In a 183-14 vote, Pasco's unionized deputies declared no confidence in their boss, Sheriff Bob White.
"In order to be an effective leader, the people you're leading have to be willing and able to follow you," said James Preston, state president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
About 73 percent of union members cast ballots. The FOP counts 271 members, but it doesn't represent all Pasco deputies. Throughout the Sheriff's Office, about 425 law enforcement officers are eligible for union membership.
The vote is purely symbolic and has no effect on White's office. But local president John Connolly said he hopes the outcome sends a message to the public, which will see White's name on the ballot this year.
White responded with an e-mailed statement.
"The voters of Pasco County elected me to keep this community safe and secure. This is my primary duty, and I will do whatever it takes to fulfill this duty," White said. "I have been a member of the union and worked with the union. This is not about protecting deputies and their families — this is about union heads looking out for union heads and playing election-year politics."
Since forming in 2006 during friendly relations with White, the union has gone through rounds of bitter contract talks, deadlocking with the administration over issues like medical insurance for retirees and discipline appeals.
In March, White broke an impasse with the deputies and supervisors units when he imposed a labor contract. The union challenged his authority to do so; that lawsuit is pending.
The same month, jail deputies voted 132-62 to drop their FOP representation.
All the while, union literature has criticized the sheriff's spending decisions and his public support of the revenue-cutting Amendment 1, all of which, the union says, adds up to less resources to fight crime.
"We have a really big concern for the safety of the citizens and the safety of the deputies," Connolly said.
Bobby Sullivan, a retired vice lieutenant challenging White in the Republican primary, said the vote "exemplifies the lack of leadership."
"It's a very difficult situation when your law enforcement officers have no confidence in their leadership," Sullivan said. "And I think it's been exemplified by the continually increasing crime rate, the lack of services, the exodus of highly qualified officers to other agencies."
White, who is seeking a third term, also faces two Democratic challengers and another with no party affiliation.
Democratic challenger Kim Bogart said, "The men and women who cast the votes are the same people who protect us daily. Their vote of no-confidence speaks volumes."
Jeff Deremer, the other Democrat in the race, did not return a call seeking comment.
Bobby Kinzy, the independent candidate, called the vote a "black eye."
"The members of the sheriff's department just don't have any faith in this administration," he said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.