In June it’ll be a year that the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office evacuated the moldy, 35,000-square-foot Operations Center in Bunnell and split some 70 employees, including 25 detectives and the command staff, between the Flagler County courthouse and the sheriff’s jail administration building on Justice Lane. Last month the County Commission voted to build a new operations center, or district office, in Palm Coast. But that’s at least two years away. The county is preparing a few thousand square feet for the sheriff’s temporary uses at the old Sears building on Palm Coast Parkway. But that’s also months away, and will account for only a small portion of the exiled staff. So the sheriff must make do with makeshift accommodations.
It’s not been comfortable. Sheriff Rick Staly has called it “a crisis” and an “untenable” situation that’s “drastically hurting the operation and the work environment for those employees.” He’s asked for more space at the courthouse. Clerk of Court Tom Bexley has been unwilling to grant it, saying it would alleviate sheriff’s operations only to hurt his own. To most people who’ve never been in the courthouse and affected areas, the discussion has been an abstraction.
On Wednesday, the sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge and Bexley (along with Bexley’s deputy, Luke Givens), gave FlaglerLive a complete tour of the three floors affected by the combined sheriff’s and clerk’s operations at the courthouse. The tour included the first, second and third floors of the courthouse. The fourth floor–the judges’ Mt. Olympus–is unchanged. The tour was conducted separately but in quick succession the same morning, with no constraints on what could be photographed short of the fine print on certain computer screens. What follows is the first such detailed, photographic illustration of the space issues the sheriff, the clerk and county officials have been wrestling with over the past months and continue to wrestle with as the three sides try to reach an understanding on whether and how to make more room before the sheriff can repatriate his own grounds.
There are no overt tensions–there were none during the tour, anyway–as both sides project complete amiability. Nevertheless, it is in the asides, in the particular ways Bexley made a point of showing how accommodating he’s been, in the various ways Strobridge spoke of the building’s youth and room for growth, and in the way other staffers reacted to the obviously uncomfortable crunch that the awkwardness of the situation sharpen unspoken tensions.
The tour begins right about where Sheriff Woody welcomes residents at a reception window just to the right of the metal detectors at the courthouse entrance, a space the sheriff requested to give the public some visibility and quick access to services. Four people generally share the space, which also includes court security.
But to get an idea of the cramped working conditions of a crucial segment of the sheriff’s operations, you might start with a corner room on the ground floor of the courthouse, the space assigned to 25 detectives. It’s not much of a room–more like a large cubicle that has itself been subdivided into several tiny cubicles, each of those shared by at least two detectives at a time. Think of traveling coach on a budget airline when the passenger in front of you tilts the seat back just a little, then multiply that by eight hours a day, five days a week.
The county administrator compared the space to a mail-order phone bank. The sheriff calls it a sardine can. It can just as easily be compared to those tiny shotgun, one-room apartments IKEA showcases on its floors, which of course are designed for one person or two at best–and two people who don’t mind being in each other’s business.
“It’s a disaster. It’s a closet right there,” says Chief Paul Bovino, who recently took over the detectives’ division.
Thankfully for the division, the detectives tend to be a fit, slimmed down group, and their one colossus, 6-foot-2-Bovino, has his own office a short walk away, though that creates a different set of problems: Bovino’s office is actually within the clerk of court’s zone, right next to Bexley’s recording manager’s office. It’s not as if Bovino can have any case discussions in the open. But nor is it that way for the detectives in their own offices: they’re so cramped that half the room could hear what they’re saying on the phone or to each other. Yet they’re responsible for sensitive cases, whether they’re dealing with witnesses or victims in sex cases or informants in drug cases and other sources.
“None of us have the liberty to talk in confidence anymore,” Bexley says, which is where some of the tension has originated. Ceding the room to the detectives posed its own issues, he says. “We used to use that as our training room. That’s gone,” Bexley says. Now we’ve been relegated to an area of four, so we have to rotate a lot of guys in,” he says, pointing to the makeshift space used for training. See the image below.
