Voters determined much of Pasco County's near-term law enforcement strategies in January when they approved new property tax exemptions that reduced property tax revenue to the county by nearly $17-million in the coming fiscal year. No longer are there debates over how many deputies to add to the payroll, but rather how to best use the existing personnel. So, a question for voters to consider Aug. 26 is who is best prepared to lead the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in the face of limited resources now and in the near future.
We find many faults with incumbent Republican Sheriff Bob White's budget performance over the past four years. He drives a no-bid, high-end SUV at twice the cost of a deputy's patrol cruiser. He let scores of non-emergency civilian employees use department cars and publicly financed gasoline for commuting and personal errands. As he neared the start of his 2004 re-election campaign, he retained a human resources consultant for non-specific training and advisory roles. It cost $96,000 over four years and White rationalized it by saying the department needed, in his words, a healing. The sheriff supported Amendment 1 in January, even though it cost his department hundreds of thousands of dollars in escrow to hire new deputies if the amendment failed.
According to the county budget office, over a five-year period ending in 2007, White's department accounted for 55 percent of the property taxes in the county's general fund and the sheriff had received nearly 98 percent of his submitted budget requests from commissioners. That's not even counting the millions of dollars earmarked for patrol cars and laptop computers in Penny for Pasco funds.
Over those five years, the county population grew 20 percent and the inflation rate totaled 17 percent. Compounded, the sheriff could have expected a 41 percent funding increase. Instead, his budget grew 51 percent and, still, he complained last summer that it wasn't enough. He said he had low-balled the county and called commissioners short-sighted.
We're not convinced the department needs a new leader, but what it deserves is a better leader and we believe White, 58, has the ability to fill that role. There is evidence the sheriff finally gets it. Last year, he eliminated his civilian crime-prevention unit and transferred the positions to the more vital roles of emergency dispatcher. The voter-forced fiscal responsibility helped kill the consulting contract and White took away the take-home cars for civilians after a campaign opponent highlighted it as wasteful.
White began a citizens service unit to reduce the non-emergency workload on road deputies and he plans to rework the popular citizens academy to turn it into a training center for neighborhood crime watch patrols in order to better capitalize on volunteers. It is a sensible idea and one that none of the others in the race for sheriff have indicated is a consideration.
White's Republican opponent is retired Lt. Robert Sullivan, a 26-year veteran of the agency who left last year as commander of the vice and narcotics unit. There is much to like about Sullivan, 46. He is a well-respected lawman who came up through the ranks and worked under five sheriffs. His whistle-blowing put the spotlight on the expensive take-home car policy.
But he suggests, without documentation, as many as 42 officers are in political roles answering calls for service from sheriff acquaintances or upper middle-class neighborhoods. To meet budget demands, he said he will reallocate jobs and seek grant-funded positions. White correctly notes the department did just that in 2001 after a highly critical audit of his predecessor and the addition of 44 deputies to the payroll.
The agency doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. White, however, needs to reinvent his leadership skills. Republican voters should allow him a chance to do that in the Aug. 26 primary.
Kim Bogart, 56, (his name is on the ballot as K.S. Bogart) a police consultant and a former major and captain under Pasco Sheriffs Jim Gillum and Lee Cannon, has the knowledge and professional experience to run the Sheriff's Office. He is executive director of the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission, and spent his early career in the city of Tampa Police Department.
Bogart is heavy on criticism of the incumbent, but gives short-shrift to concerns about his own role as a high-level commander in the two troubled administrations preceding White's. Saying you were out of the loop and doing what you were told isn't much of an accounting considering Gillum's misconduct and the Cannon administration's inability to decipher the department's own capabilities.
Still, Bogart's role studying other police agencies for the past seven years provides him a unique insight that his opponent cannot match.
The other Democrat is Jeffrey Deremer, a 15-year probation and parole officer with the Florida Department of Corrections in Pasco. Deremer likes to point he is the only Pasco native, and, at 38, the youngest candidate running for sheriff. He talks passionately about improving law enforcement in his home county, but he also offers an illogical suggestion that voters should entrust him with an 1,100-employee, $85-million agency because past supervisors-turned-sheriffs performed poorly.
Deremer simply lacks the administrative experience to run the Sheriff's Office. His answer to cost challenges is to try to get more money from convicted criminals via a new tax. Considering restitution requirements, court costs and other expenses assessed via the criminal justice system, don't expect a new crime tax to produce significant revenue for the Sheriff's Office.
Democrats seeking to nominate their strongest candidate for the November general election should choose Bogart in the Aug. 26 primary.