Ashley Hunter, ECB Publishing, Inc.
For the second time in one day, the four candidates vying for the title of Jefferson County's Sheriff met on Tuesday, October 2.
Beginning the evening, all candidates provided an opening statement that included a list of their experience, goals for candidacy and their history in Jefferson County.
First to speak was democratic candidate William “Bill” Massey.
A native of Jefferson County, Massey served in the army before he received an honorable discharge.
Returning home, Massey was hired by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO), where he received three decades of experience in law enforcement and served at various levels within the agency.
“I will make the Sheriff's Office more accessible, responsive, inclusive. More open, and more visible and also active throughout the entire county,” said Massey. “I am ready to provide the leadership needed to take Jefferson County to the next level.”
Next to speak was NPA candidate Mike Fillyaw.
While not a native of Jefferson County, Fillyaw has lived in the county for 23 years and started his law enforcement career at JCSO as a correctional officer.
Fillyaw worked in the jail for many years before becoming a deputy, a member of the SWAT team and a K9 officer at JCSO.
In 2007, Fillyaw went for work for the FHP, where he remained employed until taking a leave of absence in order to run for the seat of Jefferson County Sheriff.
“I will run a transparent agency, a responsive agency, and I will not waste tax payers money. I want the citizens to know their tax dollars are being spent wisely and correctly,” said Fillyaw.
The third candidate to speak was republican candidate and incumbent Sheriff Mac McNeill.
Born and raised in rural High Springs, FL, McNeill spoke of his childhood of working in tobacco and watermelon fields, gas stations and local grocery and feed stores.
Out of high school, McNeill joined the United States Marine Corps and became a combat veteran in the first Gulf War and was awarded the Marine Combat Action Ribbon.
Leaving the Marines as a noncommissioned Sergeant, McNeill used the G.I. Bill to attend college and achieve his AA degree.
After graduating college, McNeill was employed by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office for a little over seven years with also enrolled to his receive his bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice.
After being granted his Bachelors, McNeill was employed by the FDLE, where he was hired as a special agent and assigned to the Governor's Protection Detail; there, he served 11 out of 13 years as a supervisor within the detail.
In 2017, Gov. Scott asked McNeill to take over the remainder of Jefferson County's Sheriff Hobbs' term time.
“With new eyes, you can see different ways of doing things; more effect, more efficient ways of doing things. While people talk about what they want to do and what they think they can do, I can tell you what I have done,” said McNeill. “I started in a Sheriff's Office, I love the Sheriff's Office and this is like coming home. I'm honored to be your Sheriff, and I'd be even more honored to earn your confidence, your support, your vote and continue to be your Sheriff in Jefferson County.”
NPA candidate Jerry Sutphin was the final candidate to provide his opening statement to the audience at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
First, Sutphin thanked the Monticello-Jefferson Chamber of Commerce for organizing the event and the event audience for their attendance.
Sutphin retired as a deputy sheriff in Brevard County in 1998 with over 20 years of experience, four years in the Air Force, and a year in the National Guard.
The oldest of the four candidates, Sutphin also cleared up any misconceptions the public might have about his health and physical fitness for the role of Sheriff.
“I have the ability and experience required for the task,” said Sutphin.
In addition to his opening statement and the question-and-answer forum, Sutphin also privided printed-out bios for the public to take and review.
Sutphin clarified that he is not running with the intent to change anything that Sheriff Hobbs started, but plans to improve on the programs that Sheriff Hobbs began.
“Jefferson County deserves to have the lowest crime rate in the state,” said Sutphin.
After all three candidates had been given ample time to provide their statements, Moderator Ron Cichon provided a welcome to the audience and introduced the evening's two panelists: Bob Davis, a broker at Edward Jones; and David Ward, a retired public official.
Without further ado, the panelists presented their questions to the four candidates:
Q: What can we do to stem the loss of good personnel from the department?
McNeill: “We'll never match what Tallahassee pays. We can stay in step and keep [the pay close], and they (the deputies) can look and go: 'I'll make a little bit more money in Tallahassee, but I'm much happier here in this agency.' That's our goal. Protection of our citizens is our number one concern, but troop welfare is very, very important. You need to do the utmost that you can to keep your men happy.”
Sutphin: “Creating a step plan for the pay grades for employees. Have a policy for what the employee starts at; once you finish your requirements for the next level, then that's what you'll (Sheriff's Office employees) be making.”
Fillyaw: “Keeping the morale up, and continuing to provide the service for the community with the deputies that are there.”
Massey: “I believe in a possible step-pay play, and possibly a longevity bonus. Other than that, I believe in dealing with morale; morale has a lot to do with it.”
Q: How would you describe your management style?
Massey: “I guess you would describe my leadership style as someone who is transactional. I believe in inspiring; I believe in inspiring the staff.”
Fillyaw: “Mine would be 'lead by example'. Live good, show good, and I believe that the guys who work for me would get out and do the same if they see me out working and spending time with the community.”
