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Bunnell Panics as Emerging Options for Sheriff’s New Operations Building Include Palm Coast Library Site and Town Center

| March 28, 2019

Bunnell is worried about becoming even less of a crossroads than it's been. (© FlaglerLive)

Bunnell is worried about becoming even less of a crossroads than it’s been. (© FlaglerLive)

Asked on Wednesday to rate the chance, on a scale of 1 to 100 percent, of ever returning to the Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell, Sheriff Rick Staly did not hesitate: “Minus 1,” he said.

That’s why much of the discussion about how to end the homelessness of the sheriff’s operations has been refocused on finding an alternative, permanent site for a new building.


Three locations have emerged during that discussion: the 17-acre county-owned site behind the Flagler County Public Library in the heart of Palm Coast, along Palm Coast Parkway. Land near the Emergency Operations Center in Bunnell, just south of the Government Services Center and the county courthouse. And the 67-acre, county-owned site at the eastern edge of Palm Coast’s Town Center, along Town Center Boulevard.

The discussions are preliminary but extensive, and have involved Interim County Administrator Jerry Cameron, the county attorney’s office, which has been exploring implications of moving the sheriff’s operations out of the county seat, Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson, Bunnell City Attorney Wade Vose, and some county commissioners.

When Jackson informed the Bunnell City Commission of the discussions Monday evening–a commission with two of its five seats empty, including the mayor’s–commissioners who were there panicked at the thought of losing the operations center and reacted with a mixture of wry and derisive comments about Palm Coast and, though the city has barely been involved in the discussions or not at all, and a pledge to fight any move out of Bunnell, starting with a special meeting or workshop next week.

The discussion at the Bunnell commission focused on inaccurate fears that Palm Coast was attempting to take the county seat from Bunnell, and on claims that if the operations center were to move there, the county would be in violation of the state Constitution, which mandates that “the principal offices and permanent records of all county officers” are to be located in the county seat.

The Constitution does not prevent branch constitutional offices from being built outside the county seat, which is what the operations center would be, in Palm Coast, with the sheriff keeping a district office in Bunnell regardless. Though it’s not controlled by the same constitutional issues, the parallel would be the county library: its main branch is, in fact, in Palm Coast, not in Bunnell, where it maintains a far smaller branch, because Palm Coast makes up the overwhelming majority of the demand for library services. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of calls for service on sheriff’s deputies are in Palm Coast. Bunnell, in fact, has its own police department, and has relied on the sheriff as an additive.

Bunnell City Manager Alvin jackson, right, with Sheriff Rick Staly and County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen earlier today, before a drug court graduation ceremony at the Flagler County courthouse. (© FlaglerLive)

Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson, right, with Sheriff Rick Staly and County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen earlier today, before a drug court graduation ceremony at the Flagler County courthouse. (© FlaglerLive)

Moving the sheriff’s operations center to Palm Coast would also likely seal the relationship between the agency and the city, to whom it provides policing, for decades to come, foreclosing on a city police department.

“We’ve been in discussion, there’s a number of sites that’s being looked at,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “I think all three locations that I’ve heard discussion [on] are good. I think some are a little bit better than others. But if we can resolve the sheriff’s operations center space to no longer be homeless at some point in the future, to where my employees never have to fear for their safety, going back to mold ops, then I support wherever the commission and the county administrator want to put us.”

He assured Bunnell: “We would still have to have a district office in Bunnell, whether that’s in the courthouse or some other facility. It would not be appropriate for the Sheriff’s Office to abandon and relocate, abandon the residents of Bunnell.” He’d also want a substation or district operation in Bunnell, just as he now has one in Palm Coast.

It’s ultimately the county commission’s decision. The county is the landlord of all constitutional officers’ spaces. But someone like Staly, who controls a large–and supportive–constituency carries significant weight in the decision.

“I’m OK with all three. I think there are advantages to all three,” Staly said of the sites under discussion. “If you’re down in the government complex, fleet is here, fuel is here, EOC Com center is here. If you’re out at Town Center, it’s going to be a hub for this community, it’s somewhat central. And it may help spur growth, business growth in the community. And then at the library, that’s central to where the majority of the population is today. I think there’s enough acreage there, from what I understand, and it would certainly displace the homeless that are there that have taken that up and make that probably a little safer for the neighborhoods and the businesses in that area. So I think there’s advantages to all three. At the end of the day, all I’m looking for is a safe environment for my employees.”

