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Bunnell Condemns County’s Decision to Move Sheriff’s Building to Palm Coast, Threatening Lawsuit and Kindling Feud

| April 23, 2019

Bunnell city commissioners are unhappy with the county. From left, John Ropgers, Mayor Catherine Robinson, and Bill Baxley. Not pictured were Donnie Nobles and Jan Reeger, who also voted for a resolution condemning the county's decision to locate a sheriff's building in Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

Bunnell city commissioners are unhappy with the county. From left, John Ropgers, Mayor Catherine Robinson, and Bill Baxley. Not pictured were Donnie Nobles and Jan Reeger, who also voted for a resolution condemning the county’s decision to locate a sheriff’s building in Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

The Bunnell City Commission Monday evening strongly condemned the county commission’s decision “to relocate the Flagler County Sheriff’s Operations Center out of the City of Bunnell and into the City of Palm Coast” and asked the commission to rescind its action. The Bunnell commission approved a resolution that could be the first step before a lawsuit.

“I believe and I support the sheriff and his staff,” Vice Mayor John Rogers said before the unanimous vote. “I know some of the folks who work there and they are sick. I believe wholeheartedly that they deserve a different place to operate out of. But as an elected official here in the city of Bunnell, I think it’s our responsibility to ask them to change their mind and put the principal operations center for the sheriff here in the city, just like the constitution says.”

The sheriff evacuated the 40,000 square foot operations center last June after dozens of employees reported sick-building-like illnesses. 

The resolution, which misspells Sheriff Rick Staly’s name throughout–a small but telling hint of sloppiness that undermines the city’s claim of close association with the sheriff–was added to the agenda at the beginning of the Bunnell commission meeting, giving no notice to county officials nor to residents even though the city attorney had been working on the resolution all week. Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson directed City Attorney Wade Vose to craft the resolution after the April 15 county commission meeting where commissioners voted for the move. So there was no question that it would be on the agenda. When other governments likewise anticipate a yet-unfinished document, they note the agenda item and note that its supporting documentation is forthcoming, thus at least providing some transparency to the public. 

County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien happened to be in the audience at the Bunnell meeting, but not because he was aware of the new agenda item: he routinely attends other governments’ meetings as part of his self-imposed duties–and in fact was outside, taking a phone call, when city commissioners took up the county issue. Walking back in, he was startled to hear what they were discussing. He chose not to address the matter just then.

In an interview this morning, O’Brien said the Bunnell commission’s resolution reflected “definitely some misunderstanding and some misstatements. I really debated hard and long about getting up and speaking about it but I felt I’d wait to process it more.”

The city’s resolution as well as the emerging dispute with the county may center on semantics and perceptions more than on evidence or legally justified action. The county on April 15 voted not to re-occupy the Sheriff’s Operations Center off Old Moody Boulevard and to build a $12 to $15 million sheriff’s district office on the 17-acre, county-owned grounds of the Flagler County Public Library off Palm Coast Parkway, closer to the center of the majority of the sheriff’s calls for service. (The vote not to reoccupy the older building was implicit in the motion, not verbalized.) The operations center’s transformation into a district office may itself be semantics, but as the county and the sheriff see it, it does not remove the sheriff’s own principal office from Bunnell. That principal office is currently at the courthouse in Bunnell. It may subsequently be located in the old administrative office off Justice Lane, near the county jail, until a Bunnell district office is built near the Emergency Operations Center. The law requires permanent records to be located in the county seat. But in the age of cloud storage, the physical location of “records” is becoming increasingly obsolete: many records could be on servers in other states.

The county jail, of course, will remain where it is, in Bunnell.

“I voted for a district office, I don’t care how you slice it, that’s the way I took it,” O’Brien said, making a distinction between the law’s definition of a constitutional officer’s permanent office and the operations center that will be in Palm Coast. How the sheriff organizes his personnel is up to him, O’Brien said.

