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County Sends Ultimatum to Clerk of Court, Asking For Additional Space at Courthouse For Sheriff By July 31

| July 10, 2019

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan in front of the courthouse in May. Sullivan's direction to the county administration is the catalyst in an attempt to break an impasse over space needs at the courthouse. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan in front of the courthouse in May. Sullivan’s direction to the county administration is the catalyst in an attempt to break an impasse over space needs at the courthouse. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 5 p.m.

The Flagler County administration this morning sent an ultimatum to Clerk of Court Tom Bexley to “make available an additional 5,000 square feet of space on the first floor” of the county courthouse by July 31. There is no “or else” in the county’s ultimatum. 

The letter follows up on a unanimous County Commission vote on May 21 directing the county administrator to secure the additional space for the sheriff, and was prompted last week by County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who is out of patience. Asked what the consequences would be if Bexley were to ignore the ultimatum, Sullivan said: “I would say we’ll hold Mr Bexley responsible for anything that does not conform to what we’ve asked for in this letter.” 

The letter also reflects at least one commissioner’s frustration with what had been an unresponsive administration, even after Sheriff Rick Staly had himself penned a sharply written letter in the last week of June to Donald O’Brien, the county commission chairman, asking for action

Sullivan on July 2 or 3 handed Heidi Petito, who was the acting administrator during the holiday week, an outline in seven bullet points of what he wanted a letter to Bexley to read like, asking Petito to draft the formal letter. Sullivan said this morning the letter merely reiterates the direction of the commission. “And since there isn’t a meeting until next Monday, I felt strongly about this and therefore had an individual conversation with our county administrator, acting at the time,” Sullivan said. “I have no idea what the other commissioners have done in the same time period between those meetings.” 

Sullivan’s first bullet point, handwritten in capital letters, was: “Time is up.” Other points were that any alternative space away from the courthouse could cost up to $1 million, and that temporary space at the courthouse “now has an end date.” (The county is building a large operations center, or district office, for the sheriff near the public library in Palm Coast.) Sullivan also specified that 4,000 to 5,000 square feet should be made available “within two weeks of this letter’s date!” 

Petito’s letter begins by noting the commission’s May 21 direction, then applauds Bexley in various ways for what help he has provided so far before unholstering more weaponized words: “Yet, the time has come for County Administration to step in during this impasse to provide additional room within the Justice Center for the Sheriff’s daily operational needs.” 

The letter was emailed to Bexley just after 9 this morning. FlaglerLive had learned of the letter on Tuesday and requested it late in the day. A draft was provided this morning shortly before 9, and the letter itself, unchanged from the draft, was provided after 9 a.m. The letter is dated July 3 and signed by Petito, not Administrator Jerry Cameron, even though Cameron has been back from a week off and was in the office this week and this morning, before the letter went out. 

“I think the letter was probably drafted last week by Heidi and Jerry decided, well, the way to go is let her sign it under her name as of July 3,” Sullivan said. “I just think it’s strange it didn’t come out until this morning, yet it’s dated July 3.” Julie Murphy, the county’s spokesperson, explained that the letter bears Petito’s name because “all of it transpired while she was acting administrator.” But the letter’s signature reinforces a sense that Cameron is not willing himself to be the confrontational one. 

Bexley had not responded to calls to his office or cell phone by the time this story initially ran, but in an interview after midday he sounded unfazed by the letter. “We’re going to continue our current situation. Nothing will change in my office,” he said. He wasn’t sure what approach the commission could or would take next, but he was sure of his response. “If they gave me an order, I wouldn’t comply with it. If they sue me in circuit court, I would defend it,” Bexley said.

Clerk of Court Tom Bexley. (© FlaglerLive)

Clerk of Court Tom Bexley. (© FlaglerLive)

Bexley reiterated what he’d said before: that he would not compromise his own operations anymore than the county would want to compromise the sheriff’s. He spoke in terms of trust, saying the commission implicitly trusts the sheriff when the sheriff makes his case for space, “as it should” Bexley said of the commission. “The thing that bothers me is me being the trustee of the public dollars and such, I’m not being given the same consideration, I don’t think.” When he tells the board that he needs his own space for his staff and his responsibilities, he said, “I’m not extended that same trust, and that’s what bothers me.”

