Pasco County Sheriff Bob White's third-term reorganization of his department is putting more deputies on patrol, but also turning the agency into a patronage fiefdom where unadvertised jobs go to political acquaintances; a large raise is available within the inner circle while salaries elsewhere are frozen; and an extravagant but politically appealing specialty unit remains intact.
Despite pledges of improved efficiencies ballyhooed in a recent news briefing, it was the changes unannounced by White, but revealed by St. Petersburg Times staff writer Molly Moorhead, that indicate the sheriff's leadership values are skewed toward a who-you-know attitude rather than what's best for the public.
Consider that White:
• Rewarded his secretary with a $9,360 salary increase and enhanced retirement benefits even though the deputies and other civilians received no raises in the current fiscal year. The job title for Terry Phayre did not change from executive assistant, but the compensation jumped two pay grades, or 15 percent, to nearly $71,000. The department rationalized the salary increase by saying the job description now includes responsibility for coordinating policy changes and oversight of extra-duty deputies.
Regardless, the exorbitant increase demonstrates a double standard that insults every other public employee asked to do more with less in these austere times.
• Reorganized his agency to increase patrol units. The accreditation unit, some of the duties for which are now assigned to Phayre, was an obvious luxury the agency could no longer afford. White also redeployed community-oriented policing and strategic enforcement units to put 30 additional officers on patrol. There is no question changes had to be made with personnel levels remaining status quo at the same time White says calls for service are increasing.
However, White also kept in place a three-person agricultural unit while reassigning its supervising sergeant. If you're going to take community officers from working-class neighborhoods, it is just as appropriate to take deputies from the cow pastures, particularly since the most notable beneficiaries of such a squad are the affluent owners of large tracts of land around the county.
Nine years ago, a consultant retained by the county to study Sheriff's Office staffing recommended disbanding the agricultural unit and reassigning the staff for more vital purposes. It remains a valid assessment that White shouldn't ignore.
• Hired three well-connected Republicans for unadvertised job openings, one of which was a newly created position designed to buff the sheriff's image publicly and within his own department. So far, part of Timothy Couet's job duties are to send out news releases on Friday afternoons touting the sheriff's cost-saving measures, including one that boasted an improbable jump in logic that the public benefited from delayed construction of the jail.
White offered no apologies for the patronage appointments. He said he hired Couet, Sen. Mike Fasano's former campaign manager, in public relations; Jeremiah Hawkes, former general counsel to the state House of Representatives, as staff attorney, and another longtime Fasano pal, Richard Corcoran, as a contract attorney because he knows them.
So much for seeking the best-qualified people when there is a circle of political cronies to tap. All three could well have topped a list of public applicants, but we'll never know. And why is it worth trumpeting in a news release that the sheriff saved training expenses by hiring more qualified personnel for the jail if the agency wasn't interested in a similar cost-savings exercise for its legal and public relations staff?
White's reasoning for failing to conduct a public search for what he termed command-level positions is simple arrogance.
"They're connected to me and that's what's important,'' he said.
The sheriff would better serve the public if his decisions were guided by what is important to Pasco County.