The Flagler County Commission Monday evening voted to order Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, through its county administrator, to reallocate space at the courthouse and accommodate the sheriff’s office’s space needs there for the next two to three years.
The unanimous decision was the culmination of weeks of discussions and failed negotiations to resolve the matter without resorting to what amounts to a nuclear option: the county commission, as landlord, forcing an elected constitutional officer to comply with its demands to mitigate the space needs of another constitutional officer.
Bexley says he won’t give in. “I have no intention of changing the way my operations are operating now. I think I’ve changed enough,” he said in an interview this morning. “We’re going to stand our ground.” He added: “The courthouse and particularly the clerk’s office is not an option. There’s been other options talked about and I’d encourage them to look at those.”
County Administrator Jerry Cameron said he wanted to avert a situation that would “plunge the county into a constitutional crisis.” But that crisis now appears to be developing.
Sheriff Rick Staly and Bexley worked out a space-use arrangement last June after the sheriff was forced to evacuate some 70 people from the old operations center in Bunnell because of feared health hazards. Most of those employees, including the detectives’ squad of two dozens, are spread out on three floors at the courthouse. But the space has been inadequate, particularly for the detectives, who are all restricted to a relatively small room, without an interview room. They must conduct their interviews with suspects at the Flagler Beach Police Department.
County Administrator Jerry Cameron took the motion as an explicit directive to get more space at the courthouse. “My interpretation of the motion was to get with the clerk of court and identify space that can be used for the sheriff in addition to what the sheriff has now,” he said in an interview late Monday evening. “It’s essentially for the detective division and an interview room is what the sheriff has told me that he could be comfortable with until he got into the new building.” The county is planning to build the sheriff a $12 to $15 million district office on the grounds of the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast. But occupancy there could be two to three years away.
Audio: Ed Fuller and the Commission Discussion
Bexley was in the commission room with his deputy, Luke Givens, as the commissioners discussed the issue. On previous occasions, he addressed commissioners at meetings, forcefully and at times indignantly to challenge the contention that space could be further reallocated. He did not address the commission this time, but spoke his displeasure to at least one commissioner after the meeting. “‘This isn’t it, and I’m going to fight this, I’m doing it for the people and my staff,’” Commissioner Joe Mullins recalls Bexley saying. “It was a little more aggressive than that.”
“I was very strong when I spoke to the commissioner last night,” Bexley said. I guess the word I’d use is resolute–my resolve has never been stronger.”
The catalyst for Monday’s vote was an unusually blunt assessment of the situation by the normally staid and compulsively impartial Ed Fuller, a Republican member of the Flagler Tiger Bay Club board of directors often involved in the background of local elections. He spoke “with mixed emotions,” as he prefaced his remarks to the commission last night, and as an individual citizen representing only himself.
After witnessing the discussion at several meetings, Fuller said he was “dismayed [by] a lack of cooperation, if you will, from the clerk. I think he’s done the best that he can and knows how to do, but this is an emergency situation, and under an emergency situation, there ought to be cooperation, not bellicose statements–‘it’s my territory, I’m not going to do this.’ He’s a good and honorable man, and he is defending, I believe properly, his operation, but there’s an equally and just as disconcerting element to this, and that is the sheriff’s operation.”
He made a reference to Solomon, the famously wise Jewish king of antiquity, before suggesting more contemporary landlord-tenant commandments to the commission: “When it comes down to it, you own the building. Mr. Bexley is a tenant, and so is the sheriff,” he said. “There’s been no movement.” Bexley, he said, “doesn’t have to give more space, you have to re-allocate it, that’s not his expertise, and I understand that.” He then asked the commission to make a motion directing Cameron to make a space study plan giving the sheriff the additional space he needs on the first floor of the courthouse, presumably the records section Bexley has made his Masada.
“The directive can be with the consent of the clerk of court if possible, or regrettable without it,” Fuller said. “It’s not a good solution but sometimes you need to move forward.”
