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To Sue or Not to Sue: County Wrestles With Sheriff’s Space Needs at Courthouse

| June 19, 2019

Whose courthouse? (© FlaglerLive)

Whose courthouse? (© FlaglerLive)

As the wrangle over the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s space needs enter its second year, with two or three more years to go, a stalemate has developed between the county commission, which is responsible for the sheriff’s needs, and the clerk of court, more of whose square footage the sheriff is seeking at the county courthouse.

The county commission voted to have the clerk yield more space. But that hasn’t amounted to more than a vote: action has not followed, and those responsible for that action are indicating that they’re not quite prepared to take it. At least not yet–not if it means legal action or if it precipitates what County Administrator Jerry Cameron has called a “constitutional crisis.” The chorus line of can-kicking has left the county commission vote looking more like an advisory opinion for its administration to consider than a mandate for it to execute.

The May 21 decision by the Flagler County Commission was unanimous and unequivocal: it ordered Cameron to do what’s necessary to accommodate the sheriff’s need for more space at the county courthouse. “We don’t need to look at other options,” County Commissioner Joe Mullins said, making the motion.

But it’s not been as simple as Cameron walking over to the courthouse and telling Clerk of Court Tom Bexley to yield. Bexley says he’s given all the space he has to give and then some. He’s made it clear he won’t yield to further demands, at least not without a fight, and very possibly a legal fight. 

The county administration has been weighing the consequences of such a fight, and finding it a terrible option. The alternative is to avoid a fight and look for space elsewhere. Leasing costs, however, would be in the millions of dollars, according to calculations by the sheriff’s office.  That’s whether the county were to lease trailers or lease a new 20,000 square foot building off of U.S. 1 in Bunnell. That’s not an attractive option for the county, either, though commissioners have been weighing the approach as well despite the May decision. 

And regardless of that May vote, Cameron is not looking for a confrontation with the clerk of court. 

“I did have discussions with both parties if they were interested in talking about additional space for the sheriff,” Cameron told the  commission Monday. “The clerk was not interested in pursuing that discussion. His position is there is no additional space. The sheriff’s department did submit two proposals that they said would meet their minimal needs. I do have those on file.”

The proposals were prepared by the sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge. They were not provided to FlaglerLive upon request: Strobridge cited an exemption to the public record law, saying the proposals were floor plans. But Strobridge said the plans amount to a request for the first floor of the west wing portion of the courthouse. Bexley has said previously that yielding the first floor would be too disruptive to his own operations and to his staff. 

“Those,” Cameron said of the sheriff’s plans, “would be referred to only if the county attorney [Al Hadeed] tells me that we have legal authority to carry out your direction to identify that space.” 

Just as the commission itself passed the responsibility to resolve the issue to Cameron (none of the commissioners has been willing to put himself on the line individually by negotiating with the clerk), Cameron told the commission on Monday that he was deferring the commission’s vote to the county attorney’s analysis. But just as Cameron is looking for a way to avoid confrontation, Hadeed has not been willing to be the one to decide whether the county is on legal firm ground or not. 

Hadeed provided the beginning of an analysis to commissioners in a June 14 memo. He specified that it was not so much a legal analysis as “food for thought.” Prefacing his remarks by noting that the case did not quite mirror Flagler’s, he cited a Florida Supreme Court decision that urged clashing government agencies to resolve their differences “in the spirit of cooperation,” and to seek legal remedies only when those approaches have been exhausted. 

“This is why I have declined to answer the question of whether the County Commission has the right to dictate space use by the Clerk or by any other party,” Hadeed wrote. “I do not want to undermine the good will of the stakeholders by stating a contentious position that forces them to respond in kind.” 

Declining to provide the legal advice asked of him, at least at this stage, Hadeed went on to justify his approach: he said the court’s docket is crowded enough that government agencies shouldn’t be further crowded by issues that would distract from the functions of agencies such as the sheriff’s office, the clerk, the county commission. “The duties of these constitutional officers and our Commission are too important to the public to mix them up into an evidentiary mixing bowl”–that is, legal action, or a lawsuit–“and see where it lands,” Hadeed wrote. “That mixing overlooks the cost of that activity, that is, that our taxpayers ultimately are paying for all sides of the argument.” 

