A proposed joint agreement on governing the Carver Center in South Bunnell–the area’s only recreation and community center–gives the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s Police Athletic League a broader presence and a much more prominent role in the management of the facility, especially in programming and running the gym.
The joint agreement, obtained by FlaglerLive, is between the School Board, the Sheriff’s Office, Flagler County government and Bunnell government. It is the first complete re-write of an agreement first enacted in 2011, after a community outcry prevented what had been a plan by the County Commission to close what was then known as Carver Gym, because of financial constraints.
Instead, the commission, under the leadership of then-Commissioner Barbara Revels, agreed to continue funding the center, with help from the school district, Bunnell, the Sheriff’s Office and a newly created Carver Center board, which launched an annual fund-raising drive. The center has remained open since and continues to serve as the primary recreation and community center for predominantly Black South Bunnell.
The Carver Center is all that remains of what used to be Carver High School in pre-desegregation days. As such, the facility continues to fill an outsized role in that area of the city’s identity and sense of ownership, with repeated attempts to close it in the past chafing at that ownership and reverberating to this day in attempts to redefine Carver Gym’s role. That’s why, in part, PAL’s and the Sheriff’s greater involvement drew some opposition from some members of the Carver Gym board, led especially by Daisy henry, a former city commissioner and resident of South Bunnell.
County Administrator Heidi Petito in repeated updates to the County Commission about the working group that developed the new agreement has said that PAL’s role is designed to enhance offerings at the center, not replace the existing governing structure. That is accurate up to a point: the new agreement expands PAL’s independent authority significantly.
“It was always intended for the Sheriff’s Office to have a role in Carver Center from the beginning. It’s always been that way. It is in the original documents where it calls out the county, the cities, the school board and the sheriff’s office,” Petito told the commission. “There was a desire for the sheriff’s office for PAL to have a location that they could offer activities and mentoring, sports programs.” PAL had actually hoped to have a new facility built near Carver center, but the county could not make that happen since all the property around the center is owned by the federal Housing Authority. “So the sheriff’s office through their PAL unit had reached out to the Carver group and had asked about utilizing some space down there, especially with the new renovation that’s taken place.” She added: “It was never intended for the sheriff to take over,” or as competition for the school board.
Still, that caused a bit of a ruckus, at least from some in the community who bristle at the presence in the gym of an organization run by the sheriff, especially if there was to be a financial component that would potentially be a barrier to participation for some, while others have pushed back to say, like Petito, that enriching Carver Center with more programs–if not more oversight–could only be a benefit.
The joint agreement, called an “interlocal agreement,” or ILA(as it is an agreement between several local governments), has been in the works for months through a committee of staffers from the few governments and some others invited to the table. Those meetings have not been open to the public. The proposal now goes before the County Commission, the School Board and the Bunnell City Commission for approval: each government must approve it for it to replace the original agreement and go into effect.
While the 2011 agreement did mention the Sheriff’s Office, as Petito said, it did not do so in the text of the agreement’s governing structure. The two references were restricted to how much the sheriff would contribute to the annual operating budget ($5,000), and to specifying that the sheriff would have one representative on the governing board. A 2015 amendment did not refer to the sheriff. The proposed 2023 agreement refers to the Sheriff’s Office or “the sheriff’s PAL” 26 times, and devotes a full section to the “Responsibilities of Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.”
“Flagler Sheriff’s through PAL will be jointly responsible with the district for the daily operation of the portions of the Carver Center identified” in the document, a reference to the entire gym, the center’s entrance and the bathrooms on the first floor. It will also have a lounge, a video room and two offices exclusively for its own uses on the first floor, reducing district space exclusively for district programs to a game room and a computer room on the first floor, with three additional offices on the second floor. “Daily operation of the Carver Center by PAL includes athletic and mentoring staffing, program origination and management.”
PAL and the school district will jointly develop year-round “operational programming and identify activities to occur at the facility with input from the Carver Advisory Committee,” the agreement states. The district retains authority over the scheduling of recreational activities, but only when school is in session. The majority of the time, “PAL programming and activities shall address periods when school is out of session, including expanded hours as required by PAL.”
The agreement also calls on the sheriff to ensure that PAL programs are available equally to all, regardless of “financial situation,” which suggests that those who cannot afford the PAL fees may not be barred from participation in PAL programs at the gym. But it will still be the joint responsibility of PAL, the Carver Advisory Committee and the school district to develop a fee structure for all fee-based programs offered at the gym. That revenue will be used to offset costs of running the facility.
The school board will remain responsible for the day to day operations of those joint-use areas on the first floor, and will be exclusively responsible for staffing the gym, “program origination and management.” But that provision is somewhat contradicted by the next provision: “The School Board will share the responsibility of managing the use of the Carver Center gymnasium with PAL through consistent collaboration and communication.” The district may also develop programing with non-profits and other organizations.
County government, the overall fiscal agent, will contribute $97,500 to underwrite the staffing of the facility, while still keeping maintenance responsibilities for the building itself. Bunnell will contribute $10,000. The sheriff’s contribution is no longer specified.
The agreement includes a very broad, very imprecise clause under its “joint responsibilities” provisions: “In the spirit of co-sponsorship for both recreational and educational services to the community, the School Board, City of Bunnell, Sheriff and County may agree to modify and enhance the future Carver Center facilities and operations. The staff of the Parties shall be empowered to work out the day-to-day operational details of this Agreement.” It leaves all disputes to be mediated by all four government entities, without specifying who, if anyone, has ultimate authority to determine outcomes.carver-ila-2023