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Employees await post-Gillum era

Detective Mike Rossi found an envelope in his mailbox Friday morning when he went to work at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

It was a computer-generated birthday card from Rossi's employer, Sheriff Jim Gillum. Employees routinely receive the cards from the sheriff, but, Rossi said Friday, "I doubt he's wishing me a happy birthday."

Gillum lost the Republican runoff for sheriff to Bill Rowan by 70 percent to 30 percentThursday night. Rossi recently was named by Gillum's former chief deputy as one of 18 employees targeted for firing after the elections, because they were perceived to be troublesome or disloyal.

"I'm definitely nervous, no doubt about it," Rossi said. The 28-year-old detective called his firing "a definite possibility."

"What's to stop him?" Rossi said. "I would only hope he would leave with dignity and class. . . . I don't wish him bad."

Rossi's comments reflected tension felt throughout the 750-employee agency Friday. The voters have decided that either Rowan or Democrat Lee Cannon will be the sheriff come January. And the logistical and personal issues accompanying the transition for a $32-million police bureaucracy are considerable.

"Any time you have a new sheriff coming in, it is a traumatic experience," said J. M. "Buddy" Phillips, the executive director of the Florida Sheriff's Association, which serves as a clearinghouse for sheriffs throughout the state. "You have to find out what to expect, adjust to new ideas."

Phillips was in Pasco the last time the Sheriff's Office changed hands, in the fall of 1984. Former Sheriff John Short had been indicted and suspended, and the governor sent Phillips to serve until a new sheriff was elected.

"It was a tough situation for everybody concerned," Phillips said. "They did not know me. When I was sent in there by the governor, I was supposed to ensure the continuity of service to the people."

Basic conditions must be met any time a new sheriff takes office. The County Commission will determine the precise amount of a bond _ for Pasco, some figure between $10,000 and $25,000 _ that the new sheriff must personally provide as a guarantee against lawsuits. The new sheriff also obtains an inventory of money and equipment, as well as all unserved writs and process, Phillips said.

"The retiring sheriff has to deliver to (the new sheriff) all the records, papers and other documents pertaining to the office of sheriff," he said. "It's all the property of the sheriff's office. It doesn't belong to an individual. A sheriff must turn them over. He can't destroy them."

Phillips also provides new sheriffs with a 40-hour "sheriff's school" in December. New sheriffs will be sworn in on Jan. 5.

Phillips said that sheriffs in 13 of Florida's 67 counties have lost elections so far this year. Gillum's eight-year tenure is not the longest in Pasco in recent memory, Phillips said.

Basil Gaines served from 1963 to 1965, and again from 1969 to 1977. Leslie Bessinger served from 1941 to 1963, 22 years of service.

One of the most visible changes a new sheriff makes is in the executive staff that serves directly below him or her. Officers with rank of captain or higher are not protected by the career service ordinance and serve at the pleasure of the sheriff.

Both Cannon and Rowan said Friday that they had not made decisions about who would stay or go in their administrations.

"Any changes that I make are going to be based upon the individual, past performance and capabilities," Rowan said. "We want the people of Pasco County to come out ahead, and we want it with as little turmoil as possible. We don't want to hurt this agency. We want to help it mend."

The greatest impact a new sheriff makes, according to Cannon, "is the psychological impact on employees." In changing staff and procedures, a new sheriff "possibly puts a whole new complexion on a sheriff's office."

Both Rowan and Cannon said they hoped Gillum would not take vindictive action against employees supposedly targeted for firing. Gillum's former chief deputy, Jim Francis, said last month that 18 employees were targeted by Gillum and his top aides because they did not follow certain orders, or because they were thought to be disloyal. In response, Gillum called Francis a liar.

At his campaign headquarters Thursday night, Gillum said he finally felt free to do some things that might be politically unwise. "I've been a kick-ass sheriff, and if this is the end, I'm going to go out being a kick-ass sheriff," he said. He did not provide specifics.

Cannon said: "I hope he lets it (the agency) do what it's supposed to do _ serve the public _ and not be vindictive. I hope he'd be professional enough to realize he's dealing with lives and families."

Gillum, who laid much of the blame for his defeat on local news coverage by the St. Petersburg Times, did not return telephone calls Friday.

Employees who Francis said were targeted for firing said that things were quiet at work Friday, but that they were apprehensive.

"It's been quiet in here," Bob DeAntonio, a corrections officer at the Land O'Lake jail, said Friday afternoon. "Everything is very subdued."

DeAntonio said he was a little worried about Gillum's "kick-ass" comment. "I'm not sure what he means," DeAntonio said.

Lieutenant Darlene Greene, who supervises the sheriff's police academy, said Friday that she "hadn't heard anything that is going to adversely affect my job."

"I want to continue doing my job in a professional manner, as I always have," she said.

Some other employees who Francis said were targeted for firing declined to comment Friday.