State to replace 27 of 67 sheriffs


Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2004 at 11:00 p.m.
Florida is replacing 40 percent of its sheriffs during the first couple of days of 2005, including five in North Central Florida. The oaths of office are being given at various times around the state, with most sheriff's taking theirs Monday or Tuesday.
"This is the fourth largest turnover in sheriffs statewide that we could find," said Mary Beth Pridgeon, spokeswoman for the Florida Sheriffs Association. "We will have 27 new sheriffs this year out of 67.
"There are a lot of reasons for the turnover this year, including that 14 retired and did not seek re-election - which is a lot of retirements. Many others had been around for a long time and decided they were ready to move on to other things."
According to association records, the only years when more new sheriffs were replaced were in 1940 with 36, 1956 with 29 and 1980 with 28.
Only 11 sheriffs were unopposed during the 2004 elections.
One aspect of holding the top law enforcement job in a county that is attractive to some is the salary that comes with the job. For example, Alachua County Sheriff Steve Oelrich, who was re-elected in 2004, will be paid a base salary of $124,348, according to the Florida Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. The next biggest paychecks go to the clerk of court, property appraiser and tax collector, who have a base salary of $116,379.
The other sheriffs returned for four-years term in North Central Florida include Bob Milner in Bradford County, David Turner in Gilchrist County, Johnny Smith in Levy County and Jerry Whitehead in Union County.
Those elected to replace outgoing sheriffs were; Rick Beseler in Clay County, Bill Gootee in Columbia County, Dewey Hatcher in Dixie County, Dean Kelly in Putnam County and Tony Cameron in Suwannee County.
Clay County A year ago, Beseler, 50, was signing paperwork so that he could retire as chief investigator of the Duval County Sheriff's Office. This year, he is handling paperwork for 600 employees of the Clay County Sheriff's Office who will soon know him as their new boss.
"I am trying to streamline the organization here, and there are some executive-level deputies who will retire, but no one will be fired," Beseler said.
Those who stay on and work for Beseler will be told that his No. 1 priority is restoring integrity to the agency. Integrity became an issue when outgoing Sheriff Scott Lancaster was the subject of a grand jury presentment several months ago chastising him for using a county credit card for personal purchases.
"We don't own this office. We are only the custodians of it for four years at a time," Beseler said. "Integrity transcends from the top to the bottom, and the sheriff sets the tone. I don't want to do anything that will tarnish the star (on the sheriff's badge)."
Columbia County Columbia County's incoming sheriff, Gootee, 57, plans to draw on his 19 years of experience as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as he takes over an agency with 200 employees and a $9 million annual budget.
"My first order of business is re-organization of top management - moving some people around to better utilize their talents," Gootee said.
He also plans to negotiate having his agency take over the 911 phone system, which is now being run by the County Commission.
"Something else that is important to me is reorganizing the agency to better serve the south end of the county, because Fort White is growing and we need to restructure for more manpower down there," Gootee said.
Dixie County Dixie County's incoming sheriff will be taking his second oath of office to become sheriff. Hatcher, 49, is the third generation of his family to serve as Dixie County sheriff. When he was elected to his first term eight years ago, he was taking the same oath his father and grandfather had taken years earlier. When Hatcher's term ended in 2000, he chose not to run for re-election because he wanted to open a business with his wife.
Hatcher said he missed the public contact and being able to help people on a daily basis, so he ran for the office again.
Putnam County When Putnam County voters elected Kelly as their next sheriff, they were selecting someone who already knows the agency well. Kelly, 47, is a long-time employee who most recently served as a major. He knows almost all of the 245 employees as well as where the agency's $13.8 million annual budget is spent. He said he will not need a long get-acquainted period.
"I want to go right to work on my primary goal of promoting good public relations and getting the Sheriff's Office back into the community," Kelly said. His plans including holding community meetings, establishing a sheriff's advisory council, opening up a citizens police academy and developing a public service assistance program.
"I will also be moving some employees to different divisions and making some other personnel transfers, but no one is losing their job," Kelly said.
Suwannee County It took Cameron three tries, but he finally got elected sheriff of Suwannee County in 2004. Cameron, 51, a former deputy under the late Bob Leonard, said one of his first tasks as sheriff in 2005 will be to update the policy and procedure manual that has been in place at the agency since 1990.
"I will also be doing some restructuring and I will make sure the deputies go back to and understand that they are to be of service to the public," Cameron said.
Specifically, Cameron said there would be a return to community-oriented policing so that the same deputies work the same areas of the county all the time.
"That way the deputies get to know the neighborhoods and get to know the people who live there," Cameron said.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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