|Reflections of 15 months in office as Wakulla County Sheriff DEC 2012|
REFLECTIONS OF 15 MONTHS IN OFFICE AS WAKULLA COUNTY SHERIFF
With only a few short weeks left in my appointed term, I have been reflecting on a few things that I have had on my mind. Being sheriff for 15 months after working in law enforcement for nearly 40 years has been an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I want to thank Florida Governor Rick Scott for showing the confidence in me when he was tasked with the job of appointing a new sheriff in Wakulla County. Our paths have crossed several times in the months that followed my interview in the Governor’s office in Tallahassee. Despite some difficult decisions and the political harangue encountered during the 2012 campaign season, I would say that it has been a mostly memorable and pleasant experience.
The Office of Sheriff of Wakulla County is not an easy job and it requires great experience and patience as you deal with the everyday tasks that encompass a large office. The sheriff operates the jail for the county commission and locking up and caring for 250 individuals is always challenging. Adding to the challenge is that more than 100 of the people in the jail are Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees who rent bed space from the county.
Since the ICE detainees are our “guests” we must follow a stringent set of regulations in order to continue to house the detainees and collect the revenue that the housing arrangements provide for Wakulla County. Since ICE provides a large chunk of money to Wakulla County we feel it is in our best interests to continue the arrangement.
The following are a few other things that I have encountered from the time I was appointed on Oct. 1, 2011:
One of the most important goals was to reorganize law enforcement management which involved reducing the ranks of many of our officers. As Sheriff, I felt that we needed less rank in order to operate in a more efficient manner.
We have far fewer captains in the agency, but the officers who experienced a reduction in rank did not receive a pay cut. I felt it was very important to remember that the WCSO employees have not received a pay raise in four years.
Salaries of the WCSO employees are low, including those who hold rank. This is not something that I am proud of and I would like to see more competitive salaries as the county improves its financial position.
I have, however, taken advantage of every cost saving opportunity. For example, four of the 10 captains that we started out the budget year with in October 2011 have since retired. I have replaced those positions with entry level positions and this cut along with other items has allowed us to reduce the WCSO law enforcement budget by more than $100,000 during the 2012-2013 budget process.
We have established other major cost saving efforts through strong purchasing controls, designed to spend money only on essential items needed to perform the job. Personnel costs have been kept down by monitoring time cards. Overtime pay is very rarely approved and has been replaced by compensatory time when additional time on the job is warranted.
I set a goal with the county administrator to save enough money in order to pay for additional costs that came with the change in the jail medical contract.
This new contract cost the county an additional $400,000 a year because additional staff was required to be hired. We all agreed that we had to protect the jail bed contract with ICE that brings in a net profit of $1.7 million each year.
Additional jail bed revenues are estimated to cover the cost of the 2012-2013 budget year, however money was neither available nor budgeted for to cover the cost in the 2011-2012 budget. The entire WCSO staff has worked hard in areas of both operating and personnel in order to save the additional $200,000 needed in order to pay the medical contract. I am pleased and proud to tell you that we stepped up and have cut in order to pay this additional contract fee in 2011-2012. County reserves did not have to be spent to cover the unexpected cost.
WCSO AGENCY RECOGNITION
The WCSO was recently recognized for developing a comprehensive traffic safety program by the Florida Department of Transportation. At the Florida Law Enforcement Challenge Ceremony in July, the WCSO received the first place award in our category. The award has allowed us to acquire traffic related equipment to better serve the citizens of Wakulla County. The equipment was acquired at no cost to our taxpayers.
We were also recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice when our application for funding three new law enforcement officers was approved in June 2012.
We are also operating our Law Enforcement Budget on the same number of positions we had in 2006.
In September, we were thrilled to be part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Missing Children’s Day at the Florida Capitol. Sgt. Ronald Mitchell and K-9 Gunny were nominated for the K-9 Trailing Team of the Year for their work in locating a missing child in October 2011. Sgt. Mitchell and Gunny won the award which covered the entire State of Florida and many, many K-9 Units at agencies from Pensacola to Key West.
In our continued efforts to keep unwanted and outdated medications off the street, the sheriff’s office took part in a recent National Drug Take Back Day. Three deputies spent four hours on a Saturday collecting unwanted medications from the public. The deputies were posted in Panacea, Wakulla Station and Crawfordville and collected 24 pounds of material from the public.
The sheriff’s office also has a collection bin in the lobby which is available to the public 24 hours a day. The combined efforts of having the bin available for citizens and going out to the public for collections has allowed us to get a great deal of medications off the streets and away from individuals who might abuse or accidentally use the medications. In addition, by properly disposing of the medications through the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) we know that the unwanted medications will not end up hurting our environment.
We used a zero budgeting approach to carefully evaluate and assess the true needs of every department. In these difficult economic times we have managed to return $582,988 back to the county in the past four years. The budget process ended with the beginning of the 2012-2013 budget year on Oct. 1. If anyone wants to review the sheriff’s office budget it is posted at www.wcso.org. The sheriff’s office doors have always been open to anyone who wanted information about the budget and sections are easily identified by their line items. Although many comments during the campaign were made regarding “speculation” on how the WCSO uses and reports taxpayer dollars, I want the citizens to be aware that none of the individuals came by to learn the truth.
TERESA MAE EHRISMAN CASE
A 41-year-old Pierre, S.D. woman and former resident of Crawfordville entered a plea to a charge of exploitation of the elderly Tuesday, Oct. 30 in Wakulla County Circuit Court. Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson presided over the legal proceeding.
