Incumbent Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the Republican candidate, is up against two challengers for his job in the Nov. 6 general election - Democrat Scott Swope and write-in candidate Greg Pound.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Gualtieri to the office of sheriff in 2011 after former Sheriff Jim Coats resigned early to spend more time his wife, who is battling breast cancer. Gualtieri defeated former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice with 57.36 percent of the vote in the Aug. 14 primary.
Tampa Bay Newspapers asked the three candidates to complete a questionnaire with information to help citizens decide whom to vote for in the upcoming election. Pound did not respond.
About the candidates
Gualtieri, 50, is originally from Syracuse N.Y. He’s been a resident of Pinellas County for 32 years. He and his wife Lauralee Westine, 40, have three children, ages 23, 21 and 6.
Swope, 43, of Palm Harbor, has lived in Pinellas for 35 years. He is married to Margaret Swope. The have two children ages 9 and 12.
Gualtieri began his career with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office 30 years ago working in the Pinellas County Jail. He then served as a Dunedin Police officer before returning to the sheriff’s office as a patrol deputy. He worked throughout the sheriff’s office for approximately 15 years before leaving to attend Stetson University College of Law.
After graduating from law school, he practiced civil litigation in Tampa. In 2006, Sheriff Jim Coats asked him to return the sheriff’s office as General Counsel. Sheriff Coats then appointed him as his Chief Deputy (second in command) where he was responsible for the day-to-day operations, as well as overseeing the delivery of legal services to the agency.
After graduating from Largo High School, Swope worked as a dispatcher for the Largo Police Department from 1986 to 1988. He then worked for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office from 1988 to 1994. According to his website, at age 19, he was the youngest deputy ever hired. While at the sheriff’s office, he worked as a field-training officer and served as a traffic homicide detective. He has a bachelor’s degree in business finance from the University of South Florida, which he earned while worked as a full-time deputy. He left the sheriff’s office to work on his law degree and currently share a law practice with his wife.
Swope said his business education, law enforcement experience, investigative experience, law school, quasi-judicial experience, as well as an even temperament and ability to lead others makes him qualified to serve as sheriff. He also pointed to his strong ties to the community.
When asked why he was more qualified than his opponent, Gualtieri said, “My opponent left the sheriff’s office as a deputy over 18 years ago and has not had any law enforcement experience in the past 18 years. My opponent has no law enforcement management or supervisory experience and when he worked in law enforcement, he only worked in patrol.
“My opponent has never prepared or been responsible for any aspect of the sheriff’s office budget. This is my fifth year preparing and being responsible for our budget and over the past four years, we have reduced our general fund budget by $108 million and eliminated 616 positions.”
Gualtieri explained that more than 50 percent of the Sheriff’s Office operation goes to operating the 3,200 inmate county jail.
“My opponent never worked in the jail, as I did, much less does he have any qualifications to run it as the sheriff. My opponent has neither investigative operations bureau nor judicial operations experience. The sheriff is responsible for court security at five court houses and serving hundreds of thousands of court orders and other judicial process each year,” he said. “I have hands-on and current management experience in all aspects of the sheriff’s office. I have also demonstrated that we can do ‘more with less’ as we have cut the budget and reduced crime by 12 percent over the last three years. Further, crime is down another 8 percent for the first half of 2012.”
Swope believes his business education makes him the better candidate.
“I have a finance education, which will enable me to properly manage a $212 million budget. I also have a clear sense of priority for public safety in law enforcement, while my opponent has proven that he does not share my same sense of priority,” he said.
Swope contends that the sheriff’s office has been mismanaged for several years. He said he wants to “restore integrity and public confidence in the sheriff’s office, focus limited resources on public safety law enforcement and restore the morale of the deputies.
“I want to make Pinellas County a safer place to raise a family,” he said.
Gualtieri said he wants to continue serving as sheriff “because I care about our community and I want to keep Pinellas County a safe place to live and work. I love my job and care deeply about our community.
“The most significant thing I want to accomplish is to continue operating the sheriff’s office in a cost-efficient and effective manner. First and foremost, I want to ensure we keep the county safe by continuing to reduce crime. We also need to effectively manage the jail population and maintain jail diversion programs that save taxpayer money.”
Biggest challenge ahead
Gualtieri said the most pressing issue facing the sheriff’s office “is keeping Pinellas County safe while working within a significantly reduced budget and dealing with a projected county general fund budget deficit of another $30 million over the next several years.
“The money is simply not there to add employees or services so we have to work within what we have,” he said.
Gualtieri said, if elected, he would continue to look for ways to operate efficiently and make budget reductions through consolidations.
“We have already cut much of what can be eliminated while maintaining adequate service levels. We now need to focus on functional consolidations with other county and city entities. There are duplicative services, such as dispatch services, that we can consolidate to save money countywide,” he said.
Swope agrees that the most pressing issue at the sheriff’s office is budgetary problems.
“When you have a law enforcement agency that is undergoing a significant budgetary crisis, you need the leader of that organization to have a clear focus on where those limited funds ought to be allocated,” he said. “Currently, they are being allocated wrong. The current interim sheriff has shown his inability to properly allocate limited resources when he eliminated the Fugitive Section, the DUI enforcement unit and the human trafficking task force detective. These cuts put the citizens of Pinellas County at greater risk. At the same time these cuts were being made, the interim sheriff was spending countless dollars on surveilling a legal business and raiding internet sweepstakes cafes. These two examples are just a few of the investigations that were performed at the cost of other major public safety issues.”
If elected, Swope said he would ensure that the limited resources were allocated with a clear sense of priority for public safety law enforcement, including reinstating the Fugitive Section, the DUI enforcement unit, and the human trafficking task force detective.”