Sandra Hartley has long been considered a human resource guru by people who know her. “She’s one of the smartest people I know,” said one officer at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, “and one tough broad.” (When Folio Weekly interviewed her, Hartley laughed at the “tough broad” remark. “It’s true,” she said.)
She started toughening up at age 17, when she launched a career in human resources, eventually becoming the first female director of administration at the Jacksonville Port Authority. Next, she was promoted to director of external affairs (EA). Then she went to Tallahassee, where she served as president of the Florida Seaport Training and Employment Program, a grant program created by the Florida Legislature. In her not-so-spare time, she worked as an adjunct professor for the University of North Florida and St. Johns River State College. When the seaport grant ended, Hartley, still in her 40s, hoped to retire, but fate had other plans. She was asked to resuscitate an ailing nonprofit that provided clothes, shoes and counseling to at-risks kids. She kept the program afloat for 16 years, the last five years without a salary.
With her extensive background, Hartley appeared ready for any challenge. Nothing could have prepared her for what was about to happen at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. She met Darryl Daniels through the Rotary Club of Northeast Florida. Daniels was running for sheriff, and his campaign manager, Gary Cross, had heard about Hartley’s incredible skill set. After Daniels won the election, he offered her the position of human resource director and tasked her with “cleaning up” the human resources department. She agreed.
At one of their first meetings, Daniels told Hartley that he had a master’s degree in religion and declared himself to be a “man of God.” He talked about himself incessantly, using his faith as a backdrop for his grand plans to change Clay County.
“I am a Christian,” Hartley told Folio Weekly. “But I am highly suspect of individuals who try to ingratiate themselves with me by using religion. They are often the polar opposite of what they profess to be.”
Still, she was excited for a new challenge, especially in human resources, her area of expertise. But an unease began to settle in her core. To add to her apprehension, her introduction to Daniels’ wife was less than auspicious. As Hartley walked to her car one day, Denise Daniels stopped her and instructed, “I don’t care what you have to do, you don’t let a woman go into Darryl’s office without you being in there.” She insisted this not once, but several times.
As Hartley got into the job, she was shocked at what she saw. Tests were improvised by staff. Required reporting on immigration status was ignored. Elise Gann, the finance director (FD), had been given a great deal of authority, not typical of the position. The command staff seemed particularly concerned that she decided how monies would be spent in each department. Daniels himself was often absent. When he was in his office, so was the FD, with the door closed. The FD retained her power. At the time of this writing, Gann had not responded to an emailed request for comment.
Indeed, the FD made it difficult for Hartley to “clean up” the office. “HR is the keeper of the people,” Hartley explained. “I know some people thought I was trying to piss them off, but I was actually trying to save their jobs by teaching them protocols and their rights.”
Although the new sheriff portrayed a friendly face to the community, Hartley described his style within the organization as “bullying.” According to Hartley, Daniels appeared to have no compassion for the men and women at the CCSO. He rearranged deputies’ shifts, which cost many deputies more than $5,000 annually. Morale began to decline within the first two months. Hartley described a kind of “whack-a-mole” scenario, in which staff were moved around constantly to “keep them wondering.” On Friday afternoons, Daniels would text officers and civilian employees to tell them they were being moved with no explanation. The HR director was no exception. In one such text, Daniels informed Hartley that she would be reporting to Ray Walden, the undersheriff. Several months later, in a text, she was shuffled to the Personnel and Professional Standards Department.
Issues in the jail were especially concerning to the HR specialist. At a monthly command staff meeting, Daniels issued a directive. “I want inmates to be visible in the community … I want them all out working in public, so people can see them.” The detention director reminded him the inmates had to volunteer for work to accumulate gain time. The sheriff arrogantly replied, “I know I can do it, because I did it at the JSO. Put all inmates on cold meals, and the ones who volunteer get hot meals.” The room went quiet. Daniels finished his order by instructing the detention director to provide him with a report at next month’s meeting detailing how much money was saved by cutting hot meals. The detention director judiciously told the sheriff the issue needed to be revisited.
“Now, I’m not soft on crime,” Hartley said, “but jail is a punishment. Inmates should not be abused. Some may be sick or drug addicted and detoxing.” She said some may not be physically able to work, and others shouldn’t be placed in public situations. To make matters worse, some inmates were sent to clean the county pound. Being loosely supervised, many of them inhaled the cleaning fluids to get high, creating other serious problems.
“The sheriff bases his success on how many inmates are in his jail,” Hartley said. And the jail was overflowing. In order to get certified, a façade was fashioned to make the jail appear in compliance with federal laws. The building was temperature controlled, and the televisions were plugged in. It appeared that everyone had a bed. After the certification team left, however, televisions were unplugged, and the heat and air were set on money-saving schedules. It was hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. Inmates slept atop flimsy “boats” on the hard floor.
The attrition rate grew in the CCSO. Longtime employees and new hires alike were forced out. The sheriff had a ritual for getting rid of the people he wanted gone. Resignation letters were always typed up beforehand. If employees were within retirement range, he would usually enlist the others to advise them that complaints had been made against them and they could either sign the letter or be fired. Younger employees were urged to sign a resignation letter or be fired, which would look bad for future employment. Daniels fired several himself. He called them in, slipped a resignation letter across the table, and advised them to sign or be fired without giving any reason for the termination. Many did not know that if they were fired, they could most likely collect unemployment, but if they resigned, they could not.
The sheriff had hired Angela Spears, an African-American reporter from First Coast News, to be his primary public information officer. It wasn’t long before Spears came to Hartley with disturbing news. She came from a professional setting and knew her rights, so she had documented incidents to support a civil rights complaint against Undersheriff Walden. The HR director wanted her to keep her job, and she knew if Spears filed a complaint, Daniels and Walden would find a way to make her life miserable and fire her. So, against her own protocol, she tried to calm Spears. “You know the undersheriff is just a redneck hick! Just let it go,” Hartley advised her. Spears was hesitant but heeded her advice. Spears was soon gone.
Nine months into the job, Hartley faced something she had never faced before. She realized the sheriff was not interested in “cleaning up” anything. “Sheriff Daniels appeared to think, because he was the law, he was above the law,” Hartley said. “In my last meeting with him, I felt like I was in some kind of Looney Tunes cartoon.”
So she took a stand and decided to defy someone who wanted the world to believe he had established an undisputable fiefdom.
“You have a warped sense of professionalism,” she told Daniels. “Do you want me to resign?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“You got it,” she said. “I will be gone in 30 minutes.”
Hartley called her husband, who came immediately. He and several weeping employees helped her vacate her office in a half-hour.
Subsequently, a young woman who worked in the Supervisor of Elections Office was hired as HR director. She had no experience in any facet of human resources.
Last year, well after Hartley left, the sheriff became a tabloid headline after ordering his pregnant mistress be arrested for “stalking” (after his wife discovered their affair and followed them to a parking-lot tryst). Some in the CCSO were amused Daniels was caught with his pants down. Hartley was not. “The sheriff didn’t and probably hasn’t given any thought to that tiny little girl who had to watch her momma being dragged from her car, handcuffed, put in the back of a police car, arrested and carried to jail while she waited scared and alone for her granddaddy to come get her,” Hartley said. “He has no conscience, and that is the man who is commanding law enforcement in our county. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office under Darryl Daniels was the most toxic place I have ever heard about or witnessed.”
“The agency is ripe for a union, and they will get it unless things change.”