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An Angry Tom Bexley Freezes County’s Attempt To Cede 1st Floor of Courthouse to Sheriff

| February 21, 2019

The clenched jaw was not an illusion: Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, left, was angry, and he let the county commission know it Thursday afternoon as he sat alongside Interim Manager Jerry Cameron and Sheriff Rick Staly. (c FlaglerLive)

The clenched jaw was not an illusion: Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, left, was angry, and he let the county commission know it Thursday afternoon as he sat alongside Interim Manager Jerry Cameron and Sheriff Rick Staly. (c FlaglerLive)

Clerk of Court Tom Bexley was angry as he’s never been angry at a public meeting since his election in 2016.

“Using the courthouse and taking the first floor away from me and my staff is unacceptable,” Bexley told the Flagler County Commission this afternoon as he sat alongside Sheriff Rick Staly and Jerry Cameron, the new interim county administrator. “I am not in favor of this and you do not have my support in any way.” His voice was not soft.

He was rejecting the proposal to boot his staff off the first floor of the courthouse to make room for sheriff’s operations.

It was one of three proposals to fix the Flagler County Sheriff’s space needs for the foreseeable future. The proposals were presented to the County Commission at a special meeting Thursday. Commissioners are trying to find a solution to the sheriff’s current space dilemma, resulting from evacuating the troubled Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell last June. The sheriff’s administration is currently split between the courthouse and the sheriff’s old administration building near the county jail.

The courthouse proposal was the least expensive: about $10,000. But it would entail shifting clerk’s staff and operations for two to three years, in Commissioner Dave Sullivan’s estimation.

Another option was to put up modular building on the grounds of the Government Services Building, an option that drew no support both for its costs (almost $4 million over five years), its clunky logistics and its limited uses: it would not be a secure facility, would not solve the sheriff’s evidence-storage requirements, nor would it be a permissible firearm storage facility.

Another option was to rent out a 20,000 square foot building on U.S. 1 in Bunnell, at $240,000 a year for five years, not including an $800,000 “buildout” charge the county would have to assume. But that structure was built by a private developer with a county subsidy to attract potential employers. It’s part of the county’s economic development plans. The sheriff was reluctant to jeopardize that plan, and he liked the lowest-cost approach.

That lowest cost means remaining in the courthouse, an option that could be implemented in a couple of weeks as opposed to six months for the two other options.

Bexley said the crimping has already caused his office to move wedding ceremonies to the hallway instead of the chapel designed for the purpose, and to delay the implementation of such planned services as fingerprinting and passport applications. (The only passport facility the last several years in the county has been the county public library, which just expanded the service to its Bunnell Branch, and relies on the service to generate much-needed revenue for the library. The clerk’s plan will likely cut into that revenue.)

Bexley was angry for another reason. “The heartburn I have is that I’m not involved in this, I haven’t been involved, haven’t been consulted,” Bexley told the commissioners. “I take great offense to this, you’re extending courtesy to one constitutional officer and not to another one.”

The sheriff at the meeting said he has spoken with Bexley, as has Chief Mark Strobridge, who was sitting alongside the constitutional officers, though they both knew going in, as did some commissioners, that Bexley was resistant to ceding more room at the courthouse. The current arrangement has caused some friction between clerk’s and sheriff’s staffs.

Staly at the beginning of the meeting summarized current conditions, outlining the various ways the exile from the Operations Center has affected law enforcement with “a negative impact” (though he noted a significant drop in crime last year). “What was once very difficult is now a crisis and cannot continue,” he said. “The current temporary makeshift arrangement is no longer workable or sustainable.” Nor “defensible,” he added.

Bexley’s flare-up was unexpected and sharp enough to push commissioners back from the direction they were headed: Commissioner Joe Mullins was looking to spend less now and plan for spending more once a permanent fix is devised.

Cameron, taking on one of many crises, described the current situation as “untenable,” and while cleverly staying away from recommending any one of the options, said “nobody is going to come out of this with an ideal situation,” which at least implied some continued discomfort for those involved, including the clerk. The clerk, he said, needs to know what the timeline would be.

And Commission Chairman Don O’Brien had spoken of the courthouse option as the most attractive and most responsible, money-wise, as it would only cost $10,000. “What I can’t do is look you in the eye and tell you how long that’s going to be because we still don’t know,” O’Brien said. “For the time being it takes care of the immediate concerns that we have with the sheriff’s operations.”

