TAMPA — With one month to go before retirement, Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee joked that there was still one last thing he had to do before turning his gold star over to his successor, the future interim sheriff, Chad Chronister.
"I guess it's about time to leave him the keys to the jail," Gee said.
Chronister, a colonel, was officially appointed interim sheriff by Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday. Gee chose Chronister to succeed him, just as Hillsborough sheriffs have done for decades.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SHERIFF
Gee retires as sheriff on Sept. 30 and that's when Chronister will officially take over the agency. He will serve until the November 2018 election, when voters will choose who will finish the remaining two years of Gee's term. Chronister said he'll be in the running to become the elected sheriff.
The future interim sheriff addressed reporters in a packed room of state officials and children at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, where Chronister sits on the executive board.
He was ready to answer questions about his plans for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office — questions he said Gee and Chief Deputy Jose Docobo first asked him 18 months ago, when Gee decided to run for a fourth term that would have ended in 2020.
"I had never really aspired to be the sheriff before then, but I enjoyed moving up the ladder of the command staff because I had a more profound impact on the agency and the community," said Chronister, 49. "I love my job, I really do. I have a passion for service and to serve in this capacity is such an honor."
Gee said it was that passion for serving his community, on and off duty, that stood out as the sheriff began looking for a successor. In addition to his work with the Boys & Girls Clubs, Chronister also serves as a board member on the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and at Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School.
Chronister is married to Nicole DeBartolo, daughter of Tampa businessman and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo. Chronister and his wife have two sons, son Zack, 24, and Asher, 14.
"A lot of people have great administrative skills or law enforcement skills," Gee said, "but I wanted to focus on someone that would do the other part. Not necessarily the glamour and the glory of being sheriff but the person who would work hard behind the scenes to community build, and Chad is a community builder. That's what we needed."
Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn attended the news conference. The governor said Chronister was the only person to apply. Still, Scott said he was confident Chronister was the right fit for the job.
"Sheriff Gee called me to tell me he was retiring and gave me the opportunity to look around and find the best person to replace him, and the big shoes he left to fill," Scott said. "I found that person in Col. Chad Chronister."
Chronister said Gee has been mentoring him, yet he was just as surprised as the rest of the agency when the sheriff announced his retirement in May, less than one year into his new term, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
The decision allowed Scott to ensure yet another Republican held onto the sheriff's job, and one with a long history of contributions to party candidates including David Jolly and Adam Putnam. The sheriff's job pays $170,198 annually. Chronister has been a registered Republican since 1994 and is friends with Bondi, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor.
Chronister is a Pennsylvania native who has earned a master's in criminology from Saint Leo University and certifications from the FBI National Academy. He joined the Sheriff's Office in 1992 and quickly worked his way up through assignments in street crimes and supervisory roles in narcotics, warrants, intelligence divisions and the Community Outreach Division.
He was promoted to colonel last year and now oversees the Department of Operational Support, logging hundreds of training and volunteer hours while maintaining a sterling personnel file — he was once late to court shortly after he was hired. The Sheriff's Office said Thursday that Chronister has never received any formal disciplinary action.
Instead, his personnel file contains 12 investigative awards, 6 awards for intelligence work, 17 patrol commendations from his actions during calls for service and 10 letters from citizens who wanted to share their positive experiences with Chronister. One wrote of his compassion when telling a family their loved one had drowned, another said he had quietly begun hanging out with her son to keep him out of trouble.
In 1999, one woman wrote to then-Sheriff Cal Henderson to tell of how Chronister and his partner waited to arrest her for a probation violation until she was sure her daughter had someone else to pick up her grandson from school.
"They treated me like a human being and not someone that was a black person that had done something terrible," she wrote. "If you had more officers like these two young men you would have a dynamite department."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.