There is good reason Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent faces minimal opposition for re-election to a third, and what he says will be a final, four-year term as the county's top law officer: his outstanding performance over the previous eight years.
Nugent, 57, has overseen the department during a period of rapid growth in which he worked, through accountability sessions that reviewed operations, to reduce response time, cut overtime expenses and improve employee performance. His techniques could be emulated elsewhere in Hernando as the county administration has asked for information on how the department classifies jobs and salaries, tracks fleet management and other administrative duties. Nugent said he feels humbled by the county's request.
His relation with the county hasn't been rosy all the time. The summer of 2007 brought contentious budget negotiations, and a year earlier Nugent was disappointed in the inability to combine emergency dispatch services with the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District.
Those hiccups aside, Nugent works well with other agencies and government officials. There was no budget dispute in 2008 as the sheriff delivered a flat spending request by cutting a community relations specialist, a floating school resource officer and a sergeant for the school unit. He still worked to consolidate services by agreeing to take over 911 dispatching for Brooksville and the county fire department. He also is in discussions to run the county's emergency management department, though that has yet to come to fruition.
As the new budget year begins, Nugent is working with the county and the city of Brooksville to build and open a community building/substation on a vacant lot on Martin Luther King Drive in south Brooksville. Built with money acquired through drug forfeitures — not property taxes — the $500,000 building would be a highly visible deterrent to neighborhood crime while doubling as a community resource center to provide education and recreational opportunities for nearby residents. It epitomizes Nugent's forward-thinking philosophy of investing in crime prevention to try to reduce the potential for illegal or unsafe behavior in the future.
Crime prevention efforts, particularly those aimed at youths "provide untold dividends to this community,'' Nugent said. "Prevention, in my opinion, is more cost-effective than incarceration, not just in dollars, but in broken families and lost potential.''
Indeed it demonstrates a key attribute desirable in a county sheriff: leadership.
Nugent's opponents include Democrat Luke Frazier, 23, who has been arrested multiple times in Hernando County, and a write-in candidate whose name will not appear on the ballot. Neither are serious candidates.
Voters will be well-served by re-electing Republican Richard Nugent to a third term as Hernando sheriff on Nov. 4.