Gateway Sun

EDITOR’S NOTE: The position of Lee County Sheriff is up for election in November 2016. Sheriff Mike Scott, along with challengers Stephanie Eller and James Didio have written messages to the residents of Gateway, with the goal of helping you to get to know them a bit better. Today’s message is from Mr. Didio.

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This election year may prove to be the most important election in many decades. People from across the USA recognize this and are turning out in record numbers to voice their wishes for the future.

Many months ago, I signed up to run for Lee County Sheriff in the upcoming August primary. Since then, I’ve met many wonderful, supportive people from many backgrounds and many places who call Lee County their home.

I joined the race originally as a candidate for the Republican ticket; I now confirm that I chose to switch my campaign party affiliation to “No Party Affiliation.” I made this choice after much thought and with the advice of many who support my candidacy.

Seeking the top law enforcement position within a county is no small matter; and, it takes a lot of support and planning. But, through my experiences as a cop and through listening to many diverse people, I’ve come to realize that running for Sheriff should not be about partisan politics. Law enforcement isn’t about partisan politics either. They’re both about public safety. We, as law enforcement officers, cannot come to your door and ask, “Before we begin, what political party are you? Did you donate to a political campaign? How much and to whom?”

Right now, Lee County is facing the worst crime in many years. LCSO is short-staffed and low on morale because of these partisan politics within the agency. I think it’s time for Lee County to have a new Sheriff, one who believes in the community and one who is ready to be tough on crime but also fair and just under the US Constitution.

Every year, LCSO spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on a unit called “Public Services”. The Public Services unit is basically a Super-PAC for Sheriff Scott; it uses budget money to market his campaign, money that COULD be spent on hiring more deputies and stopping more crimes.

If I’m elected Sheriff, my FIRST move would be to permanently sunset LCSO’s Public Services unit. Those deputies can get back on the road and serve the community, no more hand shaking and political fund raising.

The current Sheriff has been with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office for over 28 years. At 25 years, Scott was entered in the drop program. On October 1, 2018, he can no longer contribute to his FRS (Florida Retirement System) retirement fund and will receive a retirement package and a check for over $500,000. Then, he will receive 100% of his salary for life—whether he’s Sheriff or not.

Is Sheriff Scott entered as a candidate in the upcoming election? Yes.

He has over $440,000 in campaign donations; many of these donations came from out-of-county donors. Also, some deputies donated to Sheriff Scott’s campaign—many of these deputies were promoted shortly afterwards; LCSO staff members call it the “$1,000 club.” Just look at the list of deputy donations and the promotion list, you’ll see what I’m referring to.

Is it possible that Sheriff Scott wants to remain sheriff as long as he’s physically capable? Sure, I suppose.

Simple math provides a serious argument against that possibility, both financially and personally. But there’s actually a different argument…..

The truth is, if Sheriff Scott resigned in October 2018, he will have the authority to NAME his successor sheriff—rather than allow the citizens of Lee County vote on his replacement. In 2013, Sheriff Scott hired his “successor”; this person was a deputy from another county with a spotty record. This person was initially hired as a Lieutenant then raised to Captain; both positions are typically reserved for veteran law enforcement personnel after years upon years of service. This Captain has no direct subordinates and answers only to Sheriff Scott; he campaigns 5 days a week.

Did Sheriff Scott publish his resignation letter? No.

But the writing is on the wall; that ball is already rolling.

Roughly 1700 LCSO employees already know whom Sheriff Scott will NAME as your next Lee County Sheriff.

Are you OK with that?

I fully understand the “Good Ol’ Boy” system and even more; I understand money and the good AND bad it can bring. But the residents and visitors of Lee County should not be scared in their own homes, nor should they be afraid to drive on a Lee County roadway or go to the mall or beach.