The city’s resolution makes no such distinctions. It states that at the county commission meeting, “in the course of discussing the option of relocating the Sheriff’s Operation Center out of the City of Bunnell and into the City of Palm Coast, Sheriff Staley noted that such proposed facility in Palm Coast would be the Sheriff’s ‘main office’, that the majority of the Sheriff’s staff would be located at that facility, and that ‘that’s where you’ll probably find the Sheriff most of the time.'” The resolution also pointed out that Staly had spoken favorably of the EOC location as a potential site. The resolution does not repeat what Staly also said: that he’d go along with any of the possibilities, as long as certain building criteria were met. 

In a more startling “whereas,” the Bunnell resolution claims Commissioner Joe Mullins offered that the county would consider keeping the sheriff’s operations center in Bunnell–in exchange for $2 million. But the commission never discussed such a proposal.

“That’s the very first I was ever heard that, I’m pretty certain he was speaking for himself and not the commission as a whole,” County Aministrator Jerry Cameron said today.

Mullins had, in fact, spoken with Robinson, who blames him for spurring the move out of Bunnell. Mullins told Robinson of the $2 million by way of an analogy with the money Palm Coast pays the sheriff’s office for its policing contract (which is actually over $3 million). Staly wants the heart of his operation in Palm Coast “because he’s basically trying to meet the needs of the larger city,” Mullins said. If Bunnell had an equivalent need for policing, Mullins told the mayor that Bunnell could get rid of its police force and have the sheriff provide policing. He threw out the $2 million figure as an example–but not as a condition, he said.

“At the end of the day Bunnell doesn’t pay, Palm Coast does, over $2 million,” he said, because that’s where the need is. Mullins said Bunnell should be less focused on its county-seat issues and more focused on economic development and job growth. “They are so focused on the wrong things,” he said. “I wish they’d act this way with business, I wish they’d act this way with bringing jobs.”

Still, the manner of his communication with Robinson, however “facetious” (as he described it to Cameron late Tuesday evening, after an interview with FlaglerLive), was muddying rather than clarifying the issue. 

Bunnell has another limitation that Bunnell’s own manager, Alvin Jackson, conceded previously: the city doesn’t have the kind of public land that would make it easy and amenable for the county to build such a large structure. 

Cameron was audibly bothered by Bunnell’s approach, which he sees as creating conflict where none exists. “I can’t believe the whole thing, particularly after the city manager told me that there was going to be no push-back from Bunnell,” Cameron said of Jackson. “They’re literally objecting to us putting a Palm Coast district office in Palm Coast.” There are plans for a district office in Bunnell, but right now the financial and logistical needs point to the Palm Coast location. “I don’t understand how the communication to their board could’ve gotten that messed up.”

“We went out of our way to respect the community pride, the historical seat for the sheriff,” he said, rejecting any suggestion that the county extend the county seat through a snaking redrawing of the map. “We certainly don’t want to go there, we don’t want to do that.” At the same time, he said he doesn’t want the feud with Bunnell to continue–or to hear threats of lawsuits, which could escalate the feud. “If they get three of my commissioners really riled up with this, ‘we’re going to bring a lawsuit,’ and they end up extending the county seat, that’s going to create a friction we’ll never outline here. I’m concerned about it.”

The tension between Bunnell and the county exceeds the tension that developed over Bunnell’s brief ownership of the old courthouse, which it then returned to the county, but it’s not yet in lawsuit territory.

“Just so you all know, this is not filing a lawsuit or anything like that,” Vose told the Bunnell commissioners. “It does happen to be a prerequisite if a lawsuit were ever to be filed, the Legislature has set out a method, so that different local entities like cities and counties, if they have a  dispute, that they can institute this process, and the statute calls for instituting it by resolution in the manner that you have before you tonight, to begin that dispute resolution process. Then it sets out a number of additional steps that the city and the county will be obligated to participate in, in efforts to resolve this dispute.”

The steps include joint meetings and mediation through organizations such as the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium. “If there is failure to resolve a conflict between governmental entities through the procedures provided by” law, “the entities participating in the dispute resolution process may avail themselves of any otherwise available legal rights.” In other words, file a lawsuit. 

“It’s been my general sense throughout this process that the attitude toward Bunnell and Bunnell’s concern I felt was very cavalier, and I’m in full support of the resolution,” Commissioner Jan Reeger, the only Bunnell commissioner or official present at the April 15 county commission meeting, said. Reeger addressed the county commission that evening and did not oppose the move: she said she understood the rationale of locating a “substantial office” in Palm Coast, but asked to know when a Bunnell district office would also be built. 