Seeing the votes lining up for the courthouse option, Bexley counterattacked. He spoke of his heartburn and of having been marginalized in the discussions, but he also cited state law referring to county commissions having to ensure adequate space for constitutional offices. “I’m not going to say you’re in violation of statute, but you’re in violation of statute,” Bexley told the commissioners. (Staly moments later said the law applies just as much to his office, but also noted that “adequate space” has never been defined.)

Once Bexley was done, Sullivan returned to the economic-development building and all that entailed. That immediately signaled that Bexley’s move had had its intended effect–for now.

‘I don’t disagree with anything the clerk has said,” Staly said, referring to space needs. His concern, however, was to get something done. “It’s been nine months since we’ve evacuated that building and there’s been no movement,” he said, describing his disagreement with Bexley as “a difference of opinion” on the best short-term solution. Moving into the economic-development building would still leave the sheriff significantly short of needed space, he said, and at great cost.

“I think there needs to be an end game, and that’s what has been missing on this for 15 months, and nine months since we’ve been out of the building,” Staly said. He proposed a two-week deadline, giving him, the county administrator and Bexley time to meet and discuss a solution.

That’s just the motion Mullins put forward, essentially saving the commission from another do-nothing stalemate. The motion includes room for the constitutional officers and the interim administrator to come up with additional options.

“I don’t know that you can compel two constitutional officers to come to a meeting,” O’Brien worried.

“I’m a nice guy, I’ll be happy to meet,” Bexley said. “I’m just very passionate as to my current situation, as is the sheriff.”

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33 Responses for “An Angry Tom Bexley Freezes County’s Attempt To Cede 1st Floor of Courthouse to Sheriff”

  1. Mark says:

    I have it, buy some land and build a building for the Sheriff! Problem solved.

  2. Charlie says:

    Perhaps the sheriff operation center could be moved to Dubai . He fits in well with the Sand Worms.

  3. Josh Davis says:

    The Clerk’s records, recording and central receipting are all on the first floor of the courthouse. This “solution” is hurried, shortsighted and insulting to the Clerk. Mr. Bexley has been gracious and accommodating through this entire fiasco. Now they’re trying to kick his employees out of their offices? Mr. Bexley handles most of the fiscal responsibilities for the entire county. Treating his office this way is disrespectful and wrong.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There is always the now empty Sears store in PC that could be a FCSO new location then again, that also could be used for the homeless people living in tents behind the county library.

  5. Dianna says:

    Move Bexley and his staff to the modulars. And left the Sheriff have all the room he needs on the first floor.

  6. Ben Hogarth says:

    There are reasons why some of us with professional experience would never have applied for an interim or permanent position as Flagler County Administrator. What you are seeing is the vast, expansive void of “good” options left in the wake of the more than a decade long Coffey reign. I truly feel sympathy for any public administrator who has to try and manage this incredible county crisis. And the issues don’t seem to stop with just this public tragedy – I know there will be more coming down the pipeline. It’s just so sad for the taxpayers of the County.

    I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to work with Tom when I was the SPC for the County and he was the Deputy Clerk. But what I do know of him and his community reputation is that he has been nothing but professional, courteous, and affable. Whatever good “political capital” the County had left with his office, I fear has quickly soured in the wake of yet another, miscommunication in the wake of the last administration. This commission simply acted too late and will now have a much harder time managing this crisis.

    The public financial cost may be greater to utilize the 20,000 square foot building originally intended for economic development – but please tell me who is going to go to that remote location on US1? Hasn’t that building remained vacant for quite some time already? If it is in such “high demand” then why is it not?

    I think the only viable solution from those presented was utilizing that building. If the Sheriffs employees are already victims in this tragedy (and in litigation) why would you add the Clerk’s employees to that list as well? “Shared adversity” is a term used in many industries, but for some reason – I highly doubt anyone ever feels as if they end up with an equal sized straw.

    Commissions – either ask the interim Administrator to prioritize finding another viable option or absorb the cost of utilizing the building on US1 until another permanent building can be completed. Placing heavier burdens on other Constitutional officers and their employees because the option is cheapest and easiest doesn’t mean it’s the best option. I’m sorry that the last administration has led you all from the frying pan and into the fire – but prior Commissions had the chance to fire them and they ignored the signs that something was terribly wrong. Those of you who were not part of that Commission now have the burden of cleaning up their mess. Don’t burn the few bridges and good relationships you have left.

  7. atilla says:

    Doesn’t that Taj Mahal next to the court house have plenty of room???

  8. Dave says:

    I’m sure they could fix the old building for more than half the cost of the build out on the new building off US1, I bet $300,000 would have the old operations center looking very nice.

