It may come down to a few hundred square feet.
When Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron first saw the proposed plan Clerk of Court Tom Bexley was offering up as more space for the sheriff’s uses at the county courthouse Wednesday, he was of two minds.
“I thought it was going to be be a hard sell with the sheriff, but I also thought after looking at it and talking with [Bexley], they’d put in some real time and effort” to resolve the matter, Cameron said.
Bexley was offering an additional 1,000 square feet to the sheriff’s personnel, exiled from its own operations center in Bunnell since June 2018. The county administrator had asked for 5,000 extra square feet.
Negotiations have been ongoing since, with Cameron in the middle, Bexley on one side, and Sheriff Rick Staly and his chief negotiator on the issue, Mark Strobridge, on the other. “We’ve done a little back and forth today, I’m waiting on the S to come back, we’re getting very close,” Cameron said a little after midday today. “We are getting some real positive movement. It’s tough sledding, but I was encouraged talking to the clerk this morning that he wants it resolved, I know the sheriff wants it resolved, I know I want it resolved. We’re even offering some concessions at the GSB [the Government Services Building] if that will help. We’re moving in a positive direction, and thank goodness we’re moving at all because we didn’t for a long a time.”
Strobridge and Staly are not saying publicly anything more than the strict minimum. In a very brief interview this morning, Staly said he was awaiting Cameron’s final plan. He said he’d make his determination based on that. He would not say what his initial reaction to Bexley’s plan had been, though it was pretty clear that it hadn’t been terribly enthusiastic.
He did say that he found it strange that the county and the clerk of court would be moving toward a signed, formal “interlocal” agreement, considering that the county is the clerk’s landlord. (Bexley is framing his proposal around such an agreement, which you can read here.) County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien was also interviewed on the matter, but he said he was staying out of the negotiations, finding it improper to be included in that role at this point since it’s an administrative issue. O’Brien had been part of a break-the-ice meeting Monday with Bexley and Cameron. The county commission had just voted to give Bexley a 48-hour ultimatum to give in to a space study at the courthouse or face litigation. Bexley sent a meeting invitation to O’Brien after that, and the rest has been more workmanlike than antagonistic, if still with a considerable amount of tugging and pulling on both sides.
But Cameron said “both parties are making some concessions.” Among those is the apparent resolution of what could have been a potential sticking point of pride for sheriff’s personnel: the clerk’s odd inclusion, in the formal agreement, of a prohibition: only clerk’s staff could use the staff break room on the first floor. That clause now appears to have been removed, or at least amended. “He’s conceded that that’s not necessary, we can eliminate that from the discussion,” Cameron said, referring to Bexley and the clause.
Cameron said it could well end up being the reverse: that the break room will be used only by sheriff’s staff. The break room is immediately adjoining a “plat room” that Bexley included among his additional concessions of space.
Cameron wouldn’t say whether the issue will be resolved today, only that “there appears to be a genuine desire to get this resolved.” A quiet but no less forceful optimist, Cameron appears to be the negotiating hinge to an issue that’s been vexing all sides for months. He’s resolved several crises he inherited from former Administrator Craig Coffey’s administration. Resolving this one would not only be a major accomplishment, but it would vindicate his approach, which had resisted for weeks even the commission’s push to force the clerk to give up space. Cameron was not keen on the commission suing the clerk. But no one really was.
Still, as the day wore on Thursday, an agreement appeared to be in sight, but was not yet certain: “I just hope now that we’re so close that the parties will close the loop,” Cameron said. “If we fail to get an accord over 5 or 600 square feet, that’s going to be a real black eye for all of us.”