Robinson claims she had not known that the commission was going to discuss the future of the sheriff’s operations center, though it was on the commission agenda posted the previous Friday, and was noted in a prominent Daily Briefing headline on this site the morning of the meeting, starting at 6 a.m. The county meeting was at 5 p.m.  “Certainly, had I known about the meeting and the fact that that was on the agenda Monday night, I would have been at the meeting,” Robinson said. “I did not know. So I have a concern about this and I felt like we should have had some dialogue regarding options that would have been between boards, not individual people talking out of two individual people regarding what they think should happen or not happen. These are board decisions.”

For all of the Bunnell commission’s anxiety, only one person addressed the issue on two occasions when the public could have done so last night, and it was Elbert Tucker, who just left the commission. “I would just like to add my disappointment with the board of County Commissioners for making this move,” he said, “in essence removing it from the county seat, which is Bunnell, the county seat of Flagler County, which is Bunnell. So I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy with the commissioners for doing this. The sheriff has been in Bunnell since I believe Malcolm Johnson, which was before I was born, so we’ve had the sheriff’s county here forever.” He said it took place with no discussion with Bunnell, throwing the city “to the side.”

Robinson had opened Monday’s meeting with her annual State of the City address, which she closed with another reminder to the county (and another small inaccuracy about Bunnell’s own history): “Bunnell is truly the crossroads of Flagler County, and is proud to be the county seat for the past 106 years.” (Actually, 102 years.)

Bunnell’s Resolution Condemning the County Commission’s Decision (2019):

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31 Responses for “Bunnell Condemns County’s Decision to Move Sheriff’s Building to Palm Coast, Threatening Lawsuit and Kindling Feud”

  1. Really says:

    Leave it alone we need to get rid of the illegal occupants at the Library

  2. John R Brady says:

    gee who could have ever foresaw this

  3. DP says:

    It’s time for the BS to stop with the elected fools of the county. The dumbest comment to come from this post is Bunnell dosen’t have suitable land to build such a facility like the sheriff wants or claims to need. Well guess what they do, and it’s already owned by the county. If the current unoccupied sheriff’s operations center is sick, then tear it down and rebuild the new one there, then everyone “almost ” will be happy. But the commission in there stupid minds continues to waste tax payers money. Now will have three (3) county owned buildings with 1 being sick sitting empty and for sale. And you can probably even guess the county won’t even break even when and if there sold. Time to put people in office that can think outside the box, and not through their a**’s.

  4. Stretchem says:

    Consolidate Flagler County and Palm Coast and Flagler Beach already.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Not only county wasted all our hard earned millions in taxes to shove in our throats and pockets that contaminated old hospital now they will have to call again high paid Herron (of course with our hard earned taxes) to defend them against city of Bunnell?
    Meanwhile our county services that we pay for in advance are a not show starting with the county emergency helicopter that has its paid pilot from 8 am to 8 pm only. Everyone one after 8 pm or before 8 am with life threatening injuries in need of an emergency flight may not make it due to lack of flight EVAC. But BOCC and administrators keep on buying decrepit real estate to benefit their buddies, investors, lawyers, bankers or realtors.

  6. Walter says:

    Still trying to get to the bottom of when and who is going to fix this swale project in the deen road community of Bunnell, exposed sewer pipes water mains etc… at least city if palm coast re sods the swales they fix, city of Bunnell says they aren’t. Now stuck with a muddy mess and he says she says situation

  7. Haw Creek Girl says:

    Catherine Robinson needs to run for Mullins’ seat
    District 4 needs a Commissioner not an attention hungry carpet bagger lovin rookie.

  8. Citizen says:

    Per Florida Statute: 30.10 Place of office.—The place of office of every sheriff shall be at the county seat of the county.

    Palm Coast is not the county seat, clearly this would be a violation of Florida Statutes.

  9. Concerned Citizen says:

    I don’t know about you all but I’m tired of the internal bickering in this county.