Crime has been spiking over the last few years. There’s been an increase in violent crimes from assault to homicide and we’ve seen in increase in property crimes from theft to burglary and grand theft of cars and million dollar boats. A news reporter told me, “We have to report the big things, but we can’t keep up with the massive amounts of crime in Lee County.” A few months back, Sheriff Scott spoke at Harley Davidson. I listened as a citizen asked him, “What about all the crime? What are you doing about it?” The Sheriff stood up, looked at his constituents, and said, “Our crime is relative to that of Miami. Crime is ‘Everywhere USA’ and we work to arrest the bad guys but as we grow, the crime grows.” After a pause, a light clap came from the crowd.

He would have been lying if he said LCSO was at full strength and running on full-throttle…..because it’s not. He should have shortened his answer to “I am doing very little about it.” We have lost more experienced deputies to other jobs for a simple fact: LCSO deputies have not received a raise in 10 years. A salary of $35,294 for a 10-year veteran does not pay the bills in 2016. Morale is low, deputies are scared to perform their duties on a daily basis. If you go above and beyond, you most likely will not hear a word of commendation from command. In fact, the Sheriff himself has not been on the road with the front line in years.

At the beginning of his tenure as sheriff, Sheriff Scott did an admirable job. The problem is that, over time, the agency has fallen behind its legacy—and behind where it should lead Lee County into the future. As I said in my announcement, the current Sheriff has taken the agency as far as he can and it’s time to hand it off to someone with fresh ideas and a renewed drive for excellence. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has this potential and the community deserves it.

I will start with reorganization of the command staff. LCSO is extremely top heavy, especially during election years with failed promises and bought positions. It is actually so bad that there are two new ranks created. The “Staff Officer” and “Commander” are new. They are filled by men and women who have been loyal to Sheriff Scott’s campaign. This just doesn’t work for the Lee County community.

The budget was raised from $140 million in 2015 to $164 million in 2016. Were more deputies out on the road or manning the jails? No. LCSO is 30 positions short on the front lines. Many neighborhood zones are left vacant with a 60-plus minute response time for calls to service. Which neighborhoods? McGregor and Gateway are first. In South Fort Myers, the gated and wealthier communities are first to have their deputies pulled and relocated for the shift. Where have the recent property crimes (theft and burglary) taken place with very little response? McGregor, Gateway and South Fort Myers. Several homeowners associations have to pay a detail deputy to come in and patrol from time to time. A massive amount of agency emails begging for overtime help and our local record breaking crime stats show this pattern.

We are currently paying to educate, train, and outfit deputies who leave our department for better opportunities; this depletes the number of experienced deputies we have on our roads and manning our jails. I plan to boost morale for our employees and attract new talent, using goal setting and achievement incentives for our deputies and other staff. Employees need to know where they will be in 5, 10 and 15 years, and we will help them reach these goals.

Moreover, the current administration has pushed the media away over the past 12 years. It is imperative that open lines of communication are prioritized and upheld so that our community is kept aware of what is going on around them. I will assure there is an open and positive relationship with all forms of media in order to keep the citizens of Lee County informed.

The gap between law enforcement and the public is growing. Recent events around our country, and media coverage of these events, have built a wall. I will bridge the gap by opening my door to hear the concerns of the public. I will hold events to educate our citizens about our Sheriff’s Office and offer ideas for community and personal safety. Our deputies will be better trained to serve and protect the public and uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens.

The position of Sheriff for such a large and critical operation requires the skills and background of a unique individual. I have both the law enforcement training and expertise, as well as a strong business background as an entrepreneur, to be that individual. Having served inside the current Sheriff’s operation and law enforcement for over 10 years, I commend the Sheriff for his success. However, I firmly believe that after three terms, 12 years, Sheriff Scott has advanced the Lee County Sheriff’s Office as far as he is able, leaving much to be done to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Sheriff’s Office. It is time.

Please support James Didio for Lee County Sheriff in the November 2016 General Election.

No political games, only public safety and law enforcement.

JamesDidioforSheriff.com

www.facebook.com/JamesDidioforLeeCountySheriff

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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