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Hernando County sheriff enters new territory with campaign for Congress

BROOKSVILLE — The surprising news Friday that Sheriff Richard Nugent would be running for Congress and U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite would be stepping down for health reasons has local politicos buzzing.

But for Hernando County residents, the announcements also mean that someone new could be sheriff much sooner than many expected. Nugent's term is not set to end for another two years.

Nugent does not have to resign his position to campaign for Congress. If he wins the August Republican primary, and the general election, he must resign as sheriff before taking office on Jan. 4. The governor then will appoint someone to fulfill the remainder of the sheriff's four-year term.

While Nugent said Friday now is not the time to identify whom he would recommend to the governor, he said that person would be able to seamlessly take over.

"I have the utmost confidence in saying that they would run the office the same if not better,'' he said.

Capt. Scott Bierwiler had been the heir apparent to Nugent until the tragic car crash that took his life last year. Then chief deputy Michael Hensley retired. Nugent could choose from among the three bureau chiefs he has installed: Bill Kicklighter, Royce Decker and Michael Maurer.

But as the political news made the rounds Friday, Nugent was busy doing what he said he will continue to do while running for office, commanding the Sheriff's Office.

He and his command staff met with a candidate he is considering to become the new jail administrator. Nugent is back in the thick of planning to take over the facility since Corrections Corporation of America, the county's jail operator, gave notice to county officials on Wednesday that it would end its contract and pull out of the facility in 120 days.

If county commissioners give him the green light, Nugent said he has to be ready to go with a plan.

"We've got 118 days to get it done,'' he said. "This is like running and outfitting an entire city. It's a small city because it's self-contained.''

While some county officials are talking about seeking competitive bids to find a new operator, Nugent said he already has given the county his offer, which is that he would run the jail for the existing budget of nearly $11.4 million.

Working through the potential political twists and turns of that issue while budget planning for sheriff's operations and keeping the agency running at its normal level are all possible while still running for office, Nugent said.

"It's not like one person does it all. We have a great staff,'' he said.

As for taking time out of the busy schedule to campaign throughout the multicounty congressional district, Nugent said he expected to be doing much of that during evenings and weekends, and he had confidence his people would be able to help keep the operation of his department running strong.

Nugent said that if he wins the federal office, he won't be leaving the jail transition in a lurch because, if the county does go with his proposal, the choice of jail administrator will be his and that is the person who will run the operation.

As for leaving his beloved Sheriff's Office in a lurch, Nugent said he did not have words for his thoughts on possibly leaving the department where he has worked for 25 years. "I have such connection to the folks here,'' he said.

But Nugent said he has always prepared for what might be next, as did the sheriff before him. "We grow leaders here,'' he said. "Part of my job as the CEO or the sheriff is to grow leaders.''

Nugent said that his staff is very important to him and he wanted to be sure that any leader who might follow him would provide that same stability for the employees. "You want them to know that it's not going to go radical,'' he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County sheriff enters new territory with campaign for Congress 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 8:22pm]
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