The forum June 22 was the first to include all candidates in the race.
The county's nine candidates for sheriff spoke of their qualifications and their vision for the agency before a crowd of about 350 people June 22 in a forum hosted by the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association at the Portuguese American Cultural Center of Palm Coast.
Of the nine candidates, just two — incumbent Sheriff Jim Manfre and retired Flagler County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Larry Jones — are Democrats.
Former NYPD officer and current local teacher Thomas Dougherty has no party affiliation.
The remaining six candidates — Jacksonville County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant John Lamb, Holly Hill Police Department Lieutenant Christopher Yates, former Flagler County sheriff Donald Fleming, U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Mark Whisenant, former New York City prison warden Gerard O’Gara and former Flagler County undersheriff Rick Staly — are Republicans.
The forum June 22 was the first to place all of the nine candidates together. A forum held by the Flagler County Young Republican Club June 2 included only the six Republican candidates.
Here's what candidates said when asked what they believe the Sheriff's Office needs.
Question: What is the biggest need of the Sheriff's Office right now, and what would you do to fill that need?
Sheriff Jim Manfre, incumbent: The biggest need is manpower. We have one of the lowest rates of officers per 1,000 in the area. The national average is about 2.1 deputies per 1,000. We're at 1.24. ... Our service calls just the past three years have increased by 40,000 — almost 30%. So, obviously, at some time we have to start increasing our manpower, understanding economic issues that are confronted by the county. We have decreased upper management by seven and increased deputies by seven, but there are still six authorized positions I did not fill, simply because of budgetary constraints.
Larry Jones: We need a leader who's a police officer who knows police officers, knows where they stand at, and we also need, like the sheriff said, is manpower. Because we have lost a lot of deputies recently in the Sheriff's Office, so we need to do something about getting people here who'll be able to stay here instead of wandering off to another agency. Get them here, and keep them here.
Thomas Dougherty: The biggest need is: You have to have a sheriff who's a communicator. If you have a sheriff who can communicate with the public and with his police officers, you're going have a very good police department. The manpower situation is what it is. I'm a big believer in education and communication. So if you have a sheriff who believes in those two — do everything you can to keep the public informed on what's going on — and if you're a good communicator, then everything falls into place.
Donald Fleming: I think the biggest need we have is the retention of deputies that we have. Not only that, but the ability to go out and train these deputies to make them a better deputy that's on the road. Also, we need to have the ability to lure people into this community, or deputies who're female and male, in the jail and on the road. Also, we need to spice up the Sheriff's Office by giving them the benefits and the care that they need to have.
John Lamb: First: leadership, and experience. We need to establish a career development plan within the Sheriff's Office where people have identified what they want to do in the Sheriff's Office and make sure they're getting the skills and the development to be the best that they possibly can. ... So, first, career development. Leadership development. You need to have leadership development: Identify the leadership within your agency, and start developing to, then, succession plan. Identify who's going to replace people down the road as people retire. Also, competitive: Flagler County's the second lowest paid to Putnam County in the northeast area. We're losing candidates, we're losing applicants — and actually veteran applicants — to other agencies because of pay and opportunities. We need to encourage them, we need to have a strong recruitment. And more importantly, enthusiasm. If I show you an enthusiastic leader, I'll show you an enthusiastic workforce.
Gerard O'Gara: They need support from the top. The morale is not where it used to be. We need to give them what they need, when they need it. They need job security, a proper career path, good pay and benefits. That's not asking too much. That's the basics. If we give them those basics, they will serve us the best they can be. We'll have a safer neighborhood, and it will increase the value of our property. They are already very, very trained. They're very good officers. I've seen them, I work with them, I talk to them. They don't need any more than what we can give them.
Rick Staly: Well, it's leadership and staffing — benefits goes along with staffing issues ... — I'm the only candidate who's commanded 2,000 men and women, second in command in the fourth-largest sheriff's office in the state of florida. And I lead by example. Probably the only undersheriff who's made arrests or booked them in myself. With staffing issues, 1.3 deputy sheriffs per 1,000 residents, well you fill that by using reserves, by using public service officer sand some additional deputies. Increase the benefits so you can attract and retain the employees.
Mark Whisenant: The biggest need right now is retaining the quality of people that we have, the men and women who serve Flagler County every night. Right now from our doorstep, what I'm planning to do, what we're planning to do, is bring unity back to the Sheriff's Office. We're going to empower the deputies with equipment. They're going to have a say. They're all leaders. When they said they were going uphold the constitution and took an oath, they became a leader that day. Veterans will take number one priority status — we have a lot of good veterans — toward our recruitment, and we're going to recruit quality veterans that served our country. They will take number one priority. And I will not take a raise while I'm in office. The raises will go towards the deputies. I will work hand in hand with the county commissioners to fight for their raises, and they will be protected.
Christopher Yates: I think the biggest issue we have in the Sheriff's Office right now is morale. I've worked with a lot of these guys, and from the neighborhood and everything, and they're upset. They want a leader who is going be here, and be there to support them. As far as pay, I'll give you an example: I worked in the city of Holly Hill. We had a $2.4 million budget for our police department. The city of Palm Coast has a $3 million budget for their police, or their Sheriff's Office. The city of Holly Hill is less than four square miles. ... Second thing is, is our recruitment, we need to go out to all the schools and recruit the top-notch candidates from these classes, the academy classes. And select them in a hiring process that limits or weeds out the non-par people, and only hire the best officers that we can.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that Sheriff Jim Manfre said his administration has "decreased upper management by seven."