A crowd of more than 100 citizens learned what Pinellas County Sheriff's candidates think about issues impacting our area during a candidate forum held at the Palm Harbor Library Wednesday.
Four of the six candidates; Bob Gualtieri, Greg Pound, Everett Rice and Scott Swope participated in the forum, which consisted of pre-selected questions followed by questions submitted by the audience.
Topics ranged from high speed vehicle pursuits, to human trafficking, budgets, non-violent drug offenders, synthetic drugs, pensions and men soliciting prostitutes.
While Clearwater Police enforce the majority of the city, there are unincorporated areas under the sheriff's scope.
One question revealed issues that candidates feel are important when it comes to possible changes.
Moderator Steve Fiske asked the candidates: If you could make one major policy change in the Sheriff's Office, what would it be?
It would be having to do with money and being able to provide a raise for our employees. That's the most important thing that we can do right now. We're facing significant budget challenges, the county's general fund deficit is another $40 million between now and 2022, so we've got some significant challenges. To take care of our employees is the most important challenge we have. From a policy perspective, beyond that is to continue the operations that we are doing.
The number one policy change that I would make is I would get our sheriff's department back under the constitution. Now you're guilty until proven innocent, you don't have a right to a jury trial. You're losing your rights when you're confronted by your accusers. Every one of our constitutional rights are being violated through the sheriff's department and this uniting with the courthouse. This lack of separation of powers between our judicial system and our judges and our executive branch. So, that's would I'd do, I'd change that policy and get us back to the constitutional base of what this country's been built on. We've lost it here in Pinellas County, we're not functioning under the constitution.
I have a little problem with that because I'm not there right now and I'm not sure what the policies are in place. But, I certainly would change the policy to include the employees that work there and the decision-making process and respect them and their professional positions.
One of the things that I would do is enact a policy where the deputies would stop arresting people for non-violent misdemeanor offenses, traffic offenses, those kinds of things; unless there are exigent circumstances to do so. If there's a good reason to do it, then you can obviously make the arrest. But, as in exigent circumstances to make an arrest for a non-violent misdemeanor, my preferred policy would be to issue a notice to appear for a citation that requires an appearance in court, so they're still prosecuted, but it doesn't take the deputies off the street to go and have them processed through the jail.
The forum was sponsored by the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee and Tampa Bay Woman Newspaper.
The current candidates for Pinellas County Sheriff are listed below in alphabetical order. Other candidates could still join the race. The deadline for candidates to qualify for the race is June 8 at noon.
- Bob Gualtieri (Rep)
- Randy Heine (Dem)
- Tim Ingold (Rep)(had announced in a previous forum that he is leaving the race, however he is not listed as "inactive" on the Pinellas Supervisors of Elections website)
- Greg Pound (CPF)
- Everett Rice (Rep)
- Scott P. Swope (Dem)
The Council of North County Neighborhoods (CNCN) will be sponsoring a candidate forum at 7 p.m. June 18 and will include state, county and sheriff candidates.
More Pinellas County election information can be found at VotePinellas.com