McNeill: “I'm really more of a transformational type, I like being able to empower people, I like being able to set goals and have us all move through those goals together; but there is times in this job as Sheriff when you have to leave that, and you may have to become more authoritative.”
Sutphin: “My position on that is, if I am elected Sheriff, I will be a 24-Hour Sheriff. I will be available.”
Q: What do you feel is the biggest issue is facing our county?
All candidates shared a mutual agreement that drug related crimes were a large aspect of Jefferson County's primary criminal activities.
Q: What significant thing would you like to accomplish or change in the Sheriff's Office?
Sutphin: “I would like to improve on the efficiency of the employees we have.”
McNeill: “Raise the pay for deputies. That will be my goal.”
Fillyaw: “Get the pay up, get more grants involved in the Sheriff's Office, continue to build on what Sheriff Hobbs has started, get the morale back up to where it needs to be and build that relationship with the community.”
Massey: “I will like to work on the deputies getting more involved with the kids. Then, I'd like to come up with a way to check on my elders. I'd also like to make sure that the working environment at the Sheriff's Office is a tolerable environment.”
Q: What's the single-most innovative idea you have for making this a better and more efficient Sheriff's Office?
Massey: “Communication. When I say communication, I want that communication to flow from my employees to the public.”
Fillyaw: “I believe in an open door policy for the employees and the citizens of the county. It means a lot to the community when you can just pick up the phone and give [the sheriff] a call.”
McNeill: “Better ways and more effective ways of getting equipment and spending money.”
Sutphin: “The relationship between the Sheriff's Office and the citizens. You have to establish a rapport with the citizens and the Sheriff's Department.”
After the panelist had presented their questions and all four of the candidates provided an answer, Emcee Cichon announced a brief intermission to allow the audience to fill out their own questions and return the slips of paper back to the panelists. The brief interval also allowed the audience to mingle with the candidates before the four vying Sheriff candidates returned to their place at the front of the courtroom to answer the citizen's questions.
Q: “How would you Sheriff's Department handle animal abuse cases?”
Massey: “Just like any other case that's a crime. We will investigate and do what's necessary.”
Fillyaw: “I'd like to send a couple of the deputies to animal abuse classes so that they'll have firsthand experience on some of the issues we have here.”
McNeill: “We get so wrapped up in the human aspect of this job that we sometimes forget about the animal aspect of this job, and in a rural community, we get this a lot. That's why, this month, we have the Humane Society putting on an animal abuse and neglect class for our deputies, and Rainbow Edge is putting on a second part of that class to teach our deputies how to handle horses and other livestock. We're very proud about that and it's something that's new to our agency”
Sutphin: “Jefferson County has an animal control officer and he or she responds to that. That officer should have the training, while I don't think, until this new program that the Sheriff got, the deputies know how to handle that. Training is number one, knowing how to handle and respond to those calls.”
Q: Will you consider running for re-election after two years?
Sutphin: “I will consider anything to keep the public protected.”
McNeill: “Yes – even though I wasn't born here, I plan to retire here.”
Fillyaw: “Yes, most definitely. If I get elected this time, I will be back and we will be doing this again.”
Massey: “I am well invested in Jefferson County – I'm not going anywhere.”
Q: “What would you do to enforce illegal immigration?
Massey: “Unfortunately, this is part of our workforce. But, it's also against the law – that's what the Sheriff's Department is here for: to enforce the law.”
Fillyaw: “We will take all appropriate action, enforce the laws that we have on the books and will continue to enforce any new laws that come out.”
McNeill: “It is unfortunate, but they are a part of the workforce and I understand how important it is – but the law of the land is the law of the land, and that's what we are going to enforce.”
Sutphin: “To answer that question honestly, my employees will not go out and take ICE's job and go look for these illegals. If they are involved in a crime or an incident, and they are are illegal, we will take them into custody.”
Q: What ideas do you have to make tax dollars go further in the Sheriff's Office budget?
Massey: “I would have to study the budget. As far as saving money, it's a matter of looking at what's necessary in the department.”
Fillyaw: “I would continue to try to work in and look for grants and continue to communicate with surrounding agencies. I'm not going to sacrifice the safety of the community or officers in order to save a few dollars.”
McNeill: “Look at the budget you have and find other ways to do things; you just have to look for better and more efficient ways. You have to find ways to save money without endangering your citizens or endangering your employees.”
Sutphin: “To take care of the budget that's been approved, I would gain civilian volunteers for a neighborhood crime watch. This budget for the next year has already been set and approved and whoever is elected Sheriff will need to look at it and make ends meet without jeopardizing the safety of the deputies or community.”
The Monticello-Jefferson Chamber of Commerce will host another candidate forum on Tuesday, October 16 for candidates running for County Commission and City Council seats. The forum will be held at 7 p.m., in the Jefferson County Courthouse. Be sure to mark your calendar!