BROOKSVILLE — Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis has demoted two of his lieutenants who continued a romantic relationship after being warned it could affect their careers.
Nienhuis notified Lts. Matt Lillibridge and Cinda Moore in separate memos Monday that they would be demoted to sergeant.
In the memos, Nienhuis reminded Lillibridge and Moore that he had admonished them about their relationship during meetings last July.
"I left with you my charge to consider the consequences of your choices and come up with some suggestions for a solution," Nienhuis wrote. "With much disappointment, I recently learned that you and the same co-worker have continued your relationship and have used our agency to further your unprofessional relationship."
The sheriff continued: "Your lack of concern for the integrity of our office, and your abandonment of the leadership traits I expect of command officers, causes me to lose confidence and trust in your ability to continue to command at the level and rank of lieutenant."
In an interview with the Times on Wednesday, Nienhuis called the demotions a difficult decision. The Sheriff's Office does not have an explicit policy forbidding employees of equal rank from dating, but he said the relationship between the two had diminished the respect of their subordinates. He declined to elaborate.
"When you have fraternization between people at that level, it makes it very difficult not to impact the organization," he said. "There were a couple of things that came to my attention that did impact the organization, and I realized that I had to take some action because they were unable or unwilling to do so."
He called Lillibridge and Moore "good people" and "good employees" without blemishes in their personnel files.
"They haven't lost my confidence totally or they wouldn't be working here," he said.
Lillibridge, 45, joined the Sheriff's Office in 1996. As the lieutenant in charge of operations support, he oversaw the canine, SWAT, aviation and marine programs, among several others.
Moore, 42, joined the agency the same year. As the lieutenant in charge of community outreach, she oversaw volunteers, training, crime prevention and the chaplain corps. She also filled in as public information officer.
Both will serve as patrol sergeants, Moore in District 1 and Lillibridge in District 2.
The demotions come with significant reductions in pay. As lieutenants, both earned $78,107.45. Now, Lillibridge's salary will be $61,637.99 and Moore's $64,758.42.
According to a sheriff's spokeswoman, Moore is divorced and Lillibridge is married but filed a change of address form within the last six months indicating "separation, pending divorce or completed divorce."
Both declined requests by the Times for interviews.
Nienhuis said he could fill the vacant lieutenant positions as soon as next week.