The statement followed county staff's decision to have the building cleaned without first informing the sheriff.
If it’s up to Sheriff Rick Staly, his employees will never return to the county-owned Sheriff’s Operations Center building, Staly wrote in an email to staff.
“If it is truly and solely up to me then I will be advocating that we never reoccupy the Operations Center and the County find alternative and appropriate space for Sheriff’s Operations,” he wrote in the Aug. 20 email.
The building, which was constructed on the site of the former Memorial Hospital, was evacuated in June after more than 30 employees filed workers compensation claims for symptoms they thought were related to the building.
The county had the building tested, initially found mold, remediated the mold, and then tested again and found nothing, but employees continued reporting illnesses until the evacuation.
The sheriff’s Aug. 20 email followed a County Commission meeting in which Commission Chairman Greg Hansen told the sheriff that the decision on the building “is going to be your call.”
The sheriff had protested county administration’s move to have the building cleaned on Friday, Aug. 17, without first informing the sheriff, who’d been under the understanding that the building would be left alone for potential testing by an expert chosen by the agency and the Police Benevolent Association.
County Administrator Craig Coffey said during the meeting that with the exception of the PBA, “we do feel everybody was noticed that we were going to do this cleaning.”
Staly, in an Aug. 19 email to Coffey that was copied to commissioners, said he was “very disappointed in the communication (or lack thereof) on maintenance being performed by the county and their contractors,” adding that it could threaten Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) security requirements and, therefore, the FCSO’s accreditation.
The county maintains that it followed CJIS protocols.
In his email, Staly laid out the sequence of events. On Tuesday, Aug. 14, a low-level manager at FCSO got a call from someone at the county asking about accessing the building.
That was not the proper process, he wrote. “I have repeatedly advised you and your staff that only Chief [Mark] Strobridge is to be contacted on issues related to this building during the evacuation. Our manager said ‘I’ll get back with you,’” the sheriff wrote in the email.
The next day, the sheriff “started hearing from employees that a ‘deep clean’ of the building was going to be done.”
Strobridge contacted the county administration on Thursday, Aug. 16. Then, on Friday, “I discovered that a cleaning crew was in the building doing a deep cleaning of the carpets and floors,” Staly wrote. “When I discovered this the cleaning crew was leaving in their truck.”
Staly entered the building, and “found every door propped open by chairs, including secured areas ... You and your staff have now totally compromised the integrity of the Operations Center.”
The cleaning, he noted, was held just two weeks before CDC staff are expected to arrive.
“This continued behavior and disregard is totally unacceptable and I cannot and will not tolerate it,” he wrote.
He concluded, “This is my last statement with you on this topic. If you need to speak about this building or have access to it while it is vacated you and your staff are again requested to communicate and contact Chief Mark Strobridge and no one else. In the future, I will only speak with elected officials, which I have copied on this email, as I am a Constitutional Sheriff where I can stand up for my employees and freely voice our concerns without the possibility of retaliation.”
During the Aug. 20 meeting, commissioners said they were not satisfied with the process.
“Transparency is not a strong enough word for what we have to do here,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said. “We can’t have what’s been going on here. … I don’t care what we do, if we’re changing lightbulbs, these folks need to know that we’re changing lighbulbs on that day. They need to know what we’re doing and they need to know why we’re doing it.”