Nienhuis' leadership has proven worthy of full term in sheriff's office
Hernando TodayThe issue: Republican primary for Hernando County sheriff.
Published: August 5, 2012
Published: August 5, 2012
Our opinion: Sheriff Al Nienhuis has become fixture in community who deserves a full-term in office.
When Sheriff Al Nienhuis took office 19 months ago it was hard to imagine he would be a serious candidate for re-election.
Given the conditions surrounding his appointment, not many within the sheriff's office, or the county for that matter, had positive feelings about the new sheriff from Pasco County.
After all, outgoing sheriff Rich Nugent had already tabbed then-Chief Deputy Mike Mauer to be the next sheriff and had told Gov. Charlie Crist as much.
However, Crist waited until his final days in office to appoint a perceived outsider in Nienhuis.
No doubt realizing he faced an uphill battle, Nienhuis, 48, wasted no time in promoting Mauer to his second-in-command. From that point forward, Nienhuis appears to have slowly won over an agency with his strong leadership style and financial savvy.
Nienhuis' leadership has been put to the test more than a few times during the last year and he has more than held his own. He continues to show a willingness to work with county commissioners during the most recent budget talks to help offset the county's budget deficit.
He has also shown he is not afraid to make personnel changes whenever needed.
His decision to reassign Wendy McGinnis, the agency's popular public information officer and member of his command staff, probably raised the most eyebrows.
Nienhuis was justifiably upset when he learned McGinnis failed to notify him that she and her husband, who also worked for the sheriff's office, had started a new financial planning business catering to retired law enforcement officers.
Although she was ultimately reassigned to road patrol, she and her husband chose to resign instead.
Nienhuis also has shown his professionalism in dealing with criticism from John Mecklenburg's widow, who accused him of exploiting her husband's death. Although he forged ahead with a public bill-signing ceremony against her wishes, Nienhuis — like any leader, right or wrong — was only doing what he thought was best for everyone.
Often leaders are forced to make tough decisions that not everyone is going to agree with. This happened to be one of those occasions.
Nienhuis' competition in the Republican primary is Brooksville native Bobby Sullivan, who is currently director of public safety at Saint Leo University.
Sullivan, who worked at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for 25 years before retiring in 2007, spent a handful of those years working under Nienhuis, who was the undersheriff.
In 2008, Sullivan challenged Pasco Sheriff Bob White in the Republican primary and lost.
Sullivan has openly criticized Nienhuis for the firing of six high-ranking employees at the Pasco sheriff's office following the 2008 election. The firings wound up costing $2 million to settle age-discrimination claims.
Nienhuis has maintained he only was carrying out orders.
It's hard to fault Nienhuis for a decision made by his superior.
Sullivan also has stated on more than one occasion that the morale at the sheriff's office is lost. He points to the half-dozen or so deputies who have resigned during the past eight months.
It's hard to understand, though, how a handful of deputies leaving out of a force numbering more than 300 correlates to low morale.
Sullivan also has challenged Nienhuis on the county's crime statistics.
The difference is between the crime index (total number of crimes reported in a year) and the crime rate (total number of crimes in seven categories reported per 100,000 residents).
Although each number tells a slightly different story, one number that isn't debatable is that the clearance rate is at an all-time high and is well above the state average.
There is no arguing that Sullivan has many of the qualities that help make for a good sheriff. There is also no question he has a passion for law enforcement and that he could easily relate to the deputies given his past experiences fighting crime on the streets.
However, Neinhuis has done an admirable job in his short time in office and Sullivan has offered voters no compelling reason to make a change.
Hernando Today recommends voters cast their ballots for Neinhuis.