They were all there: the Flagler County Commission, the Bunnell City Commission, the Clerk of Court, the county library director and the president of the Flagler County Historical Society. They all have a stake in the future of the old courthouse, which has stood vacant for three years, costing the county $10,000 a month just in upkeep. They all want to use it, or want it used, in one form or another. But they all wanted to know what Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming wanted to do with the building. He has first dibs. And he was invited to the joint government meeting to share his ideas.
He didn’t show.
Fleming told some of those who attended that he had a previous speaking engagement in the Hammock. He sent a representative instead: Capt. Lynne Catoggio, commander of the sheriff’s patrol section. Like an envoy bearing news from a distant chieftain in medieval times, she had a brief letter from Fleming: “Upon discussion with various county commissioners and other concerned citizens, I would like to postpone looking into moving into the old courthouse until a later date,” he wrote. “Currently, there are too many unanswered questions regarding security, time frame and occupancy.” The best Fleming could offer was being “open to revisit this option in the near future.”
Flagler County Commission Chairman George Haans, one of the several people around the table who’d spoken with the sheriff in person, didn’t hide his disappointment. “Seriously,” he said, “with the sheriff not here, our hands are tied.” Hanns was chairing a meeting that had nowhere to go. At the previous joint meeting between Bunnell and the commission, the sheriff was the absent elephant in the room. At Tuesday evening’s meeting, the courthouse was the giant lemon in the room.
Which left Bunnell city officials, who were first in line after the sheriff with dibs on the courthouse, wondering where else they could turn. Since leaving their small, leaky home in the old Bunnell City Hall, they’ve been divided between the big government building, where they pay no rent, and at commercial storefront on U.S. 1. The Bunnell Police Department is in a trailer along Moody Boulevard. Bunnell commissioners wanted to know how long they could stay in the county building (which is also the Flagler County School Board’s building) without wearing out their welcome.
County commissioners were non-committal. They couldn’t take a vote, anyway, given the meeting’s constraints. Hanns suggested that Bunnell was welcome to stay in the county’s space for a while, but an end game was also welcome. The County Commission will likely decide at its next meeting what the terms of Bunnell’s lease will be.
As for the courthouse, Commissioner Barbara Revels suggested that, absent money to repair it and make it ready for occupancy (that cost would run in the millions), the most, and the best, the county can do is issue permits and have renovation or construction ready to go as soon as money becomes available. Revels has hopes for a federal appropriation.
County Administrator Craig Coffey, sitting closer to Commissioner Milissa Holland than either of them would have preferred after Holland’s attempt Monday to fire Coffey (only the small-framed Hanns sat between them), offered up a financial plan that could make the courthouse usable within a few years: invest about $300,000 a year in renovations and open the property in segments. It’s up to commissioners to pick a strategy, but they seemed receptive to Coffey’s idea.