What followed 20 minutes later succinctly encapsulates the character of the commission as it has become since November: Commission Chairman Don O’Brien as its most deliberate but cautious member, Mullins as its most impatient, verging on impetuous, Dave Sullivan as a Solomonic combination of the two–it’s been a series of moves by Sullivan that have derailed or attempted to derail pre-Cameron initiatives–Greg Hansen as conflict-averse, and Charlie Ericksen as the voice of silence.
O’Brien at first sought to enact just such an approach, but not through a motion. He wanted the commission’s consensus to direct Cameron to return on June 3 with recommendations.
He wanted Cameron to come back on June 3 with a study and “give us his suggestion on reallocation of space in the courthouse, how many employees would get displaced or relocated on both sides, what the cost is going to be, how long it’s going to take to get it done, and I need a discussion on the legal issues and the ramifications, so if we were to have a vote to say this is what’s going to happen as landlords of that space and this is who we’re going to move, I want to know what the legal ramifications are on that, because I don’t, and I need to understand that. But I thought maybe if we could tie that together, then maybe we can get to a point where we make a decision on the bigger issue that I think we have here, of what to do for the next two-plus years with a whole lot of employees on both sides–the clerk side and on the sheriff’s side.”
As he spoke Mullins was eager to jump in, twice trying to before he got to make a motion to shortcut the O’Brien approach and go directly to a Cameron directive. “We’ve gone round and round with this and we’ve been all over the place,” Mullins said. “I think we don’t need to look at other options.” He made a motion to instruct the county manager to get the matter resolved.
Hansen suggested looking at other leasing options, such as a 20,000 square foot building the county helped subsidize to build, but that would be “awful expensive” to lease, Hansen said. And Sullivan sought to amend the motion to include a directive that the sheriff’s space needs for the Palm Coast precinct also be resolved, though it’s separate from the courthouse space matter.
Eleven minutes into the discussion, O’Brien called for the vote on the amended motion and got a unanimous decision.
“I’ve got a very vague idea of what it’s probably going to take,” Cameron said in an interview, “but I’m going to have to verify exactly how many detectives we’re working with here, then look at potential space that could be made available. At the same time I do want to be respectful of the clerk. He is a constitutional officer. He is not my peer, he is superior to me. So in the process of trying to work through this I want to give the deference that his office deserves.”
Cameron added: “At this point we need to come to some sort of resolution before this gets any worse. We certainly don’t want to plunge the county into a constitutional crisis. He is a peer to the Board of County Commissioners. They do own the building, and presumably have some control over it, and he relies on a statute that is a little bit vague on providing space, so there’s a lot of muddled area that’s got to be worked through here. I certainly don’t want to do it with a heavy hand.”
Givens, the deputy clerk, said it’s “not us being obstinate,” but a question of adhering to the law and the clerk’s responsibility to provide the services it’s responsible for. “It’s more than just a question of cost.”
The county has other leasing options that would be expensive, whether through the 20,000 square foot building or through more complicated, potentially less secure temporary-building arrangements.But those would cost in the millions of dollars over the next two to three years. Asked directly whether he was comfortable seeing those costs imposed on taxpayers, Bexley said “absolutely not,” but that “I don’t set policy. The board of county commissioners, they have the job of doing this.”
Hows It Hanging says
It was inevitable when you line up old white men for a pissing contest that they would eventually turn and piss all over each other.
Option 1) Bring on portables, same as schools use for overcrowded classrooms. Park them in front of the courthouse. Or bulldoze old contaminated ops center and part them there.
Option 2) County contracts with Palm Coast P.D to take over policing for the county. Think of the cost reductions by eliminating redundant county P.D. management jobs! And scrap the planned $15 million dollar (starting point) new operation center. The city probably has facilities or could expand for a fraction of the new gold plated county plan.
Lmao!!! Cough it up Bexley !
Tina martins says
Why is everyone fighting over this problem. It could have been easily solved by getting rid of the center and build a new one in its place. Same amount of time and money. This is sad . It is sad that me Baxley can’t compromise.
Why cant they demolish the old ops center and put some portables there? It’s funny that detectives are paid to find clues and criminals, yet flagler county detectives cant even find space to work lolol. I stand with Bexley! Flagler county residents stand with Bexley!!!
