tampabay.com

Hard to miss sheriff, but his agency did

A Times Editorial
Published October 1, 2006


Sheriff Bob White meet your alter ego, Deputy White.

No first name needed. You share the same badge number, 2121.

It's an easy-to-remember number. Think black jack. Or, the legal drinking age, or even the famous speakeasy-turned-restaurant in midtown Manhattan, Club 21.

It seems like a natural progression from, or testimonial to, the sheriff's previous job with the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

The badge number came into play on a Saturday afternoon in May when White, the sheriff, pursued and then stopped a speeder in what turned into a high-profile traffic encounter.

White got lots of ink and derisive chuckles for pulling over Randall Kernan and then failing to follow the standard procedure of running a background check on the driver. Such a check would have revealed records showing Kernan did not have a valid operator's license. The sheriff, however, did write Kernan a speeding ticket and included his signature, R.L. White; his title and the aforementioned badge number of 2121. Later after discovering the oversight, deputies confiscated Kernan's license.

Bob White is a hard guy to miss. He is tall, broad-shouldered and silver-haired. He made an impression on Kernan who remembered how polite the sheriff was during their encounter. White has been on cable TV of late, appearing in public service announcements about the dangers of methamphetamine and promoting a charity fundraising event. Twice in September you could find him in the county commission chambers at the West Pasco Government Center making a pitch for his department's budget increase.

Hard to miss, but not impossible. Turns out his own agency didn't know where to look for him, or even who to look for while trying to deliver paperwork related to Kernan's traffic case.

As Times staff writer Jamal Thalji reported, the court dismissed the citation against Kernan after White failed to appear for the Sept. 20 hearing at the judicial center that sits several paces due west of the sheriff's headquarters.

The sheriff never received the subpoena, dated Aug. 23 and addressed to "Dep. White." It contained no first name, but did include the correct badge number for the sheriff, 2121.

The finger-pointers at the Sheriff's Office said they're not to blame. The Clerk of the Circuit Court should have done a better job addressing the subpoena. ""The information from the court is incomplete," said Doug Tobin, a spokesman for White.

Next time, address it to Sheriff Robert White.

The clerk's office pointed out that the subpoena, though missing a first name or initial, was addressed to the right agency, with the correct last name and the accurate badge number.

The search for the recipient apparently stopped because the sheriff's staff believed the subpoena was earmarked for Jesse White, a former deputy who lives in Hernando County and no longer works for the Pasco Sheriff's Office.

So much for sleuthing. The Pasco Sheriff's Office doesn't serve out-of-county subpoenas. That responsibility falls to the local police. Had someone actually attempted to serve Jesse White, the process server probably would have figured out the subpoena was indeed intended for the sheriff. Badge number 2121.

Tobin said the agency will look at ways to avoid a repeat. Here's an idea - provide a list of badge numbers to civilian staff handling the subpoenas. It might be of particular help to emphasize the badge number assigned to the county's top cop or to point out that "Bob White, Sheriff" is affixed to every building, marked patrol unit, business card and piece of letterhead at the agency. It's even stamped on the subpoena intended for the sheriff.

In his September pitch to commissioners for a budget increase, White used an analogy comparing his department to an economically developing country seeking help from the United Nations.

Wrong.

When you can't figure out how to serve a subpoena on the boss, you more closely resemble an inefficient bureaucracy.

Reach C.T. Bowen at bowen@sptimes.com or 727-869-6239.