ENDORSEMENT

Editor's note: The Chronicle Editorial Board issues endorsements of local candidates. Endorsement decisions are based on multiple interviews conducted with each candidate by the board and staff. Candidates not endorsed by the editorial board of the Chronicle are encouraged to submit a rebuttal to letters@chronicleonline.com no later than Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. All rebuttals submitted prior to the deadline are guaranteed to publish no later than Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, the day before Election Day.

Citrus County voters will officially elect a sheriff during the Nov. 3 general election.

Many people thought the sheriff’s race was complete in the August primary when incumbent GOP sheriff Mike Prendergast fought off three opponents for the Republican nomination. While there is no Democratic candidate in the general election contest, former sheriff’s department employee Lee Alexander qualified for the general election as a No-Party (NP) candidate.

All registered voters are now being asked to select between the incumbent Prendergast and the challenger Alexander.

The political reality is that Citrus County voters have never selected a ‘No-Party’ candidate in a general election and that’s not going to change in this very partisan election season.

Alexander is registered as a Republican, but he chose not to be involved in the GOP primary because there were too many candidates involved in the race. Instead, his decision to be a NP candidate was a tactical move that blocked non-Republican voters from being involved in the first primary. A primary becomes an open event if all the candidates belong to a single political party. The Democrats did not produce a candidate for sheriff this year.

We are uncomfortable with that tactical move by the candidate and find it difficult to seriously consider support for such political maneuvering. Alexander had some legitimate ideas for improvements at the sheriff’s department, but the minimal campaigning because of the COVID pandemic makes it almost impossible for a NP candidate to be seriously considered.

Sheriff Prendergast faced serious challengers in the GOP primary and he successfully fought them off. As we stated during the primary season, we are unhappy with the lack of transparency in the current administration, but voters get to make the official decision and they did — Prendergast.

The public has a right to understand how law enforcement is being practiced in their name, but the Prendergast administration has regularly withheld and controlled the flow of information. The sheriff has deep political ties to former Gov. Rick Scott who he served in Tallahassee as his chief of staff. They do such things in Tallahassee.

It may have been that experience that makes him attempt to totally control the flow of information and communication from the sheriff’s department. Over the last four years he has had conflict with the county school board and county commission. And the department regularly withholds information that might be considered negative to the agency — even when public safety issues are at hand.

That’s how things are done in Tallahassee, not in Citrus County where public safety is more important than political messaging.

Citrus County is still a small town where people trust each other. When our local government agencies and entities disagree with each other, the officials gather together and find solutions. In big cities they might spend a lot of time strategizing and calculating, but that causes trust to deteriorate and unnecessary divisions to be created.

Mike Prendergast will win another four-year term as sheriff of Citrus County on Nov. 3. We hope that his election success will give him the confidence to move forward with a more open philosophy that rebuilds bridges with the other stakeholders in the community.