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Early afternoon on Tuesday, October 2, the Monticello Woman's Club hosted a candidates' forum and meet-and-greet with the four candidates vying for the title of Jefferson County's Sheriff.
Candidates Mac McNeill, William Massey, Jerry Sutphin and Mike Fillyaw were present for the question-and-answers forum, which was followed by a cake and coffee social mingling with the citizens who attended.
Beginning the forum, each candidate had 3-5 minutes to share their campaign promises, their goal for the county, and their qualifications.
“In one month, we are going to make a really big decision and I think it's important that we know these guys,” said Woman's Club President Dianne Braren.
First to speak was Candidate Jerry Sutphin.
“The title of Sheriff demands a whole lot. Rather than just wearing a badge or wearing a gun, the Sheriff is a very, very important decision,” said Sutphin, who also mentioned his previous history in Jefferson County as a District 3 County Commissioner from 2004-2008.
The issues Sutphin focused on during his opening minute was that it is the responsibility of the Sheriff to ensure the safety of the JCSO employees and deputies while keeping the citizens safe; that Jefferson County is frequently a “spring board” where deputies are trained and given professional improvements before they move on to other, higher paying, counties and agencies; and that there is a need for transparency within the Sheriff's budget.
Sutphin mentioned his previous experience as a supervisor of 134 employees while he managed a company with a $10 million budget.
“The people of Jefferson County need to vote – I'd like them to vote for me, but they need to vote for somebody. It's a very important decision,” said Sutphin.
The second to speak was Mike Fillyaw.
Fillyaw shared that he has lived in Jefferson County for 23 years, and during that time, he had served with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in various roles since he was originally hired by Sheriff Fortune in 2000.
Starting out as a correctional officer, Fillyaw worked his way into becoming a road deputy and was a K9 officer at JCSO before he left the agency in 2007 for employment at the Florida Highway Patrol.
In 2016 he transferred into FHP's Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement division and decided later in the year that he would run for Sheriff in the next.
“I've always had the ambition to be Sheriff here. I've never hid that from anyone,” said Fillyaw.
Fillyaw shared that he planned to run a transparent agency, with the public staying informed on where the money within the Sheriff's budget would go, and that he'd work to eliminate the drug problem in Jefferson County.
“If you work on the drug problems, its going to help you with everything else,” said Fillyaw.
In addition, he aspired to run an agency that would provide exceptional service to the people of Jefferson County.
“Working for the State of Florida, I can transfer anywhere in the state – but I've chosen to stay here and try to build a career here and my family is here,” said Fillyaw in closing. “This is where I want to be.”
Third to speak was Jefferson County's current Sheriff Mac McNeill.
Born and raised in High Springs, FL, Sheriff McNeill shared that the town he grew up in was very similar to Monticello.
“I was raised working in tobacco and watermelons, in my Aunt's gas station and the local grocery store,” said Sheriff McNeill.
After graduating high school, McNeill joined the United States Marine Corp, where he spent four years, became a combat veteran of the first Gulf War, and was a noncommissioned officer as a sergeant.
After leaving the service, McNeill said that he used the GI bill to attend college and achieve his AA degree, and shortly after went to work at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, where he was employed for seven years as a patrol and investigations officer and a member of the SWAT team.
After receiving his BA in Criminal Justice, McNeill went to work with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and used his last 13 years at FDLE, where he was a Supervisor of the Governor's Security Detail and served Governors Bush, Christ and Scott.
In 2017, Governor Rick Scott asked McNeill to come to Jefferson County and oversee the remainder of Sheriff David Hobb's term following the death of Jefferson County's Sheriff.
“With new eyes, you can see different ways of doing things,” said Sheriff McNeill.
McNeill shared some of the successes his agency had made during the year he has been with the JCSO, such as: obtained a $91,000 FDLE grant for two new Tahoes; obtaining five surplus vehicles from other agencies, free to the county; arranged to obtain nine 911 consoles along with the parts and equipment to come with them; obtained 25 surplus tasers from FHP, free to the county; that the agency was in the final stages of finishing a grant that will allow the JCSO to employ a Victim Advocate that can go out and provide counsel to victims and assist victims through the court process; and the return of a K9 into the JCSO after years without one.
“A lot of people ask why I'm running. My original intent when I came here was not to run, but after I got here, people within the community and within the agency liked the direction we're heading and what we've accomplished, and asked me to stay – thats why I'm running,” said Sheriff McNeill. “I'm honored to be your Sheriff, and I'd be even more honored if I could earn your support and your vote in November.”
