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County Considers Nuclear Option: Forcing Clerk To Cede Space to Sheriff at Courthouse

| May 6, 2019

Night falls on relations between the county,m the sheriff and the clerk of court over space use at the county courthouse in Bunnell. (© FlaglerLive)

Night falls on relations between the county, the sheriff and the clerk of court over space use at the county courthouse in Bunnell. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County commissioners are considering a nuclear option to break the stalemate between Sheriff Rick Staly’s need for additional space at the courthouse and Clerk of Court Tom Bexley standing his ground against it: Forcing Bexley to yield.

“I hate to go this route but it is true that the courthouse is our building,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said today. “We own that building. It would seem to me, if push comes to shove at some point, we just direct the clerk that we need additional space in the building, and we just–we make it–and accept whatever bad side of that will be as far as the clerk looks at the situation.”

“That’s certainly an option the board has,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said. “I would hope that we could get this done without having to use those measures. But I am running out of options.”

Bexley is not prepared to give ground, though he doesn’t dispute Sullivan’s take. “Commissioner Sullivan is absolutely right, that’s their bldg, they can do whatever they want with that building within reason.” But forcing the issue, he says, would severely affect service to residents, and he’s prepared to look at his own nuclear option, though he’s not devised it yet. “I’m not about to sacrifice the duty I was elected to do to accommodate a county request, it’s not fair to the taxpayer,” Bexley said today. If forced, “I’ll exercise every option that I have, and I’m not sure what they are.”

Cameron described the situation to county commissioners as a “stalemate” in a meeting this morning. Bexley did not attend, but heard the meeting, and agrees with Cameron’s characterization. “That’s correct, absolutely. They want more, and I don’t want to give it.”

Some 60 members of the sheriff’s staff, including the detectives’ division, have taken up temporary office space at the Flagler County courthouse since last June, when they evacuated the mold-ridden Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell. They’re on the first and second floor of the courthouse, with the sheriff’s top administrative staff on the third. It’s been cramped quarters. Detectives’ office area “looks more like a mail-order phone bank than a detective division,” Cameron said.

“Now it’s either time to bring it to a head or we need to lease the sheriff additional space.”
–Sheriff Staly

Staly calls it a crisis. “The problem is I went from 35,000 square feet to roughly 6,000 square feet. They’re in packed like sardines,” the sheriff said of his staff. “It has now come to the point where it is drastically hurting the operation, and the work environment for those employees. We have things planned like a real-time crime center. I can’t even implement it because I have no space. So now we’re starting to see the impact besides just the operational hassles that we have. Now we’re seeing real impact into the sheriff’s operations, and so my staff has tried to work with the clerk also and we have had no success, the same thing with your county administrator. It’s unfortunate because the best solution is the interim solution in the courthouse at the least cost to the taxpayers. But now it’s either time to bring it to a head or we need to lease the sheriff additional space. We can’t continue to operate, especially for two more years, in the working conditions that the employees are under.”

Bexley says he’s had to suspend plans for such things as a fingerprinting and passport-issuing center and closed the courthouse chapel (converted to sheriff’s uses). He’d previously said that he was looking for “an end game” from the county to consider some interim accommodation, but “I’ve got a promise of two years to be built and I haven’t seen a shovelful of dirt or a design plan yet,” he said of the county’s decision last month to build a new operations center for the sheriff in Palm Coast. Meanwhile, he said, he’s “bent over backward” to accommodate the sheriff’s space needs, but he’s not willing to provide more space than the current arrangement.

“I don’t feel like they’re completely informed about what the possible effects on my office could be. It’s huge,” Bexley said, describing a two-floor layout between the court division on the second floor and the records division on the ground floor. The sheriff has been asking to occupy more space on the ground floor. The court division can’t be relocated, Bexley said, because it has a dedicated evidence vault in the middle of the operational area that potentially contains hazardous materials, drugs, guns and any other evidence relevant to ongoing court proceedings. “It will never be possible to move operations out of the top,” he said. The bottom floor is lined with paper records, some of which have to be kept 75 years, some perpetually. (What records could be imaged have been imaged back to the 1960s.) These thousands of square feet of records include land records, old mortgages, deeds, criminal case files, county minutes and so on. “My records clerks have to have access to those records every day,” Bexley said. Moving them is not possible.

“I’m not about to sacrifice the duty I was elected to do to accommodate a county request.”
–Clerk of Court Tom Bexley

“They’re talking about keeping it there and for us basically to find a way to gain access to those records, working around the sheriff. Totally unacceptable,” Bexley said.