Bexley on Tuesday was in Orlando at a meeting related to the state’s funding of four new judges, one of them in Flagler County. That new county judge position will require Bexley to add staff as support–four positions in all, two funded by the state, two by the county. “So while the county is talking about shrinking my physical footprint, I’m adding people,” he said. “That’s another reason that it’s not feasible.” He said he expects further discussions with the commission at its next meeting (on July 15), though on that day he will be on a vacation scheduled a long time ago. His deputy, Luke Givens, will likely address the commission, he said.

“It boils down to either the comm will decide they have the authority to do this, our county attorney thinks that is probably a position that may not be supported,” Cameron said in late afternoon. “It would be very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that we may end up having to spend anywhere from half a million to upward of over a million dollars for rental space for the next two to three years if this can’t be resolved.” The shame of any legal fight would be a cost to taxpayers, Cameron said.

The county is the landlord of all county buildings, including the courthouse. The sheriff has been occupying space on the first, second and third floors of the Kim Hammond Justice Center–as the county courthouse is known–for over a year since evacuating the troubled and possibly sick Operations Center in Bunnell. 

Bexley made space available at the courthouse, as did other agencies, but the sheriff’s personnel, particularly the detectives’ division, has been cramped and asking for additional and more autonomous space, to protect confidential interviews, records and the like. Bexley has resisted, saying he’s made ample space available and can’t provide more without compromising his own operation and jeopardizing his legal mandates. 

The commission’s May 21 vote was clear enough, but Cameron, not keen on confrontation or triggering what he termed a possible “constitutional crisis,” did not follow through after the vote with an actual order, or request, to the clerk. He asked County Attorney Al Hadeed for legal direction. Hadeed produced a “food for thought” memo short on legally-grounded arguments but long on counsel to commissioners urging against confrontation.

Petito’s letter relies on “the best interest of our taxpayers” to press the point that looking for alternative space away from the courthouse would not be feasible. Bexley has previously said that the county should go that route, and that it can sometimes be costly. The lease of new space, Petito wrote, “would be in the millions of dollars over the next two to three years” (a somewhat inflated characterization: Sullivan’s notes termed it “as much as $1 million,” and Cameron previously said that the costs would be in the hundreds of thousands, accumulating each year.)

“While it is never my intention or the intention of the Board of County Commissioners to put the needs of one constitutional officer above another’s,” Petito’s letter read, “we have been attempting to promote cooperation with and among all stakeholders involved. We feel it is in the public’s best interest if we are able to resolve these differences cooperatively.” Petito, who is the county’s facilities director, noted what several county and sheriff’s officials have been saying privately for the past several months: that the courthouse was built last decade with a 30-year outlook for growth, and that it was still considerably underused, since the growth it was planned for didn’t begin until after the Great Recession. The four-story building, the letter states, “still has ample space.” 

Staly, too, in his June 25 letter to the commission chairman, recommended against leasing new space, “as that is not in the best interest of our taxpayers,”  he wrote. 

To Bexley, however, the current layout is such that making the first-floor space available to the sheriff would hamper his own staff’s operations. The sheriff is looking to build a temporary physical partition on the first floor that would more clearly delineate his operations from those of the clerk’s. “Although it is challenging to rearrange your personnel and attempt to accommodate your operations,” Petito’s letter reads, “it is clearly our only realistic solution to fix the Sheriff’s fragmented operations.” 

“I thought it was a good letter, it was succinct, to the point and basically puts the ball back into the clerk’s court to respond to our specific ask,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever put a specific ask in writing, which is what this is. There is a possibility he’d respond no. The next step would be for the commission to decide whether we’d want to do something legal about it.” 