Similar story in what previously had been used by four information technology employees on the clerk’s side, but is now the patrol division’s command and meeting area. “That’s one of the few quasi private spaces we have,” says sheriff’s Chief Chris Sepe, “as long as IT isn’t walking in to deal with their servers.” That room is attached to the command center’s area, where commanders and other supervisors funnel in deputies, deal with daily operations, including disciplinary issues. Deputies don’t have their own offices–their patrol cars are their offices–but they still stream in and out of the sheriff’s office space for various reasons and paperwork.
Communication radios work inside the courthouse. Cell phones, which the command staff uses–or needs to use–routinely, barely work or not at all. It gets better in the higher floors, but the deputies’ command center is on the ground floor.
The clerk’s IT department remains on the fourth floor. “So with the proposed plan for the sheriff to take the entire first floor, this entire department would go bye bye. Where they’d go, I have no idea,” Bexley says.
The clerk’s recording department is also on the ground floor. “This is one of the services that state statutes require us to do,” Givens says. It’s also one of the places that easily give the impression that there’s more space than is being used: the courthouse was built last decade with 30 years’ growth in view, and that growth only started kicking in at the beginning of this decade.
There are four seemingly unused cubicles to the rear of the recording division’s main working area. Bexley says two of the cubicles are unused and provide for space where the office may grow in the future. Two are used periodically by employees as dedicated spaces for cash close-out and for what he described as a “back-posting project.”
The ground floor is also where the court chapel used to be. Now it’s been converted into the sheriff’s Seniors vs. Crime unit, which was unoccupied the morning of the tour. “Now we have to marry folks out here in the hallway, or in the courts or wherever we can” Givens says.
Record management and preservation is among the foremost missions of the clerk’s office. The records room on the first floor is a behemoth of a space lined with row after row of close-cropped shelving, almost all of it filled with every imaginable record that makes up a county’s archival history: criminal, civil, probate, land records, expunged records (yes, they’re all there), insurance records, and in two locked rooms by themselves, the financial records of the county. “That’s the gravity of what we’re dealing with here,” Bexley says. Every quarter, thousands of records are destroyed as they reach their expiration date in the eyes of the state’s public record law. Those must be inventoried and demolished.
“And so as a consequence of that we have to have constant interaction with the records,” Givens says.
Bexley says because of that “interaction,” a proposal that would have the records staff move to a different part of the building and walk through the sheriff’s areas to get access to the records room would not be feasible. But he concedes it was not a formal proposal so much as speculative.
On the second floor, the clerk has another area that regularly interacts with the public–the civil and criminal division. There too, there’s a lot more space than is being used, though absent some reconstruction, it could not readily be subdivided for other uses.
Bexley says the empty spaces are for growth, but are also used periodically for various transactions, such as foreclosure sales. There are 16 employees in that particular division. The back room is another string of desks, a few of them unused, and numerous more stacks for more current records, many of which are being imaged then destroyed, leaving many shelves empty.
On the west side of the building, the sheriff’s homeland security division and accreditation employees form the second part of an L-shaped zone that links up with the clerk’s criminal and civil division. And smack in the middle of that sheriff’s zone is the hyper-secure vault where all materials required to be preserved for current or ongoing court cases, including rape and murder cases, weapons, drugs and all sorts of other evidence and documents, must be kept secure. The vault includes a fridge for DNA and other biological evidence. The weapons are kept in individually locked lockers.
At the edge of the public civil and criminal clerks’ area, there’s another room that was ceded to the sheriff well before the issue with the operations center. It’s the office of civil process, where, for example, the documents necessary to serve someone notice of, say, a foreclosure or other legal matters originate. The clerk provided the space, but says it used to be the area where people seeking injunctions, including battered victims, could more discreetly conduct their business. “The duties that we provided over there are now being provided over here, in the open,” Givens says. “It poses a problem in numerous ways.”
