LARGO — Pinellas County got a new sheriff Wednesday.
Bob Gualtieri, 50, was sworn in during a 25-minute ceremony in a courtroom packed with public officials, friends, family and community leaders. Thomas McGrady, chief judge of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, administered the oath of office.
"I can attest he is an outstanding public servant with a remarkable character," said outgoing Sheriff Jim Coats, who introduced Gaultieri at the ceremony. "He is a very, very bright individual. … In some ways, he's been a great mentor to me."
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Gualtieri, who had been the agency's chief deputy for several years, to the post last month after Coats announced he was retiring to be with his wife as she battles cancer. Gualtieri will serve out the rest of Coats' term until January 2013. He also is a Republican candidate for the same position in the 2012 election.
He answered a few questions before he was sworn in.
Can residents of Pinellas County expect to see a difference between you and the previous sheriff?
There's so many similarities. As far as the daily operation of the Sheriff's Office, and some of the big programs and crime prevention, they won't see a difference, because we are aligned in that. We share the same core focus. We are very focused not only on public service, but also customer service. I believe law enforcement's role should not just be reactive.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing our community and your agency?
Prescription pills. It is the No. 1 public safety issue we face. Another significant issue that we have is the budget and managing the jail population. … Navigating through the last four years has been like navigating through a tsunami. We've cut $108 million from our budget, eliminated more than 600 positions. … Those are such big challenges, and we have navigated it successfully. I'm not taking the salary increase that comes with being sheriff. The members of the Sheriff's Office have not had a pay increase for four years, and I need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. (State law sets a sheriff's salary at $158,000; Gaultieri said he will keep his current salary of $152,000).
What are your new plans for the agency?
We have some things we're working on, especially in the area of the prescription drugs epidemic. I want to make sure we're doing everything we can to reverse that trend. It's the No. 1 issue. It permeates throughout our calls for service every day. We've got to do something about it.
How do you plan to balance being sheriff and a candidate?
It's a matter of working hard and working long days and long hours. I'm confident I can do it. There's different times of the day for different activities. My first priority is being the best sheriff I can be for Pinellas County.
Are you nervous?
I wouldn't say I'm nervous. I want do the absolute best job that I can. Having managed the day-to-day operations of the Sheriff's Office for the past four years, I feel very comfortable where I am, and if I have any concerns, it's navigating the budget challenges.
What do you do when you're not at work?
I love sports. The Rays, Lightning and Bucs — I go to all three of 'em. I like going to the gym and working out. I have a 6-year-old daughter at home — she keeps me busy.