“It’s the aftermath of a very poor decision to put the sheriff’s office in an unfit building,” Commissioner Joe Mullins said in a text. “I hate to see things progress this way but it’s time this gets resolved so we can move forward.”

Acting Administrator Heidi Petito’s Letter to Clerk of Court Tom Bexley

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18 Responses for “County Sends Ultimatum to Clerk of Court, Asking For Additional Space at Courthouse For Sheriff By July 31”

  1. Percy's mother says:

    Regardless of any previous posts, Mr. Bexley, the people of Flagler County are NOT behind you.

    Mom and dad can post whatever they like.

    Can’t believe it’s come to this. What’s he going to do next? Barricade himself inside his county department in the courthouse?

  2. Dave says:

    Hold your ground Bexley! Dont let them guilt you with all this “do it for the taxpayers” nonsense. You have given enough and if it’s a legal battle they want they should consider the court costs vs the costs of space outside the county building.

  3. discernible says:

    Does anyone recall the square footage of the old courthouse? And that building housed the Property Appraiser, Planning and Administrative staff as well. Most people understand the difference between want and need, someone please clarify that for Mr. Bexley!

  4. Dennis McDonald says:

    ONCE upon a time [just THREE years ago] Flagler County had 54,000 square feet of commercial space right smack in the center of Palm Coast. It WAS the building known as Corp One with it’s beautiful commercial campus. It HAD to be torn down at a budgeted cost of $175,000 using our students education $$ because the administration claimed it was costing big dollars to mothball. It was a LIE.

    Turns out when you use your brains and shut off the very large water service[Palm Coast Utility does not discriminate with stupid high water bills] the costs fell dramatically ! But even after demonstrating this major cost reduction THREE members, Mr Dance, Mr Tucker and of course the one school board member that did not live in county for her last two years of office voted to tear it down. The public record will also show that former school board member Mr Fischer was a big advocate for TEARDOWN and continued to push publicly[watch the tapes] after he was voted off the school board in 2014. [he loved uniforms too!]

    In 4/2016 Corp One was history ! Having gone through this building with Kevin McCarthy in 2015 I was amazed that this building was built like a brick s!^# house. All red iron with metal pan/poured concrete floors even a metal skin roof under the crappy looking house shingles held up by more red iron ! I was in awe that ITT would spend this kind of money, even for themselves. This was a keeper and had the ability to be reconfigured back to COMMERCIAL use. Using it as a school was ill conceived from day one.

    I keep thinking where would we be NOW if this building had been used as the Sheriffs Palm Coast DISTRICT office. Corp One never made the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners option list in 2013 when the school board was in shut down mode on this building. The problem was simple why it did not make the list even though the location was perfect. Corp One was owned by the wrong owners….The FLAGLER COUNTY TAXPAYERS ! Instead the Taxpayers needed to bail out BOCC Chair Revels business associates Chiumento, Paige and Newslow for $1,230,000 @ the old hospital. What a difference a few years could have made if Commissioners Revels, McLaughlin and Hanns who played Flagler County Monopoly with OUR tax $$ were already gone ! An excellent case for Voter’s REMORSE.

    Maybe there was another reason why Dance, Tucker and Dickenson voted to tear down ?

    Yep…all it takes is THREE votes.

    My Question….are we putting the wrong focus on Mr Bexley when Revels,Hanns,McLaughlin voted to buy the old hospital “Toilet” that was subsequently ABANDONED two years later. All this even though the BOCC Coffey and Hadeed had PUBLIC NOTICE in 2015 the building was being constructed in violation of the Florida Building Code. Then adding three school board members who Voted to demolish a great vacant very usable structure the County owned that could have housed the Sheriff and Tax Collector. Or maybe even the New City Hall.

    Mr Bexley is a Constitutional Officer doing his job as required by Florida Statutes delivering services to the Citizens of this County. The BOCC members were voted in to clean up this Revels, Hanns, McLaughlin mess get on with the JOB !

