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Palm Coast Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 2 weeks ago

Sheriff seeks new work space for employees evacuated from Sheriff's Operations Center

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Having employees split between multiple locations is 'untenable,' Sheriff Rick Staly said.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

An expert hired by Sheriff Rick Staly believes the Flagler County Sheriff's Operations Center — where employees have been evacuated for months and filed multiple workers compensation claims because of concerns that the facility may be a sick building — has a fixable mold problem.

"The conditions we’re operating in are untenable."

— RICK STALY, Flagler County sheriff

Meanwhile, Staly told county commissioners during a workshop about the Operations Center Aug. 30, the agency has been taxed by having its employees spread over multiple locations, and a workers' compensation judge has ordered that the FCSO leave the Operations Center building as-is for evidentiary purposes.

Staly asked the commission to find a longer term solution for his staff, which is now divided between rooms at the county courthouse and an administrative building at the county jail. 

"It’s been nearly three months since we have relocated," he said. "And while all the parties … have been great to work with and have assisted us to be able to continue serving the public, it really hasn’t been a solid plan forward. ... The conditions we’re operating in are untenable, and it really was a short term Band-aid."

When the FCSO evacuated employees, Staly said, the agency had to leave its equipment, files and all frozen evidence behind in the Operations Center. That means that some employees still have to enter the building regularly. 

Robert Sweeney presents his findings to the County Commission (Photo by Jonathan Simmons)

If the FCSO needs to process a vehicle for a major crime, it can still only do that work at the Operations Center.

There's also the problem of storing new evidence. At the moment, it's being kept in lockers at the county jail administrative building. But the drugs being held for evidence can often be smelled throughout the facility, Staly said, and people coming for visitation have commented that the building smells like pot.

The relocation has also “totally disrupted” the training of new deputies, because the agency can't use its tactical training center, Staly said. 

Then there's the problem of interviewing witnesses and suspects: With no secure place in Palm Coast or Bunnell to do it, deputies have been driving them to the Flagler Beach Police Department, Staly said. 

The dispersion of employees across multiple facilities also impeded communication, he said. 

The agency, he said, has lost one employee because of the Operations Center issue, and if it continues, "I suspect that we will lose some seasoned employees," he said. If the county presses employees to re-enter the building when employees don't feel it's safe, he said, more would likely resign, and "that would be a significant loss to the Sheriffs Office and the community.”

An expert hired by Staly to evaluate the building, Robert Sweeney, told the County Commission that he recommended a series of measures to make the Operations Center fit for occupancy again, mostly by adjusting the air conditioning system so that it can't disperse mold fragments into work spaces. 

He recommended special filters and the removal of a UV system that he said is killing mold spores and shattering them into smaller fragments that are more likely than whole spores to cause illness.

After the work is done, Sweeney said, the building should be tested over the course of 34 days to ensure that it's clean.

Sweeney was critical of a previous report by Environmental Solutions Inc., or ESi, which the county had hired totes the building after previous mold mitigation. ESi had declared it safe.

When Commissioner Nate McLaughlin asked Sweeney if the county had gotten what it needed from ESi, Sweeney said, "I wouldn't' hire them," and added that the company had "missed the boat."

Staly called Sweeney's proposal "a good plan," but the judge-ordered restrictions on altering the building could impede its implementation as the worker's compensation case moves forward.

The commission workshop adjourned without a solution, but Staly requested that the commission place the matter on an upcoming County Commission meeting agenda.

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