Linda Hansen says
Why am I not reading anywhere here that the Clerk is bound by state law as to what he is required to have? Knowing that is the case, why is no one mentioning that, and refusing to consider it?
Unless you have a building to offer for the Sheriff, I would suggest that much of the criticism of Mr. Bexley fighting for what is required by law is out of bounds here. The only crisis I see here of one of everyone else wishing to put their two cents into the mix.
As I understand it, Mr. Bexley IS REQUIRED BY LAW to meet certain requirements as Clerk of the Court. Yet I am not hearing any consideration of that. Why not?
This whole situation has become a cottage industry for local media here and that is really a shame. Because this County has some very fine people in it and they deserve responsible and honest decisions to this. Let Mr. Cameron do his job, please, without all the back seat driving and insults. We have an election coming up. Run for office.
Outside Looking Out says
Why does it take 2 to 3 years to build a building?
To fishflats – just to avoid going too far off topic, there is no Palm Coast Police Department. It’s already serviced by the FCSO.
Invest now ..... Save tomorrow says
Rather than having a staff member who perhaps could have pressure from superior or peer influence; perhaps the investment of a professional space allocation designer for the entire building should be invested in at this juncture. I would envision an outcome where there could be a more cohesive environment for all important governing agencies; maximizing workflow; division of areas; privacy entrances within the inner sanctum
Who knows this investment at this time may alleviate the 12 to 15 million dollar necessity in five years. The space may be here right now we just aren’t using it wise!y.
Just a different point of view!!
Why couldn’t Staly re-negotiate the rent at City Marketplace and if it becomes reasonable, they could use those offices that are already in place? Just a thought.
PC WORKER says
the jerks on the board should have paid more attention to the sears building,and we would not be in the mess we are in.Tell staley find his own place.
Hope you have the gonads to stand your ground Tom!!!
The public is with you.
Idea girl says
Why not get a copy of.the blueprints to Palm coast’s New city hall and just build off that on one plot of the many empty parcels the county already owns?
Concerned Employee says
Know the simple facts:
Approximately 1 year ago. Tom Bexley agreed to help the Board of County Commissioners relocate a great deal of the Sheriff’s employees from the operations center into Clerk of Court space at the court house. Acting out of goodwill for the Sheriff, his employees and the community. Today the Board of County Commissioners see the Clerk of Court’s space as the best (or easy option) to the Sheriff’s office dilemma. Is it the right option to displace Clerk of Court employees to make the Sheriff’s employees more comfortable, so the Sheriff can simply go away (He’s tenacious, He’s not going away BoCC)?
The questions remains, what has the Board of County Commissioners actually done in 1 year to resolve the Sheriff’s issues with space? This is not a Sheriff and Clerk Problem! This is a Board of County Commissioner’s problem due to their inability to make prompt decisions to easily resolve problems timely! Please enable us to work together to resolve this mess and ultimately bring Flagler County as a whole back into good standing with our constituents.
Whoops, no the community is not with Bexley.
The community supports the FCSO. This is
the service that risks their lives every day
to keep the citizens safe and our
interests secure. What is wrong with
those who want to thwart the operation
of our law enforcement agents?
I am really looking forward to the
next election and so are lots more
of Flagler County’s concerned citizens.
Concerned Citizen says
ALL OF THIS COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED.
How you ask? By everyone involved doing due dilligence. Due dillegence was not done on many levels allowing a shoddy job on renovating the old hospital. Inspections were not done at all or improperly. And we won’t talk about what was covered up.
Who was involved?
Your former Sheriff Manfre started it. With Under Sheriff Rick Staly involved. So yes both are accountable. And now Staly is crying poor poor pitiful me. I have no where to go. And will now force myself on another constitutional officer. The BOCC was involved because they authorized it and I’m sure Coffey along with various county officials was involved along the way.
Plenty of blame to go around. But where is the accountability? How many more free passes are we going to hand out to our County leadership to keep mismanaging OUR money?
Along comes Tom Bexley who is now showing his true colors. “Not in my sandbox. I’m taking my ball and am going home”” Mr. Bexley you don’t own that building. The county does. Why not check your ego at the door and play nice? You know like a grown up?