The county has few options. Commissioner Greg Hansen raised a possibility that’s been discussed previously: renting the 20,000 square foot Beutlich Development building on U.S. 1 and Otis Hunter Road, a building the developer built with the help of a $90,000 county subsidy to attract businesses to the area. But that would cost $240,000 a year in rent alone, plus an $800,000 buildout charge the county would have to pay. Cameron said the developer is unlikely to agree to only a two-year deal–and the county is strapped for cash. The courthouse option, in comparison, would amount to around $10,000.

Bexley says the last thing he wants is to have taxpayer money spent unnecessarily, But “sometimes your last and best case scenario at the same time is to spend the dollars to get that adequate solution that satisfies all the parties,” he said, “and I’m not sure what that is, that’s above my pay grade.” But the county has been riddled with expenses it turned out not to need, starting with the condemned operations center, which cost between $7 and $8 million to acquire and rebuild, and two buildings the county recently bought, for over $2 million, thinking it would use them either for the sheriff or the tax collector. Flagler, in other words, has a dismal recent history of real estate deals that have soured–and drilled holes in the county’s budget. The county is also looking at a $12 to $15 million bill for the sheriff’s new building.

That led to Sullivan’s idea–forcing Bexley to give in. “I’m just pointing out that ultimately that is a possible way we could go,” he said.

As he did before the commission finally approved a new building, Staly is asking commissioners to resolve the interim space issue. “I would implore you to give some direction to your county administrator on how to solve the interim problem sooner than later,” Staly told them this morning.” It is now an untenable, and I would call it a crisis, situation, and I’ve thrown up my hand, I know Chief [Mark] Strobridge has. So please, give direction to your county administrator.”

Commission Chairman Don O’Brien is meeting with Bexley at high noon Wednesday. “I’ve taken all these comments to heart,” O’Brien said, “ so I’m going to relay those to him in our conversations and maybe we can move the needle on that. I’m not promising anything, but I will, tell you I will deliver the message very loud and clear, and maybe that helps. We’ll see.”

Bexley said moving that needle is unlikely. Wouldn’t he come out looking intransigeant? “It certainly can make me look that way, I’m not really concerned about that,” Bexley said. “I’ve got paid to do a job, not to be liked.”

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17 Responses for “County Considers Nuclear Option: Forcing Clerk To Cede Space to Sheriff at Courthouse”

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    Soo here we go again. Our elected officials not getting along at OUR expense.

    The Clerk Of Court needs to grow up and cooperate. It’s not his office. He answers to the County. And as an elected official answers to us the voters. I don’t care how he thinks it looks but we are wasting to much time on a non issue.

    The Sheriff is partly responsible for the Operations Center mess. So he needs to own it and help find a solution instead of making demands. He was around under Manfre and very well knew the condition of the building and the potential issues. Now he wants to act shocked and surprised and go poor me. After moving his staff in there!!

    Our BOCC seems inept at making unilateral decisions. Stop pandering to these two drama queens. If the Sheriff absolutley needs room then give him the court house. You all waste entirely to much time and money on small issues when there are larger ones to deal with.

    Folks remember ALL of this in 2020. We need to start demanding drastic change in this county. And it starts with US at the polls.

  2. John DeWitt says:

    Why not make an offer to Beutlich to purchase their new building? It suits the square footage requirements and is located in Bunnell. No need to wait two years for a ne build and would cost much less than planned construction by the library.

  3. Hey now says:

    Give the sheriff some space! Move the IT department to a much smaller office ! The clerk employees need to stop being such crybabies!

  4. Concerned Employee says:

    The current commissioners do not have a clue about conducting county business! The never audited the fraud taking place at the Tax Collector’s office. They provided full authority to the previous county administrator to execute shady deals without their vote under tax payer supervision. Now they are threatening public safety due to the fact they are ill informed by incompetent staff to make a timely decisions about the Sheriff’s requirements. Somehow they have even managed to alienate the most productive constitutional in the county (Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller). Constituents…watch closely the decisions that are being made by the Board of County Commissioners on your behalf. These are times to be extremely concerned.

  5. Kathy says:

    Uhm, what actual expert in the appropriate field has formally condemned the SOC in writing? And if they have why does a Judge keep denying the WC claims? (Unless I missed something)

    When does the CDC report come out? I mean…cart before the horse…causing a major taxpayer expense.

    Also, the library has construction signs & a permit box…anyone have any plans? I mean actual well thought out in ink professionally drawn plans for this $15M fiasco?

    Even as much as scribbles or doodles on a napkin?

  6. Percy's mother says:

    Temper Tantrum Bexley.

    This is all about his ego. No more. no less.

