The Hammond Justice Center could house some employees one to three months while testing is completed.
Unit by unit, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly is planning to move his employees out of the Operations Center, many of them going to the Hammond Justice Center down the road, according to letters from Staly and County Administrator Craig Coffey, as they try to take swift action following a June 4 workshop that left some sheriff’s employees frustrated.
"My biggest fear is that we do all this testing and we don't find the cause. Without fixing it, my employees will never feel safe in that building."
Rick Staly, Flagler County sheriff
In addition, Staly asked his 27 employees who have filed workers' compensation claims to provide medical information to a Engineering Systems Inc., which will analyze symptoms for patterns.
A series of environmental tests of the Operations Center, which is on the site of a former hospital, is also planned, beginning June 14. “Residual radiation” is on the list of potential problems to test, according to the report from ESI, whose services will cost about $17,000. Testing could take one to three months, Coffey said.
One of Coffey’s goals is to dispel “conspiracy theories” that come up during political “silly season.” Almost everyone who spoke against the Operations Center at the June 4 workshop, he said, had “political undertones.”
He said in a June 7 interview that Dennis McDonald and John Ruffalo continue to “peddle” pictures of rotten boards as evidence of a construction defect of the Operations Center, “but it’s not.” Still, he said, he has asked ESI scientist Zed Hejzlar to include their concerns in his scope of work.
“I care about the employees” who are sick, Coffey said. He added: “We’re trying to do every test we can imagine.”
Coffey also refuted former sheriff Jim Manfre’s claim from the June 4 workshop, when Manfre said that because the county failed to hire a project manager, "I essentially became the project manager" of the Operations Center in 2015.
“If Sheriff Manfre was the project manger, I play baseball like Derek Jeter,” Coffey said on June 7.
Manfre responded in a June 8 phone call to the Palm Coast Observer, saying this should not be about politics; it should be about helping the sick employees who are "distraught" at the way their health concerns are being ignored. Manfre blamed Coffey for 2013 purchase of the hospital, although the County Commission cast the votes, not Coffey.
Manfre called Coffey petty for making the Jeter reference and added, "If he wants to be like Derek Jeter, he should retire like Derek Jeter."
Abandon the building?
However, Coffey said, “If someone’s got it in their mind that the building’s sick or they had any other agenda — ‘I want a new building,’ for example — I can’t overcome that. All I can do is present the facts to the board. … There are a lot of taxpayer dollars there, and I can’t justify throwing them away unless we find something’s there.”
Staly was not willing to rule out the possibility of abandoning the building. "Anything is on the table at this point," Staly said June 8 on WNZF's "Free For All Friday." He added: "My biggest fear is that we do all this testing and we don't find the cause. Without fixing it, my employees will never feel safe in that building."
Bleach making things worse?
In his letter to his employees, Staly said they can help now by discontinuing the use of air fresheners, bleach and other cleaning materials in the Operations Center: Hejzlar said the chemicals could be exacerbating employees’ health problems. He also directed employees not to prop any doors open to the outside for fresh air. Coffey noted also that an open door is a security risk and can compromise the air conditioning system.
Coffey vowed to be transparent throughout the testing and relocation process. And he said he felt comfortable that buying and reusing the building was the right thing to do in 2013.
“You make the best decision based on the best available information you have at the time,” he said.
Staly said the county is "moving significantly faster" on addressing the issues with the Operations Center. "My employees feel that finally we are taking action and their concerns are being heard," he said June 8.