If the County Administrator does not have authority over these 2 Offices then who does? Have them step in and make a command decision. End this now and move on to other issues.
Folks, Our county leadership has failed us miserably on ALL levels. We need changes and we need it fast in this county. Otherwise we will wake up one day and be broke.
Remember this at next election. I intend to. Change starts with us..
Jim O says
Stuff like this make our city look silly. Come on… Work it out. Stop the craziness.
Making your problems go away by making them someone else’s problem is not solving the problem. I have yet to see an itemized list of the space requirements for the sheriffs needs. Presumably this would come from what was available at the old operations center. Intelligently put the pieces together and find the required space considering all sources.
Percy's mother says
Please do not presume to speak for “The Public” . . . in the respect that “The public is with you” (Tom).
The “public” (some of them) may be with Mr. Bexley. The rest of the “public” is NOT with Mr. Bexley.
A generalization that needed to be acknowledged and corrected.
Best of luck to Tom in this! Not his fault everyone else was too incompetent to even check a building properly.
The public is not with Tom! Move over and make some room!
It seems with Cameron we might have a straight shooter finally. These back room deals involving Coffey and his realtor got us into this mess!
It takes 6-9 months to get approval and build a house in Flagler County. They don’t even have a design or bids to build it. Lets give Cameron the time to do it right the first time and for the best price. I personally hate the idea of a police station behind the library, they should demo the old and build it there. We could really use a park on that side of town.
carol, Until you SPEAK for everyone, DON’T. You can speak for YOURSELF, but please let ME and others SPEAK for ourselves. You see OPINIONS vary, and yours and mine differ, and I am part of “the Public”.
Looking threw these comments Tom it is obvious you have the majority behind you. Stand for what is right and fair and the citizens of Flagler will have your back.
Correct Agk, you are not the public, nor anything else for that matter.
Tom, the public is with you!!! Minus the 5 or 6 people writing on this topic.
And forgive them Tom, that they don’t know what they are talking about.
Concerned Employee says
To our constituents which whom I proudly serve,
In previous comments I stated facts to consider pertaining to the Board of County Commissioners inability to make timely decisions which has lead to a crisis for the Sheriff who’s crisis has steamrolled onto the Clerk of Court and the Clerk of Court employees not by deliberate intension by the Sheriff. Although the Sheriff may be using the opportunity for effectual political postering as evidently captured on some of the posts on this article. I respect all opinions posted here. And perhaps respect may be what is missing in this discussion.
Constituents, ask yourselves:
Why haven’t any highly trained County staff been engaged throughout this perceived Board of County Commissioners crisis with the Sheriff, that should have been resolved by the Board of County Commissioners long ago under its staff advisement?
How did this become a Clerk of Court problem to resolve? The Clerk of Court has already relocated the majority of the Sheriff’s Operation Center’s employees into Clerk of Court space immediately when the Operations Center crisis spawned. Now the Board of County Commissioners are demanding more from the Clerk of Court after he voluntarily bailed the Board of County Commissioners the first time around. Some would refer to this sort of behavior as a moral hazard. All the while, the Board of County Commissioners have not taken any real action for an entire year since the Sheriff’s Operation Center’s Crisis started, and they continue to demand that the Clerk of Court bare the burden of solving Board of County Commissioners problems.
The Burden is on the Board of County Commissioners to make an effort to consult its staff to conclusively work on resolving not just the Sheriff’s problems but all of the County’s backlog of problems. Constituents, I encourage you to advocate from your Board of County Commissioners to engage its staff…FINALLY to bring some much needed resolutions to problems that seem to be placed on hold or worse not prioritized at all. Put the politics aside and simply let us work!
What about the General Services Building? No one has looked there. I agree the Commissioners have not handled this problem correctly or at all. A year has past and nothing done Do your jobs or we will vote you out. This is unacceptable. Both the Sheriff’s Office and Clerk of Courts do not deserve to be treated this way.
There are 3 Dunkin Donuts in the area. What’s the problem here? Plenty of available operations space.
Carol, it is good to know that someone like you gets to decide, “who” is “someone”. And for the record I AM a MEMBER of the PUBLIC.