More essential, he said, is to do a space study before choosing a site, to figure out what’s needed now, what will be needed in years and decades to come, and ensure that the location can accommodate both. No space study was done before the acquisition of the old Memorial Hospital building in Bunnell that was turned into the now-evacuated operations center.

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan. (© FlaglerLive)

“I think the library land is clearly the best option, if we can pull it off,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said. He was the first commissioner to propose the library land as a location during a commission meetings a few weeks ago. He said he’s since had informal discussions with Cameron about it. “Nothing specific, we’re thinking about coming up with options, and really the only option I talked to him about was the option of the library.”

Cameron in an interview said today there are actually four options, the fourth being to do nothing and wait on the outcome of further testing at the existing operations center, with a view on re-entering it in the future. “Quite frankly I don’t think that’s a really palatable option for anybody but it is an option. A no direct-cost option,” Cameron said.

The Town Center option was not high on his list: he said it had been suggested to the sheriff likely from someone in Palm Coast. (The source of that suggestion has not been verified.) But the city council has not been involved so far.

“I’ve not been privy to any of those conversations, but I’m not surprised,” Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said today. But she saw the rationale behind a Palm Coast operation. “It goes back to again, that dialogue of efficiencies of an operation and the agency. I would certainly look for the sheriff’s input on where he thinks that makes the most sense, first and foremost. I tend to not look at jurisdictional boundaries as the only way to solve an issue that our community is looking to address. So I would say that if the sheriff and the county commission feel that the most suitable choice would be located more centralized within our community, the city is probably–we’ll be here to support that.”

But there’s been no discussion, no hint of a Palm Coast powerplay to take over the county seat or supplant Bunnell in any way.

“I don’t know how they justify being in opposition,” Cameron said of the Bunnell commission. “They haven’t even come and sat down with me about how the options would work. The sheriff is going to need a presence in Bunnell, and you shift the strategy to put in a station here that would be somewhat smaller than the operations center but instead of a substation up there it would be a substation here, which would not be be called a substation but a district station.”

To Cameron, the most ideal path is to resolve the sheriff’s exile with a permanent solution. “There’s only one plan that has that possibility, and that would be to build a new facility,” he said. Doing so at the library, Cameron said, means the county can save money on the sheriff’s lease at City Marketplace, where it pays rent for its existing substation, it can “liquidate the bank building” the county bought last year for a more permanent Palm Coast substation, and the sheriff would no longer need to expand its space at the county airport, as it was planning to do (for storage). All of which would free up dollars.

None of those rationales entered into the discussion at the Bunnell commission Monday evening. “They ended up getting real upset without really getting to know what we’re doing. But it’s not unusual,” Cameron said.

“I’m sure the residents of Palm Coast would love that, to have one big building, to house all of the prisoners as well, because most of them come from Palm Coast,” Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker said sarcastically during that discussion. He’s never been a fan of Palm Coast, and sees the proposal as a step toward moving the county seat. “It’ll come, they’ll eventually move the county seat out of Bunnell, but that’s probably down the road,” Tucker said.

Wade Vose, the Bunnell attorney, said he “hadn’t heard yet that there was a serious entertainment of a thought of actually changing the county seat from Bunnell to Palm Coast. What I had heard was a lot of other machinations to try to get around it, so to speak.”

Bunnell Commissioner John Rogers was not thrilled. (© FlaglerLive)

Bunnell Commissioner John Rogers was not thrilled. (© FlaglerLive)

Then it was Rogers’s turn to backhand the county. “The interim administrator out there is making quite a bit of money,” Rogers said–an inexplicable slight that could just as easily be said of Jackson. “I think he should find some place in the city limits to solve their problem. We’ve been real good allies with them over the years, and we want to continue to be. But the law is the law, and I think we’ll be solidified in saying we want to keep it here.”

Jackson last week had been apprised of the county’s plan over lunch with County Commissioner Joe Mullins, then spoke with Cameron, who told him Bunnell should come up with options. Jackson set to work trying to come up with options within Bunnell. What he quickly found was that even though Bunnell boasts of being the third largest Florida city by square miles, there is no available government land where an operations center could be built.

Jackson came up with three options: demolish and rebuild at the existing site of the operations center (a non-starter of a plan as far as sheriff’s employees and the sheriff are concerned). The second option is to look at the existing Government Services complex, where Cameron says space is limited unless a facility were to encroach on land devoted to a future library site. The third option would be land around the jail for a new facility, though one of the reasons the previous sheriff and county administrator were eager to build away from Justice Lane, where the previous operations center was located, was to bring it to a more central, urban, visible location. It’s doubtful the sheriff would be eager to return to the woods.

