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Cannon's defense only irritates


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001

Heavy sigh.

The exhale of breath said it all -- a bit of exasperation coupled with an unspoken sentiment.

"Here we go again."

The sigh came from an anonymous county commissioner, anonymous because I wasn't at Tuesday's meeting to witness the account. But the message is clearly audible on a recording of the session. It is simultaneous with Lee Cannon's presentation at the podium.

Six months after a stunning defeat to a well-financed but unknown candidate, Cannon came to commissioners to defend his legacy. He challenged the results of a consultant's study on the personnel needs of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office as flawed; it was a study he requested in January 2000.

Among other things, the report said, the Sheriff's Office is staffed adequately now and will need only moderate additions through 2010 to handle the workload brought by a growing population.

That is in stark contrast to the picture Cannon drew three years ago when he asked voters to approve a new tax to hire 220 deputies and 50 civilians over 10 years.

The personnel shortage was so grave, Cannon contended, that deputies' lives were endangered because help in an emergency was nearly 16 minutes away. The Times later detailed how Cannon and his top brass didn't know their own department's capabilities. In the failed campaign for the new tax, the Sheriff's Office relied on data from its dispatch system to misstate how long it took deputies to get to an emergency, how many calls for service the department receives and how much time deputies spent responding to calls.

"Big whoop," Cannon chimed Tuesday night to Times staff writer Cary Davis when reminded of the bogus data.

The ex-sheriff was more articulate and less animated while addressing commissioners this time, though he still blamed the media for leading a public discourse he characterized as inaccurate. Too much reliance on the report's executive summary, Cannon griped, "which apparently everyone was reading and writing without knowing what they were writing about or without having the information correct."

Cannon critical of the press?

Heavy sigh.

It is a legacy shared by the past three sheriffs. I'm sure that irks Cannon. He does not want to be lumped with John Short and Jim Gillum. Can you blame him?

Cannon called himself an honorable man.

"We never intended to deceive anybody. We never did anything malicious," he said about the botched campaign to create a special taxing district known as an MSTU.

Incompetence and ignorance aren't particularly attractive fall-back positions.

Reading the $125,000 report from DMG-Maximus, Cannon said, was much like his own failed tax plan. (Note to DMG: You should be insulted.)

"There are many things unclear. There are some ambiguities. There's some conflicts. There's some contradictions," Cannon prattled.

In Cannonspeak, the comparisons between the DMG findings and his tax initiative are unfair because the department hired nearly 100 people since voters rejected the tax in September 1998.

Well, not quite.

Since the failed tax, the County Commission authorized 49 sworn officers for law enforcement: 45 deputies, three detectives and a youth resource officer. Commissioners also agreed to retain 15 people, 11 of them civilians already on staff, but whose salaries had been covered by grant money. They also allowed Cannon to hire 15 jail guards, two nurses, three clerks and three technicians.

That is 87 people. Neither the tax district nor the DMG-Maximus report dealt with jail staffing, so let's remove the 15 jail guards and two nurses from the equation. Also, the 15 grant-funded positions were on staff at the time of the property tax push, so they can't be counted as new hires, either.

By my math, the county added 55 new positions including 49 law officers, a level that is adequate to provide law enforcement in Pasco County, the study found.

DMG-Maximus also recommends the county hire 54 people through 2010, including some part-timers like school crossing guards and traffic-control officers. The hires should include seven dispatchers, seven deputies, four child protective team investigators and two school resource officers.

So here is the grand total: Adding the number of staffers hired since September 1998 and the recommended additions comes to 109 new personnel to carry the county's law enforcement needs through 2010.

Remember, Cannon said he needed 270 people.

That is nearly 150 percent higher than the consultant recommends.

Gee, Cannon wrong on his numbers?

All together now:

Heavy sigh.

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