  5. Rick G says:

    It seems to me that it was the Commission that got Flagler into this hot mess when they purchased the original building without due diligence and then the mold issue appeared. The Clerk is a Constitution Office just like the Sheriff and a little cooperation should happen between the two and it seems it has. Its now time for the Commission to step up and secure space for the Sheriff. Its not the job of the Clerk to do so.

  6. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Coffey’s ghost won’t leave us alone – neither will McLaughlin’s but we are still ‘stuck’ with Hapless Hadeeed ( my opinion) to cover their tainted past. What a shame Floriduh County Attorney association also suffers from incompetence ( my opinion) since they appointed Hadeed to 2 committees he can adorn his letterhead with… Just saying… if we could get rid of him we might have a chance of uncovering all the ghost’s sheets….

  7. Concerned Employee says:

    Here we go again… Sheriff Rick Staly continues to dictate terms forcing our leaders, the Board of County Commissioner’s hand in yet another bad decision by the BOCC. The BOCC has never visited the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center to assess the amount of space that the Sheriff has already been accommodated with. Yet the BOCC blindly agrees to a letter that was supposed to have been drafted by the County Administrator Jerry Cameron who delegates the task of delivering and signing the letter by the general services department head, Heidi Petito, spouse of Fire Chief, Don Petito, to assume acting county administrator duties to deliver and sign this ultimatum supported by an absent Jerry Cameron, Al Hadeed, and ALL Commissioners. Yes… the intention by the Board of County Commissioner’s are for constituents to be confused. Or perhaps, it could be as simple as no one at the Board of County Commissioner’s organization knows what he or she are doing in their inept professional capacity.

    It’s time for Flagler County to question the dysfunctional leadership structure at the Board of County Commissioner’s reactionary organization that continues to bury taxpayers with the expense of their inability to make sound decisions to solve simple problems. Who is actually in charge at the Board of County Commissioner’s office? It’s obvious that Sheriff Rick Staly has risen in opportunity and continues to call the shots that will ultimately bring down not only the Board of County Commissioner’s leadership structure, but also the Sheriff’s own ability to keep Flagler County constituents safe as he has devoted more time claiming territory in the county both with the City of Palm Coast and Flagler County, instead of doing his job which should be keeping crime rate low with the expansive resources that the Sheriff already possesses.

    To the Board of County Commissioner’s:

    “Please work with the more qualified staff within your organization to finally solve the problems that continue to grow within our organization! Please discontinue searching for inadequately researched resolutions to easy problems such as the Sheriff’s Operations Center and the Sheriff’s perceived space issue. We’ve never followed through on the CDC reports for a perfectly usable space designed for Sheriff’s Operations in Bunnell!

    Yet, we are willing to infringe on the most highly functional office in the County because some in our organization refuse to conduct sound due diligence. Lead responsibly once and for all…it’s embarrassing!”

  8. Concerned Citizen says:

    I see Marshal Earp and Cry Baby Bexley are at it again.

    This county is full of politicians who just can’t seem to get along. They waste countless hours of official busniess arguing and bickering. They waste milions of our dollars on ignorant real estate deals and representing special interests. Yet no one is ever held accountable.

    Folks we have elections coming up in another year or so. Please remember all of these broken promises and criminal enterprises. And vote these folks out. I intend to do my part.

    @ Dennis McDonald

    Get your own legal busniess in order before casting shade elsewhere.

  9. Eric says:

    How about Dennis MCDonald pays his 70k he owes the county and they use that money towards a place for the sheriffs employees?

  10. Concerned Employee says:

    Food for thought constituents of Flagler County constituents:

    Imagine if during a natural disaster, you learned of a friend that lost their home and needed a place temporarily to recover and get back on their feet. As a good friend you extend your extra bedroom within your home to accommodate this so called friend temporarily until this friend can find an alternative living arrangement. While this friend is temporarily residing within your home, he expresses how nice your master bedroom’s space is and would rather stay there as it better suits he needs temporarily. Further, this so called friend now demands that you immediately give up your master bedroom and additionally would like you to move your family into the mother-in-law suite so that this so called friend can feel more comfortable in your home…temporarily. This friend has never spoken to you about his plans or arrangements to move you and your family out of your home, but instead secretly conspires behind your back with your neighbors to rally support for this arrangement where you and your family should now be out of your home, into the mother-in-law suite, by July 31st.