Jackson, too, pushed the false narrative that the operations center’s move out of Bunnell would be a first step to move the county seat, “which I know this board could not support,” he said.

When Staly was asked about the chances of returning to the old Sheriff’s Operations Center, he later said that there could be a way back, but with strict conditions. “The only way I would accept that building for my employees is if three things occur,” he said. “The county certifies to me in writing that that building is safe. Number two is, that they have to hold me harmless, in other words if I get sued over that. And then they would have to indemnify me.” The conditions would apply to the office of the sheriff, so it would apply to subsequent sheriffs as well. “I’m the sitting sheriff, and the decisions that are made will affect the men and women of this agency and the community for the next 30 or 40 years.”

Staly added: “I’m already litigated in workers’ comp, the employees’ attorneys have threatened litigation for liability. So without those conditions being met, if I order my employees back in there, I already have notice that there’s a problem with that building, and I think that’s pretty well documented. Now if they go back in there, then I now own all that liability.”

Though it’s unlikely, the county could still force the issue and say the operations center is the only option. “Then I think the county and I might have to discuss that a lot further. I hope we don’t have to go down that path,” the sheriff said. “Obviously if they tell me this is the only thing we’re going to provide for you, then as a sheriff my job is to look out for the men and women of the sheriff’s office, they already risk their lives for this community, they need to be in a safe place where they don’t have to worry about their health. If I have to look at some of the Florida statutes and go from there, then I will. But I don’t think it’s going to come to that. I think that there’s a willingness by the county commission to move this football forward.”

And that willingness at the moment is taking the commission further and further away from Bunnell. All these options may be discussed at a commission meeting in two weeks, Cameron said, but he did not want to be held to that date as the proposals are still in flux.

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22 Responses for “Bunnell Panics as Emerging Options for Sheriff’s New Operations Building Include Palm Coast Library Site and Town Center”

  1. Edith Campins says:

    And the money is coming from?

  2. Dave says:

    Wow. Intentions are becoming clear, I say get them back in the old operations building, clean it out good ,fix some stuff, give the sheriff what he wants and get them back to work. I always had a feeling there was just an underlying problem with location on the building. Now I see they want to go to palm coast. Leaving Bunnell high n dry is not in their best interest.

  3. Mark says:

    Build it and they will come.

  4. Derrick Redder says:

    Doesn’t the sheriff need by law, a location the same as the County Seat.

  5. Word says:

    Just consolidate the city of Palm Coast and Flagler County already. Jacksonville and Duval County did it 50 years ago and it’s widely regarded as one of the best geo political decisions ever made.

  6. ASF says:

    The Town Center idea sounds good to me. That area has been a wasteland for too long.

  7. Ben Hogarth says:

    I think that while there a couple of decent sites, the Library site sounds perfect and is the most ideal for various reasons including providing a central presence in the heart of Palm Coast – the population center.

    Although the costs are tragic (thanks to last administration) – if you are going to go through with this, you may as well do it right and leave a better legacy for the next generation. The library site just makes sense and probably should have been utilized long ago… perhaps under better management it would have.

    But let’s not daydream about what could have been in the last decade – and ensure that it will be in the next.

  8. Mark says:

    @Edith

    They’re having a car wash fundraiser this coming weekend. Where do you think the money will come from? Us!

  9. Tyler says:

    It’s 2019. Kids are not going to the library. If they need a book or information, it’s all available online.

    Can’t wait to see this story next week.

    ‘Palm Coast Mayor Calls For Gigantic Replica Statue Of Burro Almost 89 Feet Tall, 1 Foot For Every 1,000 Residents, To Be Built In Place Of Riddled Operation Center’

  10. PeachesMcGee says:

    The old Ops building, namely the old Hospital, is disgusting. If you think the mold is bad now just another year…five years.

  11. Kim says:

    I really don’t get why Palm Coast doesn’t have its own police department, especially since it’s usualy “the scene of the crime”. Does that mean that Flagler Beach and Bunnel residents pay taxes for our own PD plus for Palm Coast’s PD i.e. Sherrif’s Deprtment?

