With his longtime chief deputy set to retire in September and significant budget cuts looming, Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent has been forced to rethink the structure of the agency.
Thus, the Sheriff's Office no longer has a No. 2 position. It has three of them.
Nugent announced Friday a reorganization of the agency, eliminating the position of chief deputy and elevating the role of three bureau chiefs.
Nugent said he made the moves in response to the impending retirement of chief deputy Michael Hensley and a request from the county to cut $2 million from the department budget. There are also a handful of transfers and promotions within the department as a result of the reorganization.
"We'll see how this works out," Nugent said. "I wouldn't have done this if Chief Hensley wasn't retiring. We would have had to make some other changes."
The reorganization also opens the field for an eventual successor to Nugent.
With Hensley's departure and the death this year of Capt. Scott Bierwiler in a crash, the Sheriff's Office now lacks an obvious frontrunner to replace Nugent when he steps down as expected at the end of his third term, in 2012.
Nugent, who didn't specifically address potential candidates for the next sheriff's race, said he was counting on the new structure to produce more leaders within the department.
"This helps grow the organization and grow people within the organization," he said. "When I retire, people here will have the ability and capability to carry on. That's what any CEO wants ... to leave a team behind him that can take over."
The key to the move is the expansion of the role of Bill Kicklighter, who was the director of information technology for the Sheriff's Office. Kicklighter, 43, will assume the position of chief of the agency's Public Safety Bureau.
"This is a huge vote of confidence from the sheriff in me," said Kicklighter, who came to the agency in 1997. "We're all here to serve the sheriff. I would have been good with whatever he decided."
Kicklighter, the only civilian among the three bureau chiefs, will retain most of the same responsibilities and add on a few budgetary ones. His annual salary will increase nearly $12,000 to $96,000.
But Nugent pointed out that with the elimination of Hensley's salary of $115,240, the department will realize nearly $100,000 in annual savings.
The other bureau chiefs are Maj. Royce Decker in law enforcement services and Maj. Michael Maurer in law enforcement operations. Decker, 54, has worked at the department since 1983, and Maurer, 46, has been at the Sheriff's Office since 1988. Neither will receive raises.
Generally, most of the divisions within the department will remain the same. But the creation of a Public Safety Bureau will essentially bring a number of information support and technology services under the same umbrella with E-911 coordination, fiscal affairs, purchasing and fleet management.
To help streamline the changes and assist the sheriff, Kicklighter will move from his office in the Emergency Operations Center to Hensley's old office down the hall from Nugent. He was boxing up items in his old office Friday.
"Moving isn't exactly the fun part," Kicklighter said. "But as a civilian - a guy who doesn't carry a gun - this is a very large step in law enforcement. I'm ready to contribute in any way that I can."
Also, despite the changes, Nugent said he anticipated having problems reaching the county's goal of $2 million in budget cuts. He said he was prepared to elaborate on the potential consequences of the cuts at Tuesday's meeting with county commissioners.
Also complicating matters, Nugent said, is a vote Monday and Tuesday by the employees union on whether to forgo pay raises this year. If the union votes for the increases, Nugent said employees would almost certainly have to be laid off.
"There's no getting around it - we're going to have to eliminate some services and take a reduction in personnel," Nugent said. "When you cut to the bone as much as we have, that's about all you have left."
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.