LAND O'LAKES — The four candidates vying to unseat Sheriff Bob White each made their case before a ripe bloc of potential voters: union members.
White has been engaged in a very public, very heated struggle with the Fraternal Order of Police, the bargaining unit representing deputies and supervisors. Since the union formed in 2006, it has been unable to finalize a labor contract with White over such issues as discipline and medical coverage.
White did not attend Thursday night's forum, hosted by Pasco's firefighters union. His challenger in the Republican primary, retired Lt. Robert Sullivan, pointed that out to the crowd.
"The incumbent is not seeking your endorsement," Sullivan said.
He touted his own credentials as a charter member of the FOP who served on the bargaining committee before retiring last fall.
Democrat Kim Bogart, a former sheriff's captain, said there is "clearly a disconnect" between White's administration and the rank-and-file deputies, and he said the lack of a labor contract is to blame.
But Jeff Deremer, a probation officer also running as a Democrat, accused Bogart of being a union basher earlier in his career as a sheriff's administrator.
"He doesn't believe in unions," Deremer said. "I'm a union man."
Bobby Kinzy is the third Democrat in the field. He's a 35-year Tampa Electric mechanic who entered the race with no law enforcement background.
But he said he has plenty of union experience under his belt as a longtime member of the AFL-CIO.
His goal, he said, would be to eliminate the politics inside the agency in favor of a streamlined process for settling grievances and deciding promotions for deputies.
As it is now, he said, "they're not allowed to do their jobs. It starts at the top and works its way down."
The primary is scheduled for Aug. 26. The general election is Nov. 4.
Until recently, the race has largely centered on disputes between Sullivan and White. But the other candidates have been visiting civic groups and raising their own issues.
After White announced a plan this week to begin levying an investigative fee against criminals, Deremer accused the sheriff of stealing his idea.
Deremer said he went public months ago with a fee schedule for DUI convictions and people who violate felony probation. He said he spoke about the plan at recent meetings where White was in attendance.
"This is not a brand new idea," Deremer acknowledged. "But I just find it ironic — he's never mentioned this."
Kevin Doll, the Sheriff's Office spokesman, says White began exploring the investigative fee after a detective raised the idea more than a year ago. Since then, the agency has conducted at least 20 training sessions with deputies ahead of implementing it.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.