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A Times Editorial

Nugent gets nod in a solid slate for sheriff

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2000


If we could take the best ideas of all three candidates for Hernando County sheriff and combine them into one, our choice would be obvious. Our fantasy candidate would have the administrative and management talents of Republican Maj. Richard Nugent, the sincerity, people skills and crime prevention platform of Democrat Sgt. Eddie McConnell, and the outsider's perspective and skepticism of Michael Robinson, who has no party affiliation.

But that is not possible, and the decision registered voters must make in the Nov. 7 general election certainly will not be easy. But after carefully considering the candidates and their platforms, and weighing that information against the anticipated needs of our growing county, Nugent emerges with a slight edge over the next-most-impressive candidate, McConnell.

Nugent has been with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office for 16 years, and was a police officer in suburban Chicago for 12 years before moving here. In Hernando, he rose through the ranks from a road deputy to his current job as chief of the Operations Division. Along the way, Nugent has held positions in personnel, training and finance. His experience in those integral areas, coupled with a master's degree in public administration, forms a solid foundation on which to build his tenure as the agency's top cop.

If elected, Nugent proposes fewer changes than his opponents in how the Sheriff's Office is run. That's probably because Nugent has been the architect and/or taskmaster for several of the programs instituted under the direction of Tom Mylander, who is retiring after four terms as sheriff.

Mylander hand-picked Nugent as his preferred successor and Nugent clearly has benefited from being associated with Mylander's impressive record as an honest, caring and humble public servant. He has raised more money for the campaign than McConnell and Robinson combined, and Mylander's influence in the Republican Party and the business community has bolstered Nugent's candidacy.

But even with that advantage, Nugent is facing a formidable challenge from McConnell, a lifelong Hernando County resident and 22-year Sheriff's Office employee. He, too, has held various positions under Mylander, but is most well known for being the community services officer, where he worked with civic and school groups on crime prevention programs.

McConnell's most promising idea in this campaign is his proposal to restructure the lower ranks of deputies to provide a multitiered pay scale and more opportunities for promotion. That should keep more experienced deputies on the road, and cut down on the number who leave here for better-paying jobs in other counties, or accept in-house management jobs just to increase their compensation.

We urge Nugent, if he is elected, to closely examine McConnell's proposal and to perhaps implement it during his tenure. It would help boost morale among the rank-and-file employees, and also help reconcile the differences that are bound to linger among his and McConnell's supporters.

But Nugent is not entirely content with the status quo and has a few ideas of his own, including his plans to overhaul the office's computer software to make it easier to track trends in crime. He also wants to establish a victim's advocacy program, expand intervention programs for youngsters, and concentrate on securing more state and federal grants to fight crime.

All three candidates in this race have good ideas, and each is sincere in his desire to serve the public honestly and energetically. Hernando County residents should not take that reality for granted. Indeed, people in other counties are choosing among candidates who are not as qualified and who haven't bothered to develop meaningful platforms.

Although that doesn't make choosing from among good candidates any easier, it does provide voters a comfort level as they form their opinions.

Nugent gets our nod in this very important race, with McConnell running a close second.

Opportunity to reply

Candidates not recommended by the Times are invited to respond. The reply should be no more than 250 words and must be received no later than 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25. Deliver to 161 E Jefferson St., Brooksville. Fax to 754-6133, or e-mail as a text-only file to hernando@sptimes.com

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