    So everything comes to a standstill because of Bexley’s temper tantrums.

    This childish behavior doesn’t sit well with adults.

    I hope Mr. Cameron plays the adult in this matter and puts Temper Tantrum Bexley in his place.

  7. Dave says:

    This is what happens when people are difficult to work with, no one wants to work with them. I really think these workers shot themselves in the foot by declaring some big deal about the old operations center. They wanted to be so stubborn about not going back even if it was completely demolished and rebuilt , but nooo. Now they have been given a spot to go but it’s not good enough. I’m seeing a pattern here of nothing is good enough for these employees.

  8. Plain and simple says:

    We all learned long ago “ if you can’t play in the sandbox together then both will get out”. Also, 1 or 2 bad apples spoil the whole basket. It’s time the elected officials get align with the county needs not there own fortress. I’m sure if we were to turn these undecidable items to the folks that pay the taxes we could decide. Earlier stories said were out of room, sheriff , clerk of courts, tax collector, DMV and so on.
    Solutions ; place half the office staff of each regiment on a split or second shift. Will help the taxpayers and reduce brick and mortar
    Resource evaluation; do we need the number of people we have in these groups? Or did we allow them to grow along with the egos?
    Lastly, It was said that 80% of the sheriffs teams efforts are toward Palm Coast. If we to add up 80% of the cost of this staff it would far exceed the 3.2 mil we get from PC for service. Maybe we ought to pursue that money and have some to put away for a rainy day.

  9. atilla says:

    Doesn’t the boss of the clerk have a say in this. These kids have to have their moms refere. A bunch of childish shit wasting tax payer $.

  10. mark101 says:

    Sorry there is NO ” nuclear option”. The Commissioners need to grow a set and make a freaking decision. You will never please people 100% of the time.

  11. Josh Davis says:

    As the former Court’s manager for then Clerk Gail Wadsworth, I’ve seen the vast amounts of 100 year old documents the Clerk is required to keep in the Records department on the first floor. These deeds, blueprints, contracts, land deals etc. must be accessed sometimes on a daily basis upon citizens’ request. I’ve also been in the vault on the 2nd floor where evidence is kept for old trials and new trials. Most people have no clue about how vast the Clerk’s responsibilities are. “Crybaby Bexley” is trying to run an office for this County. Conversely Sheriff Staly will undercut, undermine, and whine whenever he doesn’t get his way. Why would we sacrifice an Office doing it’s job because another Office is dissatisfied with its current situation. It’s like your neighbor being forced out of her house and demanding the first floor of your house. This is NOT Tom Bexley’s mistake. This is a guy trying to do his job, now being bullied by the County and the Sheriff because of their mistakes. We’re lucky to have him as the Clerk. Don’t be fooled by the County’s screw up, nor the Sheriff’s pandering to get what he wants!!!

  12. FlaglerRedo says:

    Just how exactly is this the “Nuclear Option”? Sounds like normal management challenges if this was in the private sector.

  13. Dave says:

    FCSO needs to grow up and stop acting like spoiled kids. They created this mess by over reacting to the old operations center. Not even a judge would rule in their favor yet they are still clinging to this privileged idea that they can pick and choose where they want to work. All at the expense of thousands of tax payers, just to please a few workers.

  14. Concerned Employee says:

    My comments are very rarely posted on Flaglerlive. I suspect it is due to their accuracy and relevance. I trust that the new County Administrator Jerry Cameron is delaying making any real decisions as he may be trying to evaluate his key staff members. There are well paid County employees who should be serving in advisory capacity to the County Administrator and the Board of County Commissioners who are struggling to find answers to simple problems. Perhaps the situation is due to many years of tyranny in leadership style. Now the county staff is struggling to find their way in the new organization, fighting for their lives even, but unfortunately still making poor decisions to simple problems. Jerry Cameron needs to surround himself with business professionals that can help him through these difficult times as well as provide him with the capacity to handle future County business without delays.

  15. Nancy N says:

    attilla – the Clerk is an elected official, and as such has no other boss than the voters of the county.

    Someone needs to investigate why all of this money is being wasted on real estate deals gone wrong. Something stinks to high heaven here.

  16. Algernon says:

    Josh Davis makes sense. Please read or re-read his letter above. Most people don’t understand the work of the Clerk of Courts while they think they understand the complex work of the Sheriff’s office. Public education on the work of BOTH offices is needed.

  17. Janet R Fonseca says:

    What about parking it’s bad enough now, I do not want to see the sheriff office move in there, this city needs to get it together with all this wasted money in real estate, just rebuild the old office from ground up.

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