what else is in this building?”

In the shadow of reporters on one side and the troubled Operations Center on the other, Wednesday afternoon: from left, union representative and sheriff's deputy Joe Barile, Chief Mark Strobridge, Sheriff Rick Staly and County Commissioner Joe Mullins. (© FlaglerLive)

In the shadow of reporters on one side and the troubled Operations Center on the other, Wednesday afternoon: from left, union representative and sheriff’s deputy Joe Barile, Chief Mark Strobridge, Sheriff Rick Staly and County Commissioner Joe Mullins. (© FlaglerLive)

Staly was equally skeptical. “I don’t see any way the county can ever convince me this is a safe building for my employees,” he said. Friday’s revelations took him over the edge, he said, echoing words by Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who said at a workshop earlier this week that he was done investing any more money in the operations center. Staly said even if a reconstruction plan was put together, it would be prohibitively expensive to accomplish all that must be done to satisfactorily set aside all concerns, and even then, “I don’t see how you can fix it and make it satisfactory where you can convince me this building is safe for my employees. I don’t think it’s possible.”

Ironically, today a contractor was scheduled to install air handling balancing equipment in the operations center, a project ordered and paid for by the county weeks ago. 

This morning, Mike Scudiero, executive director of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, the employees’ union, issued a statement essentially firing the building as far as the employees are concerned: “In light of recent developments, and testing results conclusively demonstrating that the sheriff’s operations center remains an unsafe work environment, the PBA is demanding that the sheriff permanently abandon the building,” Scudiero said. In fact, the testing itself may have conclusively shown to those who witnessed it that the building is unsafe, but the testing results are not in yet: they’re still being analyzed. 

Scudiero said the county “knowingly” put employees at risk in an unsafe environment, “ignoring real physical symptoms related to the operations center.” (To the end, Coffey has claimed the “jury is still out” on the building’s hazards.) Scudiero asked for “a new and safe environment” for sheriff’s employees, adequate testing and medical care for all employees claiming physical symptoms related to exposure to the operations center, and reimbursements for previous medical care costs, lost wages and legal costs. 

Preliminary discussions have begun regarding the next-most crucial step: where to house the sheriff’s operations in the couple of years it will take to find a new location and build a new operations center. 

Staly said there are three options currently. 

The first is to consolidate all operations in the county courthouse. At the moment, operations are split between the courthouse and the sheriff’s old administrative building on Justice Lane, near the old jail. But the sheriff has trouble reaching his own commanders when he needs to, if he tries them on their cell phones from the courthouse, where reception is poor. There’s also the matter of imposing on the clerk of court, judges and other offices in the courthouse, and sense–or at least a concern–that the sheriff has overstayed his welcome there. 

The second option is to rent “a slew of trailers,” in the sheriff’s words, and set up shop there. The question is where to place the trailers. He is adamantly opposed to placing them on the property of the current operations center. That option carries costs. 

Beutlich Development built this 20,000 commercial structure on U.S. 1 and Otis Hunter Road in Bunnell in partnership with the county to attract new business to the area. It is emerging as one option for a temporary sheriff's operations center. Click on the image for larger view.

Beutlich Development built this 20,000 commercial structure on U.S. 1 and Otis Hunter Road in Bunnell in partnership with the county to attract new business to the area. It is emerging as one option for a temporary sheriff’s operations center. Click on the image for larger view.

The third option is to set up the temporary operations center in the 20,000 square foot building Beutlich Development  built on U.S. 1 and Otis Hunter Road in partnership with Flagler County’s economic development arm, and in an effort to attract new business and industry to the county. The building is privately owned and is the first of two identical buildings to be on that property. It’s currently a shell that may be built out to full functionality. The sheriff would have to pay rent to the owner. 

Staly likes the readiness of the facility but is reluctant to fill a building intended to bring new business to the area with a government entity whose tax contributions would be limited to property taxes (by way of rent payments, which always account for property taxes). On the other hand, it would fill the building, spur the construction of the second building, and be a time-limited solution, giving the economic department time to recruit new tenants down the line. 

“Of course our goal is always to try to bring the businesses in and we’ve got a couple of businesses  looking at the site,” Helga van Eckert, director of the county’s economic development department, said today. But she said if the sheriff needed a building for his operations, “we would not be averse to that.” Van Eckert likened the scenario to that of Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston occupying part of a strip mall in Flagler Beach for one of her satellite offices. 

