Clerk of Court Tom Bexley today called County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien and requested that the two meet Monday, possibly with County Administrator Jerry Cameron as well, and discuss the county’s request for more space at the courthouse to accommodate the sheriff’s personnel.
Bexley’s call was the first sign of a thaw in an impasse that led to a 48-hour ultimatum from the county to Bexley–to agree to a space study and its conclusion, or face litigation. The clock on that ultimatum was to run out at 5 p.m. today. The clock is now stopped, pending Monday’s outcome. That doesn’t mean Bexley will comply with the county’s demands. But it does mean he’s willing to talk.
“I have set a meeting with Chair O’Brien on Monday,” he told FlaglerLive Friday afternoon. “It is my preference to discuss matters of this gravity in person. I do not intend on replying to the BOCC ultimatum until the conclusion of that meeting.” The BOCC is the Board of County Commissioners.
There may not have been joy in Mudville just yet, but at least there was hope. “Yes, I think there’s a desire to continue talking,” O’Brien said. “And I was very please dot get the phone call from him, and hopeful.”
Cameron was, too. “Everybody has come to the realization: if something isn’t done, that we’re going to be on a course that gets charted that’s not going to be beneficial to anybody,” Cameron said. “And I understand from their perspective too, it is difficult.” Cameron said he understands that by the looks of it, there seems to be a lot of available square footage at the courthouse. But when it comes to allocating it, “the devil is in the details.”
Late Wednesday afternoon Cameron was about to send a messenger to the county courthouse a short walk across from the Government Services Building, with his sternly written, three-page ultimatum when he got a call from Luke Givens, the clerk of court’s deputy. Givens was inviting Cameron over for a chat. It was a hint: there was already more room to talk.
“I ask that you doubt a little of your own infallibility in your opinion that no further accommodation can be accomplished.”
So the administrator decided to hand-deliver the ultimatum to Bexley’s office (Bexley was still on a previously scheduled vacation out of Flagler County.) To accommodate sheriff’s personnel that evacuated its own operations center 13 months ago, and that won’t have another operations center for at least two years, the county is asking for 5,000 square feet at the courthouse, in addition to the 8,000 square feet the clerk has already ceded. It is doing so to alleviate “an extremely dysfunctional environment due to lack of sufficient space and a severely fractured Unity of Command,” as Cameron wrote in his letter.
For months, Bexley has resisted giving more space, saying it would compromise his own operations. He’s felt slighted that while the county has trusted the sheriff’s request for more space to be sincere, it hasn’t extended Bexley the same trust in his own sincerity.
But for the county it’s not about trust, but about protecting taxpayers from undue expenses. Only the clerk ceding the additional space, in a building seemingly vast and roomy enough to accommodate it, would keep the county from having to rent the additional space. Cameron estimates the cost could reach $1 million.
Cameron’s conversation with Givens went well, he said, even though Cameron had been very displeased during Monday’s commission meeting when Givens revealed then and there that the clerk had already contracted a firm to conduct a space study at the courthouse, and done so in early June. “I would have thought that the BCC and the County Administrator’s Office would have been afforded the courtesy of being provided a copy of the document when it was received by the Clerk’s Office,” Cameron repeated in his letter, as he had at the meeting. But today, by means of explaining how all is well with Givens, he said he often argues with his wife, but still loves her.
“He walked me through some of the space and expressed some of his concerns,” Cameron said of his visit with Givens, “and we sat there and talked about how unfortunate the situation was, and that’s about the extent of it.” Givens didn’t read the letter during Cameron’s visit.
The key sentence in Cameron’s letter craftily combined an admonition and a plea wrapped in an appeal to Bexley’s sense of collegiality: “I ask that you doubt a little of your own infallibility in your opinion that no further accommodation can be accomplished, and join with the BCC, County Administration, and the Sheriff’s Department in forging a long overdue solution to this crisis.”
And the letter included several pleas and rationales buttressing the county’s request.
“Please consider that any alternative to a mutually agreeable resolution will result in a substantial expense, which will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers we serve,” Cameron wrote.
The county is set to contract the services of Nabors Giblin and Nickerson, a 35-year-old Tallahasee-based law firm that specializes in local government issues.
“If litigation is the result of the present impasse, we will all be diverted from the service to the public we are sworn to provide,” Cameron wrote. “Moreover, the certain unfavorable publicity accompanying our inability to reach a solution will create a crisis of confidence in the citizens that depend on us.”
The letter included a set of calculations that showed that absent sheriff’s employees at the courthouse, Bexley is contending with 2,236 square feet per employee, as opposed to 1,041 square feet with the sheriff’s current count of 70-some employees there (though the actual count is somewhat lower). The ratio at the Government Services Building is 591 square feet. Cameron included the figures to further impress on Bexley what he had said earlier in the letter: that all agencies are doing their part, and that the clerk’s office should do its own. “The disparity in the numbers provide a valuable comparative perspective that plainly suggests the need for further work in looking at a productive reallocation of space that addresses the challenges we face today,” he wrote.
Cameron implicitly rejected the clerk’s comparison of his own office’s responsibilities being potentially compromised the same way the sheriff’s had been: “Both the Clerk’s Office and the BCC do still have the advantage of not having their operations fractured. The Sheriffs Department has not been so fortunate,” Cameron wrote. “Components of their workforce have been scattered across the County, and those in the Courthouse are dispersed across different floors and required to share critical components of their operations with other Courthouse functions.”