The clerk’s payroll offices on the second floor are not affected. The second floor’s more office-space like areas in the center of the building include Court Administration, Teen Court and Drug Court–where drug court participants report for their variously required tests–intermingling with the sheriff’s finance and human resources personnel. Strobridge shows the one conference room the entire floor must share, with a notice about required reservations:
The third floor had judges’ chambers that weren’t being used, and that were turned over to the sheriff for his own office and that of his command staff. The most arresting feature of the third floor is what at first appears to be a small conference room–the only conference room the sheriff may use, at least when it’s available. Because its real function is as a jury room. “As you can see, we have more people than the table can hold,” Strobridge says.
And the sheriff’s staff may not use the room when a trial is in session in the third-floor courtrooms. “So for the entire week the sheriff can’t have a meeting,” Strobridge says.
There are still other, unseen inconveniences and difficulties in running the sheriff’s operations. Three staffers have their offices in the State Attorney’s area on the third floor of the courthouse. The operation is diffused between the three floors of the courthouse and the old administration building near the jail. Detectives have the convenience of proximity to the State Attorney’s office, with whom they interact frequently, but to interview suspects, they have to drive the suspects all the way to the Flagler Beach Police Department to use its interview room–a distance that at times can play havoc with a suspect’s willingness to talk, Strobridge said.
For all that, he doesn’t blame the clerk and repeatedly tries to portray the sheriff’s office as grateful to have what space it has been given–if only it could have a bit more. “This is not about the sheriff and the clerk of court by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not our battle,” Strobridge said. The landlord in the equation is not the clerk, but the county commission, which may have to decide whether to press the issue and force the clerk to give more ground. “We are grateful, court administration did a great job, the clerk did a great job, we just need the county to figure out what they need to do.”
WILLIAM J NELSON says
Given a chance, it would be very refreshing if our “County Commissioners” under the direction of a new County Manager would/could be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of the county, and stop their foolish waste of spending. Our County has grown, the Sheriff deserves an office and, the county (taxpayer) deserves a place that is dedicated to “law enforcement”. STOP the silly spending without thought, and sit down and discuss a “professional” solution, instead of the recent KNEE JERK reaction of under qualified commission.
Who cares !!!! Bunch of cry babies !!!! All of them !
NEver ends ?????police station , court house Bings landing . Plantation H20.in debt , law suits . We pay our taxes and our county is not solvent .the problem makers are still with us , lawyer still with us and the trouble makers who created most of this rode off into the sunset like he said at water meeting in plantation I’m the Lone Ranger and the Bunnell city manager is Tonto .God bless our beautiful corrupt little county .
Percy's mother says
From what I see in the photos, Bexley has PLENTY of space that’s currently unused and in safe keeping for “future growth”. That photo showing the space for 7 recording clerks shows largely a lot of unused space, I still say this is a huge ego problem on the part of Bexley.
“The criminal and civil divisions where clerks most frequently interact with the public, and where space is significantly underused” (photo) Again, plenty of space available. I’ve had occasion to be up on that floor. It’s empty space. Again, Bexley doesn’t want to concede due to ego and nothing more.
Bexley’s lack of willingness to accommodate what is a temporary logistical nightmare for the sheriff says a lot about his true character. Bexley could have been gracious and accommodating for a TEMPORARY solution. However he’s holding everyone hostage with his unprofessional antics. It doesn’t speak well for his tenure as an elected official in the future . . . but that seems to be okay with him.
I fail to see what Bexley is so upset about. This is a TEMPORARY problem with a TEMPORARY solution (for the sheriff). Why can’t Bexley accommodate for a TEMPORARY situation?
Bexley is correct and I dont blame him for standing his ground.
Concerned Citizen says
From what I am seeing we have a BOCC and a new Administrator who is cowed by our elected officials.
Both the BOCC and Administrator need to step up and make command decisions to end this. You’re wasting way to much time on an issue that is non important and partly caused by the Sheriff.