County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien is also chairman of the county’s economic development advisory board. He’d heard about the possibility of using the 20,000 square foot building. “It’s way too early for me to think about that,” he said. “I still really need to know what’s going on with the last test and the suggested remediation, if any. I want to hear that first obviously, but I know we need to discuss a more permanent solution, and that’s what I think we need to do together with [Staly] and all the parties at the table.”

Like Staly, he said he would prefer to fill the building with a new business, but given the emergency for the sheriff, “it’s certainly an option,” if not necessarily the first option. The building, however, does match all the requirements: it’s well located, it’s in Bunnell (the sheriff’s office is required to be headquartered in the county seat, by law), it’s connected to essential services, and it has the necessary room. 

Those issues will be handled by the task force about to be established, O’Brien said. “As soon as we get people assigned to that task force, it needs to move fast,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start to line up options,” with assosiated costs and how long those costs can be sustained. “Quite frankly that’s something I asked Mr Coffey to start doing months ago. If he did it internally, he didn’t share it with me.”


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17 Responses for “Beyond Coffey: Alternate Locations Emerge for Sheriff’s Operations Center as Calls to Abandon Troubled Building Mount”

  1. 107 says:

    And who is the private owner of this new facility, another friend or associate of one of the elected officials or someone they know?????? This is BS…..the Sheriff does not need to rent in that building. When the county erected the facilities they did so with 20 years of growth in mind….with that being said, there is room for Staly and his staff in what already exists. The county EOC building was once an option and what a wonderful choice since emergencies and police go hand in hand. The other option is the court house—there is plenty of unused space there!!!!!! The other option is in the GSB Building where the City of Bunnell once was located until Coffey had a tantrum with the City Commission and started charging them forcing them to leave. Another option is the Old Jail and Police Department right there in Bunnell across the street from the Justice Center—which once was an option before the sick hospital was purchased.

    It seems to me Staly is trying to drive this to his liking and not to what is best and most economical. Let us not forget it was Staly who was not loyal and ethical for the Sheriff he worked under that he later ran against in the last election and beat. Staly is not a man to be trusted in my opinion. Mullins is giving me the heebee geebee’s seeing him buddy up with Staly, Holland, Robinson, and others that are known to be why we currently have the problems we have in Flagler County. Mullins needs to learn to stand on his own feet. I’m sick of Mullins telling me how great Holland, Robinson, Mayer and others are, when he is clueless and hasn’t been here to learn it. They are not great….they are the problem. Thank goodness Mayer chose to resign. We can only blame the BOCC for allowing that position for Sherman and Mayer to have been created and for not listening to the former employees and workers who knew things first hand who were shafted while these people gave them selves pay rates off the charts that they were not deserving of. Flagler County can’t be compared to a lot of other same sized counties in the state because Flagler County has ONE city that is 80 percent of the county making the county government VERY small.

  2. Concerned Citizen says:

    OK so Coffey and his empire are on the way out. Is there going to be any accontability for this mess? Or did the BOCC say if you leave we will just sweep this Operations Center mess under the rug?

    Also while we are holding people accountable when will Manfre/Staly be held responsible for their end? As well as any Commisioners involved?

    The people are tired of corruption and mismanagement. While we are cleaning house we want answers.

    It’s our money you are wasting.

  3. DoubleGator says:

    Ahhh it didn’t take long for the real agenda of Mullins and Staly to surface. Staly wants a new building and who cares if the issue with the existing building is ever determined one way or the other. The drama queens created the Coffey soap opera. I see a miracle (Mullins) healing on the horizon at taxpayer expense. Will be interesting to see who the commissioners dredge up for administrator.

  4. Right says:

    Now with this mission accomplished, some in the sheriffs office better find a mirror, take a good hard look at themselves and reflect on how they initially treated those who have been suffering. You know who you are.

  5. 107 says:

    What am I missing here….this building was built with a PARTNERSHIP with the COUNTY and for the SHERIFF to operate out of this building he would have to pay rent to the OWNER…..If the COUNTY built this with a PARTNERSHIP…..isn’t the COUNTY then PART OWNER?????

