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Republican primary for Pasco sheriff is change vs. continuity

Bob White hopes to make history this year by becoming the first Pasco sheriff elected to a third term in nearly half a century.

He touts a reduced overall crime rate and a smooth-running agency as the top reasons voters should keep him where he is.

"I'm not done," White, 58, says. "Things are going well. The systems are in place. They're working."

His challenger in Tuesday's Republican primary, Robert Sullivan, has a view of things that's starkly different from the imperturbable sheriff.

He doesn't just find White's leadership style distasteful — it "scares the tar" out of him.

Violent crime is up, not down. Gangs are gaining prominence. And the current sheriff, Sullivan says, simply isn't interested in fixing any of it.

"This county cannot survive another four years of Bob White," he warns.

• • •

Politics being a given, what makes their matchup — and polar opposite viewpoints — interesting is that White and Sullivan worked in the same county, for the same agency.

Sullivan, 46, retired last November as head of the Sheriff's Office vice and narcotics unit after 26 years with the agency, where he was frequently the face of high-profile drug busts. He now teaches college-level criminal justice courses.

Where he sees a dearth of leadership and philosophy, White says everything's clicking.

Where White heralds new software and special deputy units to keep pace with crime, Sullivan proposes a "back to basics" approach to policing — restructuring the agency to make every position aimed at reducing crime.

Where the sheriff calls Pasco "the low-cost leader" in tax dollars spent on law enforcement, Sullivan focused much of his campaign identifying wasteful spending by White's administration.

• • •

Among Sullivan's charges:

• White allowed more than 50 civilian employees to drive agency cars to and from work and for personal use, and let them fill their gas tanks at county pumps.

• He continues his honorary deputy program, comprising business and civic leaders, many of whom have been large donors to his political campaigns.

• He took advice from a convicted drug dealer in setting policy on the use of SWAT teams to raid suspected crack houses.

White acknowledges "a few things here and there" that could be done better. But he has mostly dismissed Sullivan's attacks as politically driven and baseless.

He did, however, pull the 50 civilian employees' vehicles off the road altogether in the name of budget savings.

White has consistently touted running a fiscally lean operation — though he has also consistently asked the county for a larger budget than he's been given.

He wants voters to consider this question: "Have you ever seen a better operation in this county?"

• • •

The winner of Tuesday's Republican primary will face either former sheriff's captain Kim Bogart or probation officer Jeff Deremer in the November election.

If elected, Sullivan promises to improve relations with the deputies' unions; put the focus back on fighting drugs, gangs and violent crime; and remove the politics he says White has injected into the agency.

Recently, he gave a roundabout answer to White's campaign question. Of the five sheriffs Sullivan has served under, he was asked, who was the best?

He had to think about it.

Then he answered: Lee Cannon, the two-term Democrat whom White ousted in 2000.

"There were very, very little politics on the troop level," he said of Cannon's tenure. "None, that I'm aware of."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Republican primary for Pasco sheriff is change vs. continuity 08/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:28pm]
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