Finally, candidate William “Bill” Massey spoke.
Massey shared that he is a native of Jefferson County, married to Leona Massey, father of three children and a proud grandfather.
“I was born and raised here under the direction of my parents, siblings, neighbors and church members. I attended the schools of Jefferson County, and after graduation, attended Dillard University,” said Massey.
Afterward his college education, Massey said that he enlisted with the United States Army, and later received an honorable discharge.
When he returned to Jefferson County following his military service, Massey was employed by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, where he gained three decades of experience in law enforcement, and served in various levels at the JCSO.
“I know the importance of maintaining and administrative structure that empowers the staff,” said Massey. “My desires, determination and dedication to become the next Sheriff of Jefferson County stems from a long commitment to service. This desire is natural, because Jefferson County is my home.”
According to Massey, the community needs a Sheriff's Office that listens to the views and concerns of the communities, and he feels like the safety of that Jefferson County community deserves the best agency that can be provided.
“You can be assured that my service will always be fair and unbiased. And your safety and protection will always be my number one priority,” added Massey. “I am ready to provide the leadership needed to take Jefferson County to the next level.”
Massey completed his prepared speech ahead of his five minute time limit, so he added:
“I am Jefferson County. I feel like this job is mine. I was born and raised in Jefferson County, I attended schools in Jefferson County, graduated from Jefferson County, all my kids went to school here and graduated from Jefferson County. My wife has worked here in Jefferson County for the last 30 years. I almost feel like telling these guys [other three candidates] to back off my job. That's how I feel – I'm passionate about what I do. I'm passionate about taking care of the citizens of Jefferson County. I'm passionate about you, your family and your welfare. They say you can't satisfy everybody, but I say that can't stop me from trying, because I like peace and harmony.”
After all four candidates had been given ample time to provide their opening statements, the floor was opened to questions from the public.
Q: What personal experience or attributes do you have that qualifies you to plan and manage a multi-million dollar budget?
Fillyaw: “As far as the budget goes, I don't think any of us aside from Mr. Sutphin has had any experience with large budgets like we have at the Sheriff's Office. But I feel like I have the same experience, if not more, than the three previous Sheriffs we've had in office on their first term as the Sheriff with the budget we have now. We've got an office full of people over at the Sheriff's Office that are going to continue to work there that have been helping Sheriff McNeill with the same budget.”
Sutphin: “I was raised in West Virginia, where every nickel had to count. We didn't have much, so what we did have, [my father] taught me that when you spend it, you spend it wisely. The Sheriff's Budget is very complicated, because there's so many facets to what that budget's got to take care of. You got to take care of your equipment, your employees, your federal income tax, your retirement funds; just everything in the world hits the Sheriff's budget and something that's not really being brought out to the public a lot, is the Sheriff's budget includes operating and maintaining the jail. That's a big chunk of money right there. I had 134 employees in Saudi Arabia when I went over and set up a trucking company for a Saudi sheik. I had a $10 million budget, I never over-spent my budget, and I think that was prime experience right there. I've had businesses in Jefferson County – we've been here since 1998 – I've had as many as five companies going at one time.”
Massey: “I'm the type of person, I was tell the truth. I always be straightforward with people. I say that to say this: I haven't had any experience with budgets. But I do know that it's prepared annually, I do know that I'll have to take it to the County Commission and get it approved. I do know that things that are necessary and I think you have to look at it that way; some things are necessary and some things aren't. I'm pretty sure I can handle a budget, you just have to look at what's necessary and what's not necessary.”
McNeill: “I do have experience with a budget. The protective operations budget at FDLE is $3 million, and my job, as one of the supervisors, was to help manage that budget – the overtime, the travel costs, the agent assignments, how long the duration of the trips were. My job as a supervisor there was to manage that amount of money and make sure we stayed within that budget. I also have experience with this year's [JCSO] budget. It was successfully passed without any issues through the County Commission; it was actually lower than last year's budget and we did that by being more efficient about the ways we were spending money.”
Q: What's the cost per-day per-inmate?
McNeill: “It's about $85.”
Massey: “I have actually looked into that, and believe it or not, I was going to say $84.”
Sutphin: “I was going to say being $60-$80. I haven't really looked at that stat.”