    Something with this deal smells fishy! The county should NOT be in the real estate business and at no time be partners with such endeavors! This needs to be investigated and the Sheriff needs to stay in the Courthouse or move to the GSB or EOC as those buildings were built for 20 years worth of growth, and they have plenty of extra space for the Sheriff. There should NOT be any new construction going on right now, there is no need to rush, and we owe enough money thanks to all the shenanigans Coffey was able to pull off because the BOCC was NOT doing their jobs!

  6. Should be interesting says:

    Two interesting things on this. 1. Almost certainly the new permenant home will like cost the same or less, despite it being years later, than the hospital. This will be a big reveal at how corrupt that purchase was.
    2. How the sheriff and commission handle this. If u talk to any employees there, there is still unused space at the courthouse, and the fcso has been functional. Will they be wasteful and make an expensive temporary move, so the sheriff can have a better cell signal? Or tough it out until the permenant home is complete? Which is the more cost effective choice.

  7. Concerned Citizen says:

    We have two major deals mishandled by the county on all levels of leadership.

    How does the public go about getting state and federal authorities started on investigations? Media coverage and exposure is fine but these deals have involved serious money.

    The county administrator, sheriff and BOCC seem to have no problem throwing money around and conducting county business without due process. It seems to me this needs to be put in check.

    If that building was indeed built in partnership with the county then there is no reason why the Sheriff’s Office should be renting it. The county should move them in there until a permanent situation is found.

    Stop throwing money around.

  8. next election says:

    107 you hit it on the head with Staly and what he did to Manfre. I don’t trust anyone that talks like a tough guy but looks like BarneyRrubble. He and chief Brant just screwed pal up so bad no one wants to work there and be subjected to their arrogance. They don’t care that the kids are the ones they are hurting. NEXT ELECTION COMING SOON!

  9. Beyond reasonable doubt says:

    If the sheriff processes criminal cases with the same evidence he is using as cause to abandon the sheriff’s office he would lose every case. This is rediclious!!! There is no proof at all that the building needs to be evacuated….I guarantee someone else is going to get rich at the tax payer expense…. Wow and wow!

  10. Move says:

    Why not the Government Services Building? Volusia Sheriff’s Office is in theirs. There is more than enough room for everyone. The County is being stingy.

  11. Dave says:

    Wow, suddenly some ill intentions are becoming quite clear here, so with out the results of the testing, they are already stating they wont go back? Even if it was cleared? How can they make that statement? It shows clear ill intent. I never would have thought this of the sheriff or the union or the employees but flat out saying you wont go back even if the testing says it’s fine? That is a slap in the face of us residence regardless the out come it makes me feel like they would do and say anything to get out of this building. Something seems fishy but I’ll wait for the testing results like a rationale person.

  12. Bill says:

    Well Joe Mullins did what he set out to do get rid of Coffey. Fine it was time for a change BUT we all shouldn’t put all the blame for things gone bad on him. He worked for the BOCC and could not do any of the things he was crucified for without their OK on it all. Who on the BOCC voted FOR the purchase of the old hospital and its conversion? Who on the board voted for the Sally Sherman fiasco? Who on the board voted FOR the Bings landing deal? who on the Board voted FOR the water plant purchase?

  13. gmath55 says:

    Its my money and I need it now!

  14. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    The HUGE overpriced courthouse is ours ad if there is room for all the sheriff’s staff to work comfortably there is no need to look further, is there?? Security already in place. Plenty of parking. Around the corner from the EOC and next to General Services Bldg.

    Am I missing something?

  15. Right says:

    @ next election, “Arrogance” is a fitting word. It applies to a few more than just those two. New Sheriff in 2020!!

  16. Flatsflyer says:

    Here we go again, a 20,000 square foot building valued at $340.000 with a tax bill of $3,000. Who really owns this building, not the corporate face .I suspect there are one or more upstanding Flagler County elites hiding behind the corporate veil? Would not surprise me if Mulling and Stanley are involved. There is nothing on the FCAppraisers website to indicate any joint development or ownership as mentioned in the article. Much more investigation needed before any lease is signed. We should also get the owners of Captains to do their negotiations for the lease, maybe they can get that building for $750 a month also.

  17. Michael Van Buren says:

    Jane Gentile-Youd I don’t think so.

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