He has known all along from the begining that using the old hospital as a converted operations center would have adverse consequences. He knew from the start the reno was done sloppy and half ass. He was on Manfre’s command staff and had to have made decisions in the process.
Now he wants to play poor me and be the victim. After putting his staff in there !!
@ Tom Bexely.
You need to grow up and put your ego aside. You don’t own that building the County does. Stop throwing temper tantrums and do your job. If it means letting the Sheriff use all that unused space TEMPORARILY then do it. It’s a TEMPORARY solution.
Time and time again we keep reading about our elected and appointed leadership squabble like 3 year olds. Meanwhile time and money are wasted while important issues are neglected. IT NEEDS TO STOP!!!
I for one will be remembering this when elections roll around. And you should to.
Once again I see a lack of planning. They knew the old sheriff’s office would have to be vacated. THAT was the time to start figuring out where to go. Everything in PC is an “emergency fix”.. It’s not like PC doesn’t have open space available. Not like PC doesn’t own a bunch of empty buildings. Plan ahead, it’s simple project management.
I see a whole lot of wasted space. Start thinking in terms of square footage vs. whats being produced to benefit Flagler county. Get creative! I see shitty shelving. Order better shelving organized to utilize maximum space while still allowing fire code sprinklers their range, Some drywall interior corridors can allow access to vital records while not interfering with Sheriff’s operations. Its tight, but perhaps doable? We need an interior architect to make maximum use of our space. Ever play Tetris? It is a video game where you must make a bunch if different shaped blocks fit into a square. It is analogous to our situation. Theres certainly a way to make all fit and a hell of a lot cheaper than a new building or moving into yet another building built for other purposes like to sell washer/dryers & and hand tools out of (Sears)…
Go after all the crooks involved in the moldy sheriff’s office purchase, financially and criminally. Get our money back from them and build a new place with it.
Concerned Employee says
I keep reading comments to these recent articles addressing the issues surrounding the Board of County Commissioners inability to make a decision to address the Sheriff’s space problem. It’s creating a negative perception for County operations as a whole (All Constitutionals Included). Who created the problem? There are qualified professionals working for the County Administrator and Board of County Commissioners that are not making timely decisions that has lead to the Sheriff’s shotgun approach to demanding services. The same bad apples within the County staff continue to collect sizable salaries while ill equipping the County Administrator and County Commissioners with informed opinions about solutions to all of the Board of County Commission problems.
What does it all amount to? A Sheriff struggling to keep the respect of those operating under his command. A Clerk of Court who leads a highly skilled organization that is made out to be the bad guy in all of the mismanagement by the Board of County Commissioners. Tax payers need to come to terms with the fact that all of the current problems could have been avoided with more responsible management by the Board of County Commissioners, the County Administrator, & the cause of all of the outstanding problems, Board of County Commissioner’s staff. To those who continue to post inaccurate responses to Flaglerlive articles, please obtain the facts and stop posting opinions that lack the benefit of intellect and sound research into the facts.
Roll on 2 says
There are a few things that need to be done. First is a complete forensic audit of all County finances during the Coffey tenure. Second is to get a bond issue on the 2020 ballot for a new Operations Center to be built on the same site as the old hospital. Last, but not least, the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the purchase of the old hospital and the Sears building. Both of those real estate transactions stink of corruption!
Sean peckham says
Again thank the head of the facility’s department for not doing there job and putting a report in to the commission about Building conditions before purchasing ! It’s County way keep your mouth shut and get paid! Heaven forbid you open it as a county employee then you loose your job! Taxpayers investigate !
To best solve the solution it would be best to have someone familiar with conderving spaces and decorating areas to utilize all the space that is needed until the new building is able to be contructed, it would be best if you where able to remodel the old facility and it would save money until you get proper permission from the city officials.
All the money wasted for the purchase and remodel of the old Flagler hospital building, the lawyers, mold experts and now the Sears building debacle. Add it all up and it’s a substantial amount of money for a downpayment on land and a brand new building. Has any elected official thought of that? Hmm?