Last Updated: 5:23 p.m.
Flagler County Clerk of Court Tom Bexley just before noon today formalized an offer of 1,000 additional square feet of floor space at the county courthouse for the sheriff’s uses, and gave no deadlines–either for the county to accept the offer, or for the sheriff to vacate the space once no longer needed.
The two-page agreement only calls for the sheriff’s personnel to leave the courthouse no later than 60 days after a certificate of occupancy has been issued for the planned sheriff’s district operations center off Palm Coast Parkway. That building may not be completed until 2021 or early 2022.
The clerk’s offer is 4,000 square feet short of what the county had asked for, on behalf of the sheriff, when it sent an ultimatum to Bexley last week. The ultimatum followed the county commission’s second vote forcing the issue, the first one taking place in May and resulting in no action, in part because no specifics about space or timelines were attached to the motion. Last week, the commission gave Bexley 48 hours to accept a space reallocation study and comply with its findings, or face litigation from the county aimed at forcing him to cede more space. The previous week, the county administration had sent a letter to Bexley requesting 5,000 square feet of additional space by July 31.
All sides, including Bexley, agreed that litigation was the worst possible outcome as it would be costly for all sides, and ultimately costliest for taxpayers. On Friday, he invited the commission chairman and county administrator to meet. They did so on Monday, when Bexley said he’d make additional space available, but without specifics at the time.
He sent a proposed joint agreement, called an “interlocal,” between his office and the county commission–the county is the landlord of all county government facilities–along with a floor plan showing what additional space he would make available.
Bexley on Monday said this would be his “final offer.” County Administrator Jerry Cameron and the sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge had not yet reviewed the proposal when initially contacted by a reporter.
“This is in response to action taken by the Board of County Commissioners as stated in the letter from County Administrator Jerry Cameron dated July 17, 2019,” Bexley wrote in his letter to the chairman of the commission today.
In mid-afternoon, Cameron issued a statement that was anything but enthusiastic: “While the proposal is less space than what was previously requested, it represents an effort to help resolve the present critical situation,” his statement read. “County Administration will work with the Sheriff to see if the proposal is workable. Meanwhile, administration will continue to pursue all potential alternatives until a resolution is reached.”
Bexley’s offer focuses on the area Sheriff Rick Staly and Cameron have most often cited as in most need of relief: the area occupied by the sheriff’s detectives. Some two dozen detectives are currently crammed in one work space. Their chief of detectives has an office adjoining the clerk’s records manager, in an area co-mingled with the clerk’s records division, making confidential discussions about ongoing cases difficult. The detectives’ work space is itself not as conducive to confidential work as they would like.
Bexley’s proposed floor plan, as provided to FlaglerLive (see below), would extend the sheriff’s zone to include four sets of cubicles sheriff’s officials have frequently pointed to as unused, and would also provide an additional office to the sheriff–that of the records manager, who would then be without an office elsewhere. That additional space would add up to 468 square feet (in the cubicle area) and 130 square feet (the additional office). The clerk would also cede the 420-square foot “plat room,” a room used to store physical, archival platting maps. Those maps are accessible to the public online, so the public will not be affected. But the clerk is required to maintain and manage the physical records as well. Those will be moved elsewhere on the floor, likely to an area of the vast records room adjoining what would be the sheriff’s zone. That area is delineated by a wall, so the sheriff’s zone will be more segregated.
The proposed agreement includes one detail that is likely to rankle sheriff’s personnel for its exclusionary tone: “the Clerk’s break room located on the first floor adjacent to the Records Department is designated for Clerk’s Office employees only.”
As detectives were working on a murder case earlier this month, Staly emailed county commissioners an image of his staff huddled and crammed in that same space outside Bovino’s office to make the point that “We cannot continue to work under these conditions. It is not fair to my employees or to the community that expects us to solve crimes committed upon them.” The clerk agreed, saying, through his deputy, Luke Givens, that the picture was “a gross illustration of just how far the [Board of County Commissioners] has kicked the can down the road, choosing political expediency over doing the right thing.” At the time, however, the clerk was pressing the county to rent new space for the sheriff elsewhere. The county commission had not yet threatened legal action.
Bexley’s plan also calls for building two temporary walls to further segregate the sheriff’s zone (or provide it more autonomy), thus creating contiguity between the existing sheriff’s zone and the plat room, and walling off the new space from where records clerks have their stations, and where they interact with the public. The effect on the public will be minimal. The effects on the clerk’s staff, Bexley said, will be “a challenge.”
That’s assuming the county and the sheriff will agree to the new allocation, without asking for further space. In effect, Bexley, while providing only a fifth of the requested space, is also positioning himself in such a way that should the county decline the offer, or the sheriff finds it less than adequate, it’ll be the county declining an offer rather than Bexley refusing to make one: tactically, Bexley is also positioning himself as willing to compromise–albeit not on the county’s full terms–were the county to press the matter further and trigger litigation.
In late afternoon, Strobridge, the sheriff’s point man on the issue, said following a meeting with the administrator that “We’re going to work with whatever facility space the county gives us to work with them, because it’s their responsibility to do so. So as soon as they come back to us and say this is what it’s going to be, we will go forth.” But that hasn’t happened yet.
Asked if the sheriff’s office was satisfied with the space offered, Strobridge said: “I’m not really prepared to comment on that portion of it.” Like Cameron’s statement released earlier in the day, it wasn’t the most enthusiastic response. Nor was it a rejection. “When they tell us what the final is on everything, we’ll give them the final evaluation on whether the space is functional and adds to the efficiency and functionality of the organization and make a determination at that particular time,” Strobridge said.
The Sheriff’s Office’s space use at the county courthouse’s first floor. Cleverly, the clerk used the sheriff’s own agency colors to delineate space (yellow and green). Current sheriff’s uses are in green, with the rectangular room at the corner showing the work space for the detectives’ division. Additional space offered is in yellow. Thick red lines indicate where temporary walls would be built.