  9. Frankie says:

    Move the clerks office? They cant find or give correct information now imagine if the have to move.. lmao

  10. RobJr says:

    Why don’t they consult with Michael Chiumento?
    He may have a spare building the county would once again jump at for the proverbial steal. LOL.

  11. Joey D says:

    In the end, the Taxpayers, will be stuck with this monstrosity of a bill!

  12. Concerned Citizen says:

    Here we have another example of our elected officials not getting along. And all at our expense.

    The Sheriff’s Office is as much to blame for the Operations Center failure as anyone else. Staly was around when the idea was conceived as Manfre’s Under Sheriff. He had to have known that trying to rehab a 50 year old building that was a fools errand. Now he’s distancing himself and acting all innocent. Meanwhile forcing his agency on others.

    I’m not an elected official nor am I a County Commissioner. I’m just a retired public safety guy with current maintenance experience and will offer this simple solution.

    Either expedite testing and complete proper rehab of the old building or demolish and build new on that site. If the county doesn’t own the current property then I’m sure you have enough land around to put a new building on.

    We as your citizens are asking you to stop wasting time on this issue that could have been avoided to begin with. And stop the infighting. It doesn’t solve anything. Remember there will be another election and changes can be made.

  13. anonymous says:

    Having been employed with the county for many years and observing how things are laid out, there is so much unused space in the court house this would be the best option in the interrim. there are only 3 clerks working the 1st floor and second floor at any given time at best. Consolodate those spaces as there are numerous work stations not staffed. There’s plenty room there but as always it’s a power struggle within this county and it’s department heads. Tour the courthouse and see all the unused space on the 1st and 2nd floor. You’d be amazed and wonder why the space is not utilized. Time to stop bickering between yourselves and do what needs to be done…

  14. I salute you Mr. Bexley says:

    I salute you Mr. Bexley for standing your ground and standing up for your employees. It is good to know that someone is finally standing up to Staly so he can realize that everything he says IS NOT going to happen just because he says it needs to happen. Staly always thinks and acts as HE is the one who calls all the shots and that nobody has any right to question or go against what he says. It’s about time people start to see Staly’s self centered true colors.
    Maybe he should use the $640,000.00+ a year that he has going with the contract with Armor Correctional Healthcare. He needs to start cutting and making some changes on his budget because I am VERY certain that Staly and Armor Healthcare will have to answer to Anthony Fennick’s family as to why they both have Mr. Fennick’s blood on their hands. Which the answer is that STALY decided to bring this outside company that has numerous investigations and actual links to others death while they were supposed to care for them. Staly’s toxic professionalism and mentality will cost this county not only millions, but an embarrassment that will never be forgotten. Will he have one of his famous photo ops and televised briefs when he has to look at all us tax payers and tell us that his negligence caused the life of someone just because he can care less of what happens to the people who end up in county?? Time to buckle up those wanna be spurs that you think you wear Staly, and realize that YOU are ALSO a criminal who has caused a death by your neglect to a human life. Guess it’s time for you to actually see how the REAL Wild-Wild west works that you are so obsessed in pretending to live by.

  15. Just saying says:

    Hey Staly, what about you use that $640,000.00+ that you pay with that contract with Armor Correctional Healthcare? It’s not like they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.. only thing they have done is to cause them as well as you to have Anthony Fennick’s blood on both your hands. I am certain that Mr. Fennick’s family will hold you both accountable for this neglect that caused his death under YOUR watch. Will you hold a televised brief and photo ops, that you enjoy so much, when you have to look at all of us taxpayers in the eyes and explain how YOUR toxic professionalism and no regard to any human life of anyone who has had any run in with the law, and explain how this will cost all us taxpayers millions as well as an embarrassment and scandal to this county that will never be forgotten.

  16. Josh Davis says:

    @anonymous- you’re wrong. Most of the Clerk’s operations are on the 1st and 2nd floors. Central receipting has 5 employees on the first floor. Records and recording probably has 20 on the first floor.
    @Concerned Citizen- you’re exactly correct. I never agree with you. You hit the nail on the head. Bravo!!!

  17. Fire fire but no flames says:

    Are there any edumucated people in this county? The sheriff is simply crying wolf. If his office is not functioning in this horrible crisis then where is the proof? Watch when it comes to election time Staly will come up with stats that show reduced crime and how his masterful leadership saved Flagler county. If things are so bad then wth was Staly doing leaving the country for a SWAT vacation?? Staly just wants a building with his name on it.