    Our elected leaders need to put their “hurt feelings” aside and do their damn jobs. We elected them to represent us and to carry on the busniess of the county. And ALL are failing miserably.

    First it was Craig Coffey and his “give a damn is busted” attitude. Then comes Tom Bexley and the Sheriff butting heads. Not to mention the County BOCC and Greg Hansens attitude of I’ll build it anyway. Then we have the petty bickering and attitudes in Palm Coast. Now the BOCC of Bunnell wants to whine?

    Listen up politicians of Flagler County and listen well. You’re being paid to do a job and you aren’t doing it. In the regular work force that gets you fired. Please remember you aren’t irreplaceable. 2020 elections are not all that far away.

    The voters of Flagler County need to rise up and take notice. These self serving over grown romper room politicans need to go. Let’s get some professional folks in there that will represent ALL of us. Not just special interests.

  10. George Meegan says:

    Then there is the corrupt purchase of the old hospital that was done by the group of politicians to resolve. The contamination found, that traces back to the coverup that caused the sicknesses that started the whole mess. That is where the law suit should be along with criminal charges to the group involved. Time for the dirty hands to be cuffed and jailed !

  11. Tyler says:

    I’m sorry but driving through Bunnell makes me wish it never existed. If it’s the ‘seat of the county’, it’s a piss poor example of one. More like the slums of the county

  12. Frank says:

    So this whole debacle is becoming more expensive with the addition of lawyer fees.

  13. Ben Hogarth says:

    So let me start off by saying the Florida law on this topic has never faced a “real” challenge and there are other counties / jurisdictions who have made similar changes because such changes were in the best interests of their communities. In light of this, I believe any challenge presented by Bunnell would entirely ride on the determination as to the “place of office of the Sheriff” as reflected in (Chapter) 30.10 F.S. My interpretation would be that so long as the Sheriff maintains his/her main office within the county seat boundaries, it matters little where all other operations reside. This law is mostly in place to ensure best possible public access as county seats were historically the most populated areas of each county.

    Furthermore, (Chapter) 138 of Florida Statutes prescribes a rather simple method for the Board of County Commissioners I’m expanding the official boundaries of a county seat, which may include either incorporated or unincorporated areas of the County alike and mutually:

    “138.12 Commissioners may expand county seat.—The board of county commissioners of any county may expand the geographical area of the county seat of its county beyond the corporate limits of the municipality named as the county seat by adopting a resolution to that effect at any regular or special meeting of the board. Such a resolution may be adopted only after the board has held not less than two public hearings on the proposal at intervals of not less than 10 or more than 20 days and after notice of the proposal and such meetings has been published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. However, nothing herein shall be deemed to extend the boundaries of the municipality in which the county seat was previously located or annex to such municipality the territory added to the county seat.“

    In essence, County Commissioners could immediately kill any legal effort to undermine what is a GOOD decision for the majority of people in Flagler County, by simply expanding the official county seat to include (contiguously) any areas (incorporates or unincorporated) leading all the way up to and including the library parcel along Palm Coast Parkway.

    And guess what Sheriff – you wouldn’t even need to keep your “primary” office within Bunnell city limits with this change.

    It’s slighly comedic because the Sheriff wouldn’t even need to maintain any structural operation (apart from court operations) within Bunnell under this potential future circumstance.

    Look at the good news County Commissioners – this is yet another piece of advice at no cost.

    You’re welcome.

    Also please reference the (below) AG Opinion for more info:

  14. Dennis McDonald says:

    What is really unfortunate about the Sheriff HQ location is that this very same action did NOT take place in 2013 when Revels, Hanns and McLaughlin bought the old “brownfield” from Revels business associates ! Image how far ahead we would be $$ wise and we would not have Poisoned our Deputies and Staff.

  15. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    I guess those of us who live 13 miles south from the proposed new Sheriff headquarters will just have to wait a least 15 minutes longer than we do now in addition to having our taxes raised.

