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Redington discusses switching to sheriff

The proposed change from Indian Shores police coverage upsets many in attendance, who ask for a referendum on the issue.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


REDINGTON SHORES -- Nothing brings out a crowd like talk of switching police departments.

More than 60 residents jammed Town Hall Monday night to listen and comment as commissioners broached a change of law enforcement coverage: from Indian Shores police to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

A majority of the residents in attendance appeared to oppose the idea, with some accusing commissioners of already having made up their minds. Neighbors repeatedly asked that the commission allow voters to decide the issue in a referendum.

The commission made clear, however, that no referendum is required. In fact, the town attorney says the commission could make a decision Tuesday at its next meeting. The item "police contract" is on the preliminary agenda.

On Monday night, Sheriff Everett Rice described the services his department offers and stressed that he was speaking at the invitation of the Town Commission.

"This is not the sheriff versus the local police," he said. "The mayor and commission asked for me to be here."

Mayor J.J. Beyrouti acknowledged that many in the audience felt a "loyalty" to Indian Shores. He said a possible switch to the Sheriff's Office was "strictly business" and asked the audience to be "open-minded."

"They (Indian Shores) are still providing us with good service," Beyrouti said, "but your elected officials are looking for a good future. Our neighbors have gone with the sheriff. Maybe these municipalities know something we don't know."

When a large number of residents in the audience continued to question the commission's motives and demanded a referendum, Beyrouti reacted sharply.

"I'm not here to have a political spectacle," he said.

"Do we get a chance to vote on this or do you guys plan on making the decision?" one resident asked.

"We'll let you know," Beyrouti replied, drawing loud protests.

Town Attorney James Denhardt told the audience that the town's charter does not require a referendum and the commission has the right to decide.

"The ultimate decision is up to the commission. They are elected officials and you have elected them to make decisions for you. It is up to them to decide if the town will have a referendum," Denhardt said.

"When you have elections, I don't see anybody running. Where were you?" Beyrouti asked another resident who continued to demand a referendum.

Beyrouti's public suggestion that Indian Shores police Chief E.D. Williams might be retiring and that the police department "will cease to exist" drew a sharp denial from Williams.

"I am not retiring," Williams, 60, told the audience. The next day, he said he has "never" indicated to anyone that he has any plans to retire. "This definitely was a false statement," said Williams, who described the Redington Shores meeting as a "battle victory" in a "war" yet to be won.

"I felt good last night. The public is 1,000 percent behind the police. I think we won in the court of public opinion."

Williams said Beyrouti has asked to meet with him this week but doesn't know if he will be invited to make a counter-presentation to the commission.

The commission has a regular meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday. The agenda currently includes inclusion discussion of the law enforcement contract, but that could change by Friday.

According to the contract with Indian Shores, the commission must switch by April 30 or it will be committed for another year.

Under the sheriff's proposal, a full-time deputy would be assigned to patrol the town on each eight-hour shift, seven days a week.

According to revised costs, the town would be charged about $259,000 for the first year, beginning in October. Rice estimated that yearly increases would average about 3 percent. Redington Shores also would be charged a one-time start-up fee of $50,000.

The town now pays Indian Shores $269,415 for a full-time police officer to patrol the town. That amount will rise to $277,497 next year and to $285,821 for the 2002-03 fiscal year.

Rice stressed that specialized services such as forensics, and canine, marine and flight patrols, would be available to the town on a "primary" basis, rather than as a "secondary" backup to the local police department.

The sheriff also said the town would not be legally liable for any actions taken by his department, and guaranteed to hire any "qualified" Indian Shores officers that might lose their jobs if Redington Shores decides to switch.

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