    What would you do about this so called friend after all of the good will and generosity that you have provided? Would you give into his demands jeopardizing your ability to raise your family in your home to further accommodate this so called friend? Or would you respectfully consider his crises, reiterate that you have offered an extra bedroom during his time of need but you will need compromise your ability to raise your family in your home to further accommodate a more comfortable, temporary lifestyle, for this so called friend.

    The right actions for the Board of County Commissioners should be, order the Sheriff to remove all of his employees out of the Justice Center and into Board of County Commissioners space such as the Government Services Building, the Emergency Operations Center, the Facilities building behind the EOC or better yet, back into the existing purpose built Sheriff’s Operations Center (Old Bunnell Hospital). We made a huge mistake when we purchased the old hospital from Margaret Sheehan Jones and her represented investors, spent millions of dollars renovating that facility build to specifications for then under Sheriff Rick Staly, and now the space is not good enough for him?

    How could the Board of County Commissioners possibly be considering displacing the Clerk of Court and the talented team that work there to manage, maintain, and protect ALL of Flagler County’s vital court, land, and financial records…Disrupt the Clerk of Courts ability to support Court Administration, the Judges, and due process in general…All for the comfort of a Bully (Rick Staly) who the Board of County Commissioners and Staff have no back bone to stand up to?

    The Clerk of Court stands for service…commitment…competence…attributes that motivates me to someday work for their organization rather than the BOCC’s failing leadership structure who lack integrity. Flagler County needs to wake up and demand better from their Board of County Commissioners and leave the Clerk of Court’s Florida Statewide award winning team intact to lead our constitutional officers in how to properly administer a highly functional organization!

  11. carol says:

    Mr. Bexley,

    The people of Palm Coast are with you!!!
    Don’t budge!!

  12. Outside Looking Out says:

    @ Percy’s Mother,
    Excuse me but you DO NOT speak for everyone in Flagler County. Not everyone agrees with you and Percy.
    The Clerk of Court and his staff have a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous workload. Their duties require much concentration from them and the people they are attending to. A bunch of green shirted armed men and women laughing and talking is not conducive to their missions. Not to mention their walkie-talkies constantly blaring. Perhaps you aren’t aware that serious business requires a certain degree of quietness, decorum and privacy.
    As for Wyatt Earp, he’s got options, he’s had his chances so tough shit. I expect him to ask for a horse stable next.

  13. Broke Taxpayer says:

    Redesign the entire courthouse then the sheriff will not need a butt load of new buildings that we have to pay for! It will be their permanent home.
    Sheriff this is a fact #1- when the economy is bad crime goes up
    Fact #2- when the economy is good crime goes down
    Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back!
    Board of commissioners, you don’t even take care of the building you have now, the government building is falling apart, the sheriff doesn’t need any more buildings.
    Fix their old building and go back to work!
    Stop waiting our money

  14. Tom h says:

    Stand firm Mr Bexley. You should ot have to uproot your organization and carry the burden of others mistakes. YOU ARE THe easiest option for the commissioners. There is not another office that is willingly going to reorganize and give up 5000 saw feet on top of what you’ve already given. How about the space you are being asked to move to be occupied by the sheriff staff?????

  15. Percy's mother says:

    I speak for MANY Flagler County residents.

    How’s that? Feel better?

  16. Flagmire says:

    Ok great- now there’s no need to build a sheriff’s operations center in palm coast since all the space we need for thirty years already exists.

  17. layla says:

    @Percy’s mother,

    You don’t speak for me, Mom.

  18. Dave says:

    @Percy’s mother you do not speak for me or the majority of Flagler County.

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