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 Sergeant Eller.
My name is Stephanie Eller and I am a candidate for Lee County Sheriff. I have lived in Lee County since 1975. I am a graduate of Bishop Verot High School and the former Edison Community College, now Florida Southwestern, where I completed programs in Education and Criminal Justice. I obtained my BSM and MS in Management at the former International College, now Hodges University. I worked at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years but had to leave due to the State of Florida resign to run laws. While there, I held the positions of Records Clerk, Patrol Deputy, District Detective, Youth Services Detective, School Resource Officer Sergeant, Public Information Officer, and Patrol Sergeant.
During my 15 years at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office I witnessed many decisions that were not relevant to serving and protecting the citizens. I realized we had lost focus of our core competency: “To protect and serve.” I also witnessed reckless and irresponsible spending, but watched the citizens and reporters who questioned these expenditures become easily “pacified” with an alarming response of “We can’t cut any money from public safety!” Many citizens were comfortable with the response, yet many realized there was something seriously wrong. I was, and remain, one of the latter.
When I made the decision to run for sheriff, I had an opportunity to speak with a former elected official who wanted to hear what I had to say. Once he realized I had the practical experience as a law enforcement officer, a college education including a Masters in Management, had successfully managed a family business, and had the discipline to become debt-free, he knew I had something special. He told me to get a 5 point plan on paper and to tell everyone about it.
Here is my 5 point plan:
- Cut the fat at the top. There have been 3 ranks added to this sheriff’s bloated bureaucracy: Colonel, Commander and Executive Staff Officer. These will be eliminated. While these high-salary positions were added, two subordinate ranks were eliminated: Corporal and Master Corporal. A new rank structure and step plan allowing employees to test, train and advance will be implemented.
- Put more boots on the ground. “Immediately reviewing Every Position in the Sheriff’s Office Top to Bottom to Address the Bloated Bureaucracy and ensuring the Every Tax Dollar Entrusted to the Sheriff is spent with You, the Taxpayer in mind.” (Mike Scott Campaign Flyer, 2004 – punctuation as printed in flyer). Utilize those resources for their intended purpose – protection and service to Lee County citizens.
- Target high-crime areas – With these extra boots on the ground. 24/7 presence in these communities and not working them “in between other calls.” Negotiations with the county for homes/buildings owned by the county to establish substations in these areas.
- Fiscally responsible spending. Eliminate duplicate and nonessential positions. I plan to revisit and re-establish some part-time positions. District Commanders will participate in community events rather than wasting law enforcement dollars hiring personnel to go to speaking engagements and luncheons. Review purchasing practices when making decisions on costly outsourcing such as the medical and food contracts at the jail.
- Reduce employee turnover. Establish a wage structure to be competitive with surrounding law enforcement agencies. I will immediately conduct a forensic audit to determine where expenses can be cut and utilize these cuts to boost the standard of living for all employees.
Although this is my plan, these are not my only areas of concern. I will make improvements in the community policing program and be more transparent with the media. My philosophy is, “The public has a right to know and government agencies have a responsibility to keep them informed.” We cannot be reckless with information and hamper investigations, but we should never tell the media “no comment” when citizens are quivering in fear. I also plan to address the number of mentally ill inmates filling our jails. Throughout the country there are agencies addressing untreated mental illness. We need to tap into the success stories taking place elsewhere and bring them here. Many of our homeless citizens are mentally ill, commit minor crimes, go to jail, never receive treatment, get released, commit minor crimes, go to jail, never receive treatment, and on and on it goes. We pay plenty to keep these men and women in jail. We need to imagine what it would look like if we used some of that money to duplicate successful programs from elsewhere and use the jails to house criminals – not the mentally ill.
I had seen too much waste, complacency and lack of focus on serving and protecting in the sheriff’s office. I knew change was needed. State law required me to ‘resign to run’ so I sacrificed my job to run for sheriff as I saw there were no viable candidates, and therefore, no hope for change. In the words of past leaders I asked myself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” With the support of friends and family I filed to run for sheriff and am looking forward to once again serving the citizens of Lee County.