Last Updated: 5:19 p.m.
It came down to less than 200 square feet of space. Specifically, four teller windows. And that’s where it failed.
Sheriff Rick Staly wanted that bit of extra space on the first floor of the courthouse. He told the county administrator the space wasn’t being used. Clerk of Court Tom Bexley said he could not give up his clerks’ window space, where they transact with the public.
Just after 4 p.m., an exhausted and dispirited County Administrator Jerry Cameron, who’d been negotiating the arrangement and running proposals between Bexley and the sheriff for much of the day, realized the matter was again at an impasse. He contacted County Attorney Al Hadeed, told him where matters stood, and to start the process of litigation against Bexley in accordance with the county commission’s direction.
“We got to within a couple of hundred square feet,” Cameron told FlaglerLive, two hours after we’d reported where the negotiations stood at that point, when there seemed to be hope of a resolution. “Both parties dug their heels in so we are officially at impasse and this all gets handed over to Al Hadeed.”
“It boiled down to the sheriff saying that he had to have his [space] configured a certain way or we weren’t doing any good in what we were trying to accomplish,” Cameron said. Describing a records area of the first floor where deputy clerks conduct business with the public, Cameron said the clerk has 11 “cubicles with windows,” where the sheriff said four were never used, and he needed those four. “The clerk said he just couldn’t give up window space. That’s what happened,” Cameron said.
Bexley confirmed the sequence of events. “I’m not able to give those that’s where I service the public,” he said just after 5 p.m. today.
Bexley and the sheriff never communicated directly, but through Cameron. Wednesday evening, Cameron emailed Bexley, requesting an early morning meeting. They met this morning in what amounted to a counter-offer to Bexley’s of the day before. The counter-offer encompassed the four cubicles in question. Bexley said he made a counter-offer of his own, taking out a restriction he’d initially penned into the proposed agreement (restricting access to a break room to clerk employees only).
The administrator said the sheriff and Chief Mark Strobridge, who’d been the sheriff’s point man on the issue, pored over the plans and tried to come up with a solution until Strobridge spoke to him after 4 p.m. and said, in Cameron’s recollection: “I just can’t make it work.”
Cameron had been speaking with the sheriff and the clerk throughout. Cameron said the sheriff saw it this way: “’I dropped from 5,000 square feet to 3,000 feet, then this will be less than 2,000 feet, you know, I’m down to the point where I can’t make it work.’ And the clerk has a similar story, ‘I gave this much, now you’re back and you wanted this much, I just can’t do it any more.’ I don’t know why it locked up when we were that close, but it did.”
The parties are fully aware of the consequences. “They know that this is going to cost a lot of money,” Cameron said. “We’re talking about a few hundred square feet, and it’s just a shame. Because both of them and their operations can use the money I’m going to have to spend because of litigation and potential rental space.” He added: “It’s pretty clear we’re in the realm of litigation in order to make anything done, so it’s very unfortunate.”
“I’m not surprised at the outcome of this. It just felt inevitable, I made every effort to stop it,” Bexley said. “I’m just afraid this is the only resolution that’s left.” He added: “Believe me, it’s not my call, I don’t want to do it. I will certainly defend myself.” He said if he was “attacked by any entity,” he would defend himself, by which he meant that “any time someone would bring into question the integrity of how I choose to run the office, I take that as an attack.”
Asked how he would defend the fact that this will be litigation at taxpayers’ expense, Bexley said: “We should all be ashamed of ourselves, but I feel like I’m at the point where I don’t have any other choices. It’s between taxpayer money and me doing my job effectively and efficiently, and to me, I’m sorry but that’s no choice.” He stressed that the problem did not start either with him or the sheriff, but with the county commission–the landlord in the equation, responsible for ensuring that all constitutional officers have the space they need to run their operations. “This is the Board of County Commissioners. It’s got nothing to do with the sheriff or the clerk of court.”
Staly or Strobridge could not be reached when this story initially published. Both Staly and Bexley are scheduled to be at the WNZF studio for Free For All Friday with host David Ayres Friday at 9 a.m. They’ve been at the same county commission meetings, in the same room, several times in recent weeks, but this would be the first time they’d be at the same table discussing the space issue at the courthouse, side by side.
[This is a developing story. More soon.]