Q: What is the average length of time that you have an inmate in the Jefferson County Jail's custody?
McNeill: “You're supposed to not be in the County Jail more than a year. You'll find that that's not the way it works, and as slow as the judicial system is running, as backed up as they are, that's the problem we run into. We can only move these prisoners as fast as the judicial system will allow us. I would say 4-5 months is the average time of stay. Some are in and out real quick, some are longer. It just depends on how long the State Attorney and the judges can get them through the system.”
Sutphin: “Once a person is convicted and sentenced to the Department of Corrections, it may take them a month to two months, so we've still got to house them and take care of them.” (Fillyaw refuted that, stating that the JCSO transfers the convicted felons out to the Department of Corrections facility).
Q: What is the turn-over rate at JCSO, and what can you do to keep these deputies?
Fillyaw: “I can tell you, from the aspect of being a deputy, morale is a big thing. If you feel like you're being stepped on all the time, you're not wanting to work, you're not wanting to do anything. You'll want to find someplace else. The way to get morale up is to show some positivity towards the deputies. If they do good, put them in the newspaper, pat them on the back, let them be the one out front; if they are out there doing good and looking good, they are making the Sheriff look good.”
McNeill: “Unfortunately, with our budget, we'll never be able to compare to Leon [pay], they will always beat us by $10,000. We're going to struggle with that. What we'll want to do is keep our agency within reach of them. The deputies will take a look, and say 'I can make a little bit more money in Tallahassee, but the quality of life is better here, the agency is better and the quality of work is better'. What you want, is you want to keep our pay competitive, but when they look over and see a $10,000-$15,000 raise, it's very hard to keep them.”
Sutphin: “I would like to initiate and start a pay-step plan, which, the department, as far as I know, does not have at this time. If you serve so much time, with a clean bill, no write-ups, or anything like that, then, let's say hypothetically, then you're going to get a [pay] increase to the next step. Along with that, the civilian workers too will have a pay-step plan.”
Massey: “One of the things I heard [while employed as Captain at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office], was that the upper echelon had favorites – they didn't like that. Another issue I heard from the deputies was that 'the pay isn't that good, but if they just made the pay a bit more tolerable...' then they'd have stayed. There's a lot of underlining issues. You can't please everybody at the same time, but you can try.”
Q: When you hire a deputy, how much is invested in training and equipment?
McNeill: “You have to do a background check on them, which takes time and man hours. Then you want to make sure they are medically sound to be a deputy, that costs money. Then you have to outfit them, uniform them, give them a firearm, order them a vest, get them completely uniformed to do their job. Then you have to train them; there's a 16-week training cycle they'll go through. You've got to pay them while they are training, as well as the deputy that is training them. Then, when they are out, they get a vehicle and all the equipment that goes into the car. Nowadays, these vehicles can go for $40,000-$50,000 once they are fully equipped. There's a lot of money that you put into these deputies, that's why it's so important to keep them. We started a three-year contract now, where once they come in, they sign a three-year contract with us. They agree to give us three years, and we hope that within those three years, they'll be set into the agency and see the pro's of staying.”
Q: Will you be visible to the community?
Mike Fillyaw: “My plan is to be very personable with the community. I want to do town-hall style meetings so I can get the people together and they can let me know what's going on in their neighborhoods, and I can let you know what you need to be watching for if we're having a crime spree. That way, we can get in touch with each other, and that will build a rapport with the Sheriff's Office, it builds that trust. I can assure you that I will be around.”
Sutphin: “The position of a Sheriff is a 24/7 position. If I'm fortunate enough to be elected to be your Sheriff, you will see me, but I will be out there 24.7 at different times. You may see me out there on SR 19, or the interstate at 3 o'clock in the morning backing up a deputy during a traffic stop. I will be there. If I hear on the radio, and I'm at home, that there's a deputy going into a dangerous situation and there's nobody to back him up, my car is sitting there ready to go. I will be there.”
Following Woman's Club Candidate Forum on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m., the Monticello-Jefferson Chamber Of Commerce sponsored another candidate forum that same evening at 7 p.m. To read about the questions posed to the Sheriff Candidates at that forum as well as their answers, pick up next week's issue of The Monticello News.
Also, make sure the Chamber of Commerce's Thursday, October 9 candidate forum for County Commission and City Council seats is marked on your calendar; the October 9 forum will be held at 7 p.m., in the Jefferson County Courthouse.