By DUANE BOURNE, Times Staff Writer
STICKING TO ISSUES: Neither incumbent Sheriff Richard Nugent nor James "Eddie" McConnell want a negative campaign, so they're focusing on such problems as the sheriff's budget and the county's crime rate.
Nothing could cloud the race for the highest-ranking law enforcement official in Hernando County more than a few negative shots at one's opponent. So the two men vying for the office of sheriff have vowed not to do that.
Incumbent Sheriff Richard Nugent, a Republican, and Democratic challenger James "Eddie" McConnell, a detective with the Brooksville Police Department, say they will stick to issues - even more so than in 2000, when Nugent beat McConnell for the job by three percentage points.
After facing each other in one of the most heated election races four years ago, Nugent and McConnell both say they have a firm grasp of each other and the gist of their policies.
Now they are ready to dissect their differing opinions on issues, such as the sheriff's budget and fighting crime, and their experience.
Each man has a strong law enforcement background and believes he is right for the job.
In his second run for the job, McConnell says a successful campaign hinges on his promoting sound law enforcement strategies, not political grandstanding.
"The main focus of my campaign is crime prevention and reducing violent crime throughout Hernando County," said McConnell, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office who quit after his failed attempt at becoming sheriff.
He was later hired as a detective with the Crystal River Police Department before he joined the Brooksville Police Department in 2002.
McConnell cited wasteful spending and distrust among the department's rank and file over promotion procedures as reasons why the leadership of the department should change. He said low morale led to the recent push for unionization of the office's deputies.
McConnell said the elimination of unwarranted supervisory positions, such as the rank of major, would save the department as much as $200,000 annually.
He also believes the sheriff should be more open with both department employees and the public.
"I think the citizens need to know exactly what their sheriff is doing - how the money is spent and how it affects them," McConnell said.
He said his bottom-to-top approach to the job would establish a better rapport with sheriff's deputies and the communities they serve.
"If you can get morale up, that is the best advertisement any sheriff would have," he said.
Countered Nugent: "I hear him saying a lot of things, but I don't see a lot of things."
Nugent, who has worked for the Sheriff's Office since 1984, stands firmly behind his four-year record as sheriff.
He said he has placed more deputies on the roads, brought their salaries more in line with agencies of similar demographics and implemented a number of youth programs and summer camps that do not require funding by taxpayers.
Also, the new Sheriff's Tracking Accountability and Responsiveness to Crime Oppression Management program, or STARCOM, has placed more accountability on deputies and has reduced crime in the county, he said, although McConnell believes the county's population and the department's staffing are not adequate to accommodate the model.
"From all the trends, we will continue to see all decreases in crime," Nugent said.
The sheriff said that if McConnell's claims of low morale were true, the department would not be experiencing such low turnover. He said the agency's annual attrition rate is between 2 percent and 4 percent.
Nugent believes that when voters look at the qualifications of the two candidates, they will see him as the clear choice, as they did four years ago.
"I don't see it any different from 2000," he said. "I don't think his background has changed any since he lost in 2000. The bottom line is Eddie is a nice guy, but I don't think that is a qualification for sheriff."
RICHARD NUGENT, 53, of Spring Hill has been Hernando County sheriff since 2000. He has worked with the agency since 1984. Before that, he was a police officer in Romeoville, Ill. He is a native of Illinois. He has a bachelor's degree in criminology from Saint Leo University and a master's degree in public administration from Troy State University. Nugent has attended the FBI National Academy. He is chairman of the Hernando County Family YMCA board, chairman of the YMCA capital campaign, a member of the Hernando County Fair board, president of Youth Education Services, vice president of the Dawn Center board and a member of the Spring Hill Rotary Club. ASSETS: home, condominium in St. Augustine, savings accounts. LIABILITIES: mortgages. SOURCES OF INCOME: salary from the Sheriff's Office. WEB SITE: www.nugentforsheriff.com
JAMES "EDDIE" MCCONNELL, 51, lives south of Brooksville and is a detective in the criminal investigations division of the Brooksville Police Department, where he has worked since 2002. He worked at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office from 1978 to 2000, departing as a sergeant. He also has worked with the Florida Department of Corrections and the Crystal River Police Department. A lifelong resident of Hernando County, McConnell attended Saint Leo University and is a graduate of several law enforcement training programs in Florida. He is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and president of the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County. He is past president of the Suncoast Crime Prevention Association. McConnell is married and has four sons. ASSETS: home, rental property. LIABILITIES: home mortgage. SOURCES OF INCOME: Brooksville Police Department salary and state retirement benefits. E-MAIL: email@example.com WEB SITE: www.mcconnell4sheriff.com
The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer for Hernando County. The Sheriff's Office investigates crime in unincorporated Hernando, helps other agencies during accidents and emergencies and provides court security. The sheriff serves a four-year term; the salary will be $116,568.