Flagler County Commissioners want to resolve the most serious problem on their agenda right now: the condition and ultimate fate of the Sheriff’s Operation Center, evacuated since last June.
But commissioners had a difficult time defining what they wanted during a discussion at their evening meeting today. And earlier talk of a task force to the contrary, that 35-minute discussion or its outcome did not significantly add clarity or change the commission’s method on how it would deal with the building beyond having more regular workshops. But even that idea wasn’t clarified: every week? bi-weekly? Monthly? The discussion did not answer the questions, nor was the first such workshop scheduled.
Sullivan initiated the idea of a task force last week, when he declared himself “done” with the operations center. He said he would not be willing to spend any more money on it, and wanted to plan for the next steps:finding a location, finding the money, building a new operations center, and housing the sheriff in more effective offices than he has right now.
Sullivan today walked back some of his previous week’s declaration somewhat: “One of the things I really feel strongly about is that we need to plan for what’s going to happen if we can’t go back into the Sheriff’s Operations Center.” That “if” was not part of his assertions last week.
Sullivan said he wanted a commissioner to be at the table whenever meetings regarding the Sheriff’s Operations Center take place. It wasn’t clear how often such meetings are taking place. Even the county administration presented differing views. County Attorney Al Hadeed said the meetings have been fluid, with different groups getting together depending on the issue at hand. Deputy Administrator Sally Sherman made it seem as if there were more systematic and regular meetings between set county and sheriff’s staff, broadened at some point to include the sheriff’s employee union.
“More importantly,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said, “we need to do something. Meetings are fine, but we’re not doing anything. I don’t think that’s anybody’s fault in this room, but we’re not doing crap about this building, it’s just sitting there, and it’s just–people aren’t cooperating.” He did not specify. “And if we have a commissioner on that commission maybe we can move it off to dead center, get some people starting to do something.”
Commissioner Joe Mullins further complicated matters when he said he wanted to be involved as well. He pushed to have Sullivan take the lead on financial issues and himself do so on building-related issues, and at one point even asked Sheriff Rick Staly whom he’d favor as a point man.
“I’m not going to pick a commissioner, if that’s what I’m being asked,” Staly told the commission, gesturing only at his own point man: Chief Mark Strobridge.
There were additional complications when Hadeed spoke of the legal and sunshine implications. He urged the commissioners to define their approach clearly, and to decide for example whether they were actually delegating one of their own to these meetings, with decision-making powers, as opposed to simply appointing a point man who would attend meetings without decision-making authority, and merely report back what he saw and heard. The difference is significant;. In the first instance all such meetings would have to be noticed according to open meeting laws, and the public invited. In the latter instance, the meetings would be administrative and could remain closed to the public–as long as two commissioners were not in attendance.
Commissioners had not thought of the issue from all those angles. They seemed stuck, much as the building issue appears to be.
O’Brien said key decisions have to wait until three sets of test results are turned in. To break the deadlock and get past the complications the discussion was bringing to light, and to ensure transparency and adherence to sunshine laws, he proposed regular workshops, with more direction to the administration to be forthcoming on any progress–a proposal Clerk of Court Tom Bexley supported.
That seemed to give the building issue more priority, but even that approach was left largely undefined, down to who on the administration’s side would be the point person for the commission to rely on. Commissioners didn’t seem eager to touch that issue because Sherman herself is seen as having been too close to Craig Coffey, the now-resigned administrator who lost the trust of too many sides, and she’s already tendered her own resignation, effective at the end of the month: she’s not eager to be in the position she has to be in anymore. Sherman aside, Coffey dominated the building discussions for the past year, leaving no clear successor.
Staly, like Bexley, wants planning action now. Staly said his operations are spread out inefficiently. “We need to consolidate our operations. There needs to be a better short-term or intermediary solution than we’ve had so far, and there also needs to be a long-term solution,” Staly told commissioners. He finds the current set-up of a divided operation untenable, because it divides his staff between the courthouse and the old sheriff’s administrative building.
He’s not committed to any single solution at the moment. “With the right research and working together we can come up with a better short-term solution and figure out what the long-term solution is, and I look forward to working with you and your staff to move us forward,” Staly said. But the current situation “is becoming more unbearable” in serving the community and in coordinating sheriff’s operations. “The biggest concern we have is that we’re never going to get to an end of this process,” Staly said, echoing the conversation he had with Bexley earlier today.
Tonight’s meeting did not convincingly show that the commission was ready to get to a goal, even with the sheriff suggesting that the next step should be finding a sounder short-term solution for his operations.
“Let’s have all the workshops we can have but let’s start making decisions to move things forward, at least as an interim solution that’s better than we have now,” the sheriff said after the meeting. But going by what he described as his gut feeling, he said he did not expect much in the next two weeks. Once the interim manager is appointed, he expects that person to put together a team and to move the issue forward.