Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Making Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis fight for his budget will be good for him

We didn't ask for Al Nienhuis to be our sheriff, but now that he's here, most of us want him to stick around.

So help him out, County Commission. Let the new guy show his troops he's a tough guy, which — judging from what I've read about his former department in Pasco County — will let him keep his job until he's an old guy.

Here's how you do it: Put up a fight on his budget. Don't act as if he's doing us some big favor when he says, as he's expected to, that he'll trim spending by 5 percent next year. When you meet on Tuesday for your budget hearing, tell him his office is bloated, which it is by today's lean standards. Show him that its funding has barely been trimmed in recent years while spending in other county operations has been slashed.

You could probably argue that he could cut deputies — Hernando's got more of them, per 1,000 residents, than either Citrus or Pasco — but you don't have to.

The last budget proposal Nienhuis released included 195.8 non-sworn positions, including 15 for clerks whose main job is writing deputies' reports for them. And dealing with the Sheriff's Office can feel like stepping back in time a few years, when every county worker seemed to be driving a $50,000 pickup truck.

The office's Emergency Operations Center (which, in fairness, was built in those old days) has as many flat-screen TVs as a sports bar. And, as we at the Times learned during a recent tour of the center, it not only has a backup generator, but is hoping to acquire, with grant money, a backup to the backup.

On a similar tour of the jail, we were told that half of the $3 million in repair funds will go to replace the somewhat cramped medical center with a free-standing facility, which Nienhuis said is needed to prevent possible inmate lawsuits.

"We don't want to be penny-wise and pound-foolish," he said.

That's admirably farsighted, but so is keeping ball fields open, which the county might not be able to do because it will spend a fraction of the amount on maintaining parks as the Sheriff's Office will on that new jail medical center.

You commissioners haven't pointed out this skewed priority — haven't made a big issue of the long-term costs of under-occupied, sedentary kids. Why not? Because not only do sheriffs tend to be politically popular, but sometimes we can forget they're political at all, especially when they're as smart and (I think) genuinely concerned about public safety as Nienhuis.

But they are political, of course, and if you want a reminder, there was a great story last month about nasty infighting in the Pasco Sheriff's Office by Times staff writer Lee Logan.

It included this memorable quote from former Pasco Sheriff Bob White, who told lawyers in a now-settled age-discrimination lawsuit: "I think it's arguable that probably everything, everyone I know and everyone that I see every day is through politics."

It described how White got rid of several high-ranking deputies who supported his opponent in the 2008 election. In fact, Nienhuis got rid of most of them on White's behalf, meaning he had an inside view of the perils of losing the support of his department. That was one of the complaints against White: he didn't fight hard enough for his workers.

These employees, sworn and non-sworn, are a sheriff's political base, as I've written before and am writing again because time is short, commissioners. You have less than a month to approve a budget.

Going for as much money as possible, saving jobs, is what Nienhuis needs to do to keep this base happy. Budget season is his first real test.

You commissioners don't have to make law enforcement funding the blood sport that we hear it is in Pasco

Just tell Nienhuis to cut a little more. Challenge him. He'll have a chance to prove he's a fighter.

And you'll be doing the right thing.

Making Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis fight for his budget will be good for him 09/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 8:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics


     Winner of the week

    Peter Antonacci. Gov. Rick Scott tapped his go-to utility player to lead his Florida job recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida, having previously picked him for his general counsel, to lead the South Florida Water Management District and to serve as Palm Beach state …

  2. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 19: A peregrina spends the whole day under the weather, and part of the day under the table


    Day 19: El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente: 25.4 km, 7.5 hours (Total for Days 1-19 = 454 km (282 miles)

    This list pretty much sums up my day:

    Eat two bananas

    Walk 13.1 kilometers


    Walk 6.2 kilometers


    Eat half an apple

    Walk 6.1 kilometers

    Crash< …

  3. Storm routs Cleveland


    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  4. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.
  5. Rowdies shut out Charleston


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies know a thing or two about stalemates, with five of their past 10 games ending in a draw.

    Rowdies in the first half during the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017.