The Chronicle’s endorsement of one of my opponents was less about why he should be sheriff and more a revisionist history recollection of the past three years. Absent from the editorial was any mention of the quality of law enforcement that has kept this county one of the safest places in Florida to live. Instead it was a critical, biased analysis of situations involving a couple of close friends of the Chronicle. The end of the editorial calls me a smooth politician. However, it is my indifference toward political glad-handing in favor of a mission-focused approach of establishing excellence which has guided my decision making over the course of my entire career. Cronyism and the exchange of social capital for the betterment of a few ended on Jan. 3, 2017, when I took office. This may have cost me the Chronicle’s endorsement but not at the expense of the high level of service provided to the public by their sheriff’s office.
One example of this was the action I took on Feb 14, 2018. Within 24 hours of the Parkland tragedy, I ordered a sworn law enforcement professional on every public school campus, the first county to do so in the state. That summer when the bill came due and the budget for the upcoming year was detailed, there was a discussion to determine how to share this expense to keep our kids safe. The negotiation was a success and now every public school campus except for one academy branch has a sworn deputy to supplement the state-funded guardians.
A myth that has surfaced in the forums and that the Chronicle repeated in the article, despite being presented with facts to the contrary in the editorial board interview, is that we have had a high turnover rate. Any time you have a culture change after a long-term administration, there is going to be some turnover. CCSO has had an 8.8% turnover rate in my first term, compared to a 21.7% turnover rate in the first year of the Dawsy administration in 1997. Over one-third of those who recently left the agency (34%) were planned retirements and several of the younger deputies who left chasing larger checks came back as we raised deputy pay by over 17% the past three years.
It is incredibly difficult to recruit and retain high-quality law enforcement talent in today’s environment. However, we filled our final five open positions late last month. An effective advertising campaign helped bring in applicants from all around the nation, while not forgetting about our fine men and women trained here at home. The Board of County Commissioners last week complimented this effort while they heaped praise on the ease in which we have negotiated our budgets over the past several years.
The last bizarre criticism in the editorial cited the use of our CCSO Facebook page. There are currently over 69,000 people who follow the agency’s Facebook while only 28,000 who follow the Chronicle. When important information needs to be disseminated, we use all media available including presenting to the press as well as our own social media platforms. The public reaction to these posts has been overwhelmingly positive. We interact with people in a variety of fashions from finding the owners of lost animals to educating people on water safety. Several of these posts have gone viral which helps recruit higher quality talent to our county as earned advertising, ultimately saving you money and improving the services rendered.
In conclusion, though absent from the editorial, I am incredibly proud of the law enforcement work we have accomplished. From 180% increase in drug arrests, to decreasing traffic fatalities, and raising deputy pay, your Citrus County Sheriff’s Office is getting the job done. I know what I could have done differently to win the Chronicle’s endorsement, but election calculations have never played a role in law enforcement decisions for me. Leadership is doing what’s right for the public good in the face of political hardship. I am Sheriff Mike Prendergast, and if I am honored enough to have your vote on or before Aug. 18, that is the type of leadership you will continue to get from me for the next four years.