    Bunnell is the LARGEST city in Florida ( with the exception of Jacksonville).. You mean to tell me that there is no suitable land for a headquarters that complies with Florida Statute? Ya gotta be kidding. Joe Mullins represents the cash cows in District 4 who will just have to accept that the response time to them will double if not triple with this . But who cares? Not Joe our commissioner

  16. Heading North says:

    Having lived both in Bunnell and Palm Coast (however briefly in Bunnell) , I am inclined to agree that the High Sheriffs office should remain in Bunnell, the county seat. So make the new building in Palm Coast a “district office” and leave the Sheriff’s main office in the Justice Lane building.
    Now to address the resolution drafted by the attorney for Bunnell, if they can’t even spell the Sheriff’s name CORRECTLY, then the resolution is moot in itself. There is no Sheriff in Flagler with the name STALEY!
    His name is STALY. Spell the mans name right or find someone who can!!!!
    Be well citizens of both Bunnell and Palm Coast and unincorporated Flagler County!

  17. Richie says:

    Cmon people they are not really going to build in palm coast. It’s just a momentary way to get rid of the homeless. It Gives them a chance to post construction signs and clear it out so the homeless don’t have shade anymore.

  18. Right says:

    So the Sheriff will maintain an office in Bunnell while the main operation of the Sheriffs office will in Palm Coast. Since Bunnell has been and is still at this time the county seat, how does it make sense to have the Sheriff seperated from what would be their largest office?
    We don’t need the main operation of a law enforcement agency on the main through way of Palm Coast when there are plenty of places to build it. I have mentioned and others have too about demolishing the existing building and rebuilding the Operations Center there. And why not move the Palm Coast substation from the small office space it occupies now into the much larger already existing Sears building where it can be staffed adequately?

  19. Sally Horvath says:

    Palm Coast should have its own police department. Sheriff’s office should have been built by EOC and Courthouse. Bunnell is the County Seat and should remain that way.

  20. Bunnell boy says:

    Tyler if it bothers you that bad don’t drive thru! You’re no doubt from palm coast!

  21. deb says:

    Its a county operations, Unless the City of Bunnell wants to pony up all the funds to build a new facility.

  22. Dave says:

    Good for Bunnell! They should sue! There is no reason they cant build the new operation center where the old one stands now. Knock down the old and build a new. They just want to move it from Bunnell because they think palm coast is nicer.

  23. atilla says:

    There’s of this crap and corruption going on in this county where a state investigation is warranted.

  24. Layla says:

    @McDonald – Is this the pot calling the kettle black? How much have YOU personally cost the taxpayers of Flagler County?

  25. Derrick Redder says:

    Thanks to Beens’ post above many of us are hearing the Moving On Up theme from the Jefferson’s.

  26. Old Guy says:

    The location of the Sheriffs Operations Center has little bearing on response times as the patrol units are not sitting there waiting for a call. The units are deployed throughout the county 24/7. As long as the sheriff has an office in the county seat there is no need for the BOCC to designate the library property as part of the county seat. Otherwise, the sheriff can, and in most counties they do, have district offices or other satellite facilities outside of the county seat.

  27. vlon says:

    If the majority of the officers are in Palm Coast, it makes sense to have the office in Palm Coast. I am guessing that Bunnell needs the police presence but why don’t they increase their own Police Force?

    The bottom line is that Bunnell will lose revenue or money is somehow the real reason they want it there.

  28. Smells Like Bunnell says:

    I think they should stay in Bunnell. I fear the lack of police presence by moving their operations to Palm a past will cause crime to increase even more. Bunnell is sorely in need of being cleaned up. Between the ghetto, drug slinging thugs and the dirty old redneck trash, I’m not sure what’s worse.

  29. Long Time Resident says:

    Oh, how I long for the days before ITT showed up.

  30. uninformed says:

    @Jane Gentile-Youd, You do know that law enforcement officers drive around in their cars for 12 hours a day, right? Meaning, they aren’t stationed at a station like they were in 1970? Did you also know that a certain amount of officers patrol each area? No matter where the “office” is located? The location of the building doesn’t effect your services in Plantation Bay so just relax.

  31. Trailer Bob says:

    Chapter 30 Section 10 – 2018 Florida Statutes – The Florida Senate
    30.10 Place of office.—The place of office of every sheriff shall be at the county seat of the county. History

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