  12. Michael Brown says:

    The logical place in Town Center

  13. palmcoaster says:

    The city of Palm Coast pays 3 millions annually additional to sheriff, to what our ad valorem taxes in our house “over pays” this county a year. This is because the city of Palm Coast as per the last census counts 944 residents per square mile when the county only has 168 per square mile. These 3 millions to the sheriff services is justified, but my house annually paying the county double of what we pay the city of Palm Coast is just a plain rip off. I own a small property in Daytona Beach and pay Volusia County the same I pay the city even considering the city has its own Daytona Beach police. Here in Flagler County Palmcoasters paying the county double what we pay the city annually and on top 3 more additional millions for law enforcement is just a travesti in our pockets. Our city services are strain due to not sufficient funds while we are the 800 lb gorilla of this county revenue with our 944 residents per square mile generating revenue . This abusive distribution of our hard earned taxes sent to the county is what have afforded the FCBOCC their Rte 100 Taj Mahals, and the additional waste of failed white elephants like the Ginn oversized hangar that we are still forced to pay for and all of those contaminated overpriced real state blunders from their significant benefited locals, like the Plantation Bay useless utility to benefit developer Houseini , the old hospital owned by a banker and a lawyer were the sheriff employees got sick and lately the purchase for 1.1.million shut down for months old Sears store collecting black mold inside and last but not less important funding their buddies private enterprises like CPT BBQ in our parks . County needs to return to the city of Palm Coast part of the yearly double collected taxes from us needed for our services here or otherwise like Word suggest above Palm Coast needs to annex this county like Miami did with Dade and Jacksonville did with Duvall and stop the waste of over paid double (frivolous spending) county administrators and commissioners. Folks, Palm Coast can’t have its own police department while our ad valorem yearly taxes in our homes suffer the gouging of paying the FCBOCC double of what we pay the city of Palm Coast, Wake up and smell the reality! Demand this county cuts or refunds yearly Palmcoasters ad valorem taxes or lets annex it. Everyone in Palm Coast and probably the other county cities as well, just look at your house year tax bill and see the county including the two bonds charge, versus the one line only city of Palm Coast that gives us about 75% of all our services. We been gouged by the FCBOCC since incorporation in 1999 and enough is enough. Palm Coast needs a fair distribution of our ad valorem taxes to be able to properly serve us from now on or lets be ready for city taxes going thru our roofs.

  14. Dave says:

    Move them back in to the sheriffs operation center after it’s fixed. I’m with the Sheriff Staly on this, Give him what he wants to get them back into the old operations center.

  15. just a thought says:

    If they have to build something, why not level the operations and all the ails it and rebuild right there? I don’t get it.

  16. Dave says:

    Just a thought. That is what I have been saying, I mean why would it be ok to take the library from us? What’s more important? Education? Or Police? I think education is the obvious answer.

  17. Concerned Citizen says:

    Our Sheriff is to busy playing to worry about laws.

    Yes the Sheriff is required to be located in the County seat or within 2 miles of it (The only residence requirement relating to sheriff’s deputies is contained in s. 30.11, F.S., which states that:

    “The sheriff, or his deputy, shall reside at the county seat or within 2 miles thereof.”[1] )

    Staly however has shown little regard for following rules. IE riding around with ex felons, Joining chases already handled and waving his gun around. And lets not forget the multiple incidents he continues to have with his agency. Which shows poor leadership.

    When Staly decides he wants a nice new shiny building at Town Center he will get it. And it will be at our expense. And I foresee it being named The Rick Staly Operations Center

  18. In Support of Flaglers Finest says:

    @dave… I think you say things to get us going… I don’t know what you do for a living but, if you feel so confident in that cesspool then move your desk in there for two weeks, I promise you’ll be singing a different tune. Also, if you feel so strongly that Liberians are more of an effect on a community then law enforcement then why don’t you call one when you need emergency services.

  19. Derrick Redder says:

    Move the Entire BOCC to the Sheriff’s Operation Center downsize the FCSO use of that toxic site and relocate them into the Sears disater that the BOCC overpaid for. Take the toy cops and thier office in that over valued and underused shopping center and move them into the library

  20. Elaine Sepe says:

    My selection would be by the Govt. Svcs. Bldgs.
    Palm Coast Pkwy. area is so congested it’s ridiculous. Town Center location is good if your in a rush to get there going 15mph speeding up to 35 mph can be detrimental in so many ways. That makes Govt. Svcs. area best choice. Located in Bunnell, where it belongs,right off SR100 makes it accessible off I95, US1 and Belle Terre. GETS MY VOTE!!!

  21. Carl Sanderson says:

    How about relocating the FCBOCC and Administrators Offices to the Sears building that they couldn’t wait to waste money on. Then move the Sheriff to the 3rd floor of the Taj Mahal.

  22. Sherry says:

    Why is that building not good enough ? Bunnell Elementary actually had bats they didn’t get a new school! Why is the sheriff more important than our children Besides the illness was shingles no works comp an not from the building !

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