If the issue were to go to court, he cautioned, a judge from outside the circuit, or at least a non-Flagler judge, would have to hear the case, since local judges are situated at the courthouse in question. 

All sides have given ground–literal ground, in the case of the clerk, the court system and the State Attorney’s office–Hadeed noted. “There is an abundance of good faith, but I think we need more,” he wrote. “I will do all I can to promote cooperation with and among all the stakeholders. Going to court to resolve this is a scenario that I will ask you to resist until we have exhausted all means to achieve resolution. Unfortunately, there is no time to waste.”

He concluded: “In the final analysis, the victim for any further impasse is our public.” 


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12 Responses for “To Sue or Not to Sue: County Wrestles With Sheriff’s Space Needs at Courthouse”

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    I’m tired of the infighting and bickering in this county. It has to stop. If our elected and appointed leadership cannot get along then we need to vote them out and find someone who will do the job.

    @ Sheriff Staly

    You have plenty of options to utilize without forcing yourself on the clerk of court. There are more than enough county and other resources for you to use.

    @ Tom Bexley

    You sir do not own that court house. It’s a county owned facility paid with public tax dollars. You might be a constitutional officer but the BOCC and County Administrator can and need to step in to finalize this 3rd grade squabble. Check your ego at the door. It’s very unbecoming and sel serving. Yu have plenty of space so do the right thing and temporarily yield it.

    @ BOCC and County Administrator

    Please step in and stop then fix this useless argument. It’s a distraction and wasting time and money. This county has much more to worry about. Like Bings Landing and Jungle Hut Gate. Make these 2 get along and come to some sort of compromise.

    We have elections in 2020 I believe I as a registered voter and tax payer of this county intend to see that no incumbents get reelected!!

  2. Thomas Conrad says:

    Fire the County Clerk. Replace him with a team player.

  3. atilla says:

    County suing County. What a of bull—-t. Some more wasted money and time.

  4. Eugene Hartke says:

    This is what happens when you vote Republican.

  5. Flatsflyer says:

    Very simple solution, we have multiple Dunking Donuts and Starbucks in town, let the FCSO hangout at those locations, it would keep them out of trouble and off the streets.

  6. capt says:

    Remove everyone from office that wants to sue themselves. Flagler CTY once again , the laughing spot in the state. The Cty Clerk needs to be removed from his throne and given a more meaningful job, sanitation inspector.

  7. David S. says:

    Typical. Flagler County the laughing stock of Florida…….

  8. Concerned Employee says:

    Has any of the esteemed comment creators taken into consideration the impacts of moving the Sheriff into more of the Clerk’s space? To refresh everyone’s memory, it was the Clerk who stepped up first to provide the Sheriff with all of the adequate space that the Clerk’s office could possibly spare. Now it seems that accommodating more than 50 displaced Sheriff Employees is not enough. They want more. Bear in mind that the space that has already been provided to the Sheriff’s office plus any additional space may never be reclaimed by the Clerk’s office. The BOCC will simply “kick the can” down the road longer and everyone will forget that it was the BOCC who made the mistake leading to the Sheriff’s office displacement. And this is what the BOCC is hoping for. It’s been more than 2 years since the Sheriff’s operation center became unusable. And for 2 years the BOCC has not lifted a finger to solve the problem for the Sheriff. While the BOCC continues to do nothing to address the core problem with the Sheriff’s operations center, they have instead tasked the County Attorney’s expensive time into drafting memos and emails bullying the Clerk into submission to solve the problem for the BOCC using more Clerk space. This is absurd!

    The Clerk’s office is one of the only constitutional offices in the county that receives accolades and statewide recognition for the office’s efficiency, technical innovations, and overall operational effectiveness in bringing services to its constituents. For political reasons unknown, the BOCC has targeted the Clerk’s office to bail them out of a mess that the BOCC created while doing nothing to correct the real problem for 2 years turning this situation into a colossal political mess. This is and will continue to be a BOCC and Sheriff problem, not a Clerk problem to resolve.

  9. Dave says:

    Tom Bexley the county residents stand behind you!

  10. Dave says:

    This is what it looks like when you vote Republican

  11. D.J. says:

    Damn democraps will screw up everything. Vote them out of office.

  12. atilla says:

    Bravo D.J.

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