Adjudication was withheld and Teresa Mae Ehrisman was assigned 48 months of supervised probation. She will be allowed to serve her probation in South Dakota. She will also be required to pay the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office $4,549.95 in restitution for the cost of extradition when the husband and wife team of Sgt. Ronald Mitchell and Deputy Vicki Mitchell drove to South Dakota in the middle of the winter to bring Ehrisman back to Wakulla County to face the charges. She was also charged with grand theft but the charge was subsumed into the exploitation charge due to double jeopardy.
Ehrisman will also pay $50,000 in restitution to the victim in the criminal portion of the case and another $75,000 in restitution will be paid as a result of a parallel civil case filed by the victim.
Ehrisman was assigned as the victim’s guardian by the courts in 2007. She remained in the position until 2009 when another guardian was appointed. When the new guardian was appointed, she observed discrepancies in the victim’s bank accounting.
The WCSO investigated all the court orders and account bookkeeping and discovered double payments to Ehrisman through checks. Checks were also observed that were written to Ehrisman’s company along with unexplained transfers made by telephone and e-mail. All of the checks were signed by Ehrisman.
Ehrisman was taken into custody by the Hughes County, South Dakota Sheriff’s Office in January 2012 and was held until she was transported back to Wakulla County by Sgt. Mitchell and Deputy Mitchell.
Lorena Bueno served as the prosecutor from the State Attorney’s Office. She said the WCSO Financial Crimes Division did an outstanding job investigating and strengthening the criminal case which resulted in a quick resolution of the civil case as well.
Two Tallahassee individuals were involved in a crack cocaine bust in Crawfordville. The narcotics unit arrested the man and woman in northern Wakulla County after conducting undercover narcotics purchases through them earlier in the year.
The sheriff’s office continues to use new technology to assist us to better serve the citizens of Wakulla County. The Speed Spies are deployed on roads when the WCSO wants to know how many vehicles use the road, the peak periods the roads are being used and the speeds of motorists on the road. This information helps us design road patrols that will help to keep the county motorists safe.
The WCSO used video technology to catch a suspect who stole and used credit cards belonging to a Crawfordville woman. With the help of video technology the sheriff’s office was able to positively identify the suspect who was arrested in a traffic stop in Franklin County.
The sheriff’s office donated 10 vehicle seats to the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches to allow the Ranches to transport young ranch residents in facility vehicles. The Youth Ranches did not have the funding necessary to purchase the needed car seats and we were happy to step in and provide 10 seats to them.
One of our longtime serving officers retired earlier this year and we were able to show him how much we cared about his service over the past 30 years. Captain Larry Massa retired from the agency and has moved to Tallahassee with his wife. Larry wore many hats while he was employed with the sheriff’s office and was a dedicated employee. One area where Larry had a major impact was through his connection to community volunteers. Many of the volunteers attended his retirement party. Through his efforts, the WCSO was able to offer a number of events and activities that were of great benefit to the community but did not cost the taxpayers of the county any money. We appreciate all of the contributions to the agency he made over the years.
Larry received a plaque and a wall hanging from former Sheriff David Harvey and me. The wall hanging contained his service firearm, an American flag that flew at the WCSO flag pole, pictures from the past and badges.
The event was held at the senior citizens center and a room full of guests wished Larry and Sue well as they turned the page in their lives. It was also nice to see Larry’s family members attend the event.
Each year the WCSO Training Center and Firing Range hosts Greenwing Day. Parents and their children have the opportunity to learn about firearm safety while also shooting weapons, competing in sporting clay competitions and learning how to handle a bow and arrow.
Boys and girls of a variety of ages love the event which includes a picnic and membership in the Wakulla Greenwing Club. Greenwing is part of Ducks Unlimited.
When they got to the capsized boat, they realized that all of the humans on the boat were accounted for but two dogs were missing. Nigel Safe dove into the river and swam under the boat to retrieve one terrified dog. When the second dog was determined to be still missing, Nigel dove back under the boat and retrieved that animal as well. His bravery and quick thinking saved the lives of the two dogs that would have eventually drowned. The owners of the dogs were wet and cold but relieved that their animals survived the ordeal.
I also want to thank Joseph B. and Alida Schaffer of Crawfordville for their continued support of the Florida Sheriff’s Association Youth Ranches. The Schaffers began contributing to help the youths of Florida 25 years ago. The Ranches help boys and girls from all over Florida including several individuals from Wakulla County.
The WCSO also worked with the U.S. Marshal’s Office to bring a sexual offender back to the United States. The absconder was in Southeast Asia when he was caught and sent back to our jurisdiction to face his charges. He had failed to register in Wakulla County as a sexual offender as required by statute.
WAKULLA COUNTY UNITY
Congratulations to Sheriff-Elect Charlie Creel on his Nov. 6 General Election victory over Major Maurice Langston. Now that we have finally come to the end of the 2012 election cycle, it is very important for all of Wakulla County to gather around Charlie Creel and support him as he takes on the challenges he will face. What is truly important for everyone is keeping Wakulla County safe from crime and to feel safe.
We must come back together as a county and remember that Public Safety is our number one concern. We can only do that if the entire community gets behind the sheriff-elect and support him and allow him to have a successful tenure.
Maurice Langston has been an outstanding law enforcement officer and Wakulla County has been lucky to have such a dedicated law enforcement veteran like Maurice to help Keep Wakulla Safe. He served in all aspects of law enforcement and was a great credit to our agency. I want to personally thank him for his many years of dedicated service.
My time as Sheriff has been short, but my time with the WCSO has been lengthy. We are proud of our rural county agency and will continue to strive to keep Wakulla County a peaceful and safe place for you and your family.
Have a blessed holiday season!