  18. anonymous says:

    You can’t assume that what is perceived as used space is space that can be given up. I’m sure there are many policies and rules we, as the public, do not know off hand. You have to remember the clerk is responsible for all the court records and official records. I’m sure the criminal court records have a lot of security around them, since they eventual make their way to FDLE and the FBI… and the official records have to be guarded as they are the only copy of the entire history of the county. Clerk Bexley does an amazing job with the limited staff he has.

  19. Support the Employees says:

    Why would you put them into another building that has been vacant for awhile? Dr you not learn anything from this the first time? Move them into the Governmenys Services Building or Courthouse and be done with it. Stop wasting time and be more responsible. The bickering has to stop. Too many men with a Napoleon complex. A women would of had it completed by now. All these Commissioners have to go. They can’t make a decision and agree on anything.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Tom Bexley is Clerk of Court so he should be allowed to stay at courthouse at least somewhere since its so huge!! I don’t understand why he’s poutting.

  21. ConstantlyAmazed says:

    I thought the Sheriff’s Operations Center was all fixed and cured of whatever “mysterious” illness that was never diagnosed by any medical professional. I mean there hasn’t been any protests, follow up articles, commission meetings or the famous “workshops” since the Sheriff lobbied to have Coffey removed. So why don’t they just move back in ?

  22. mark101 says:

    Just put the Flagler County Sheriff’ Department in the old Sea Ray Complex. Problem solved. Its big enough.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The Sheriff’s Operations Center–the sheriff’s own office, not necessarily satellite offices–is required by law to be in the county seat, Bunnell.

  23. Fiscal says:

    Wake up Jerry

  24. Palm Coast voter says:

    So Bexley is unhappy?
    What a display of unprofessionalism.

  25. Right says:

    What about the former operations center? Move its current staff back to the jail and retake that building for now.

  26. Percy's mother says:

    Tom Bexley needs to leave his ego at the door when he arrives at his job.

    The office space is not his (Bexley’s).

    Rather than making a fool and spectacle of himself, the professional thing would have been to do what needs to be done to accommodate the situation (sheriff’s operations center fiasco caused by the previous commissioners who made a lot of money off the purchase of the old hospital). The sheriff’s situation is a temporary one.

    Bexley has shown his true character IN PUBLIC.

    Bexley get over yourself. Where were you say 20 years ago? Learn to be a PROFESSIONAL and do what needs to be done to keep the sheriff’s situation going . . . rather than acting like a spoiled brat with only your ego and interests at the forefront. How about being gracious so as to help out the fiasco of the situation the sheriff has on his hands . . . which is only temporary.

    Interesting how one shows one’s true colors at the most unexpected times.

  27. DoubleGator says:

    How about the first step being a determination of what is wrong with the existing Sheriff operations center and the prognosis for it to be fixed. Why hasn’t this already been done?

  28. Steve says:

    @doiblegators Staly and Mullins are determined to get a new operation center regardless . It’s been a political scheme from the beginning. There is nothing wrong with the operations center. Staly wants new and I bet Mullins promised he would get it even if he needs sabotage it. These transplants you locals vote in got to go they are exploiting this county! Wake up people.

  29. Dave says:

    Good job Bexley! I’m glad someone could stand up to this sheriff!, I would think the first step would be to prove their is something wrong with the old operations building.Why haven’t we seen the results? Nothing has proven that a sick building so it seems they can do some repairs and get the workers back in there!

  30. Concerned Citizen says:

    @ Josh Davis

    Our elected officials have forgotten one thing. They work for US. They spend all this time fighting and never solve anything. They waste money time and time again and there is never any accountability.

    We have a Sheriff who has one of the most inept agencies in the area. Every month we hear of an issue. From inmates dying in his care to deputies showing up for work drunk or crashing patrol cars and getting away with it. To the Sheriff himself sticking his employees in a building he knew to be sick and taking unwarranted trips abroad to play SWAT. That trip we all know was to distance himself from Anthony’s death and the soon to follow sham of an “investigation”

    Now we have a Clerk Of Court who wants to get territorial. Mr. Bexley that building does not belong to you. You just occupy it while you are in office. Clerks come and go but the building remains. All your jaw clenching isn’t accomplishing anything. Department heads continually fighting isn’t accomplishing anything either. Time to stop it and GROW UP!!

    Folks we have an election year coming up before to long. Flagler County rose up an insisted on change in our government administration. Now we need to do the same with our Law Enforcement and Court communities. When candidates announce themselves lets remember that our two incumbents don’t care about anything but their egos and wasting our money.

  31. Sean peckam says:

    Just bring Gail Wadsworth back we need a tough cookie in Thai position

  32. The original woody says:

    Why was’t this an option before we flushed 8 million dollars down the shitter.Spend a million and make the building safe.

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