Elections to bring big change to county

Local political forum set for Monday, Oct. 17

OKEECHOBEE — The 2016 election will make a big difference in the Okeechobee County Commission, replacing more than half of the board. There are no incumbents in the county commission races. Current commissioners Frank Irby and Margaret Helton chose not to seek re-election. Commission Ray Domer died in 2014, and the governor did not appoint a replacement.

Republican David Hazellief and Michael Slayton, who has no party affiliation, are the candidates for the District 1 seat on the Okeechobee County Commission.

Republican Brad Goodbread and Robert “Bobby” Keefe Jr., who has no party affiliation, are the candidates for the District 3 seat.

Republican Kelly Owens and Democrat Weston Harvey are the candidates for the District 5 seat.

Okeechobee voters can question the county commission candidates, as well as local candidates for city council, school board, county sheriff and county property appraiser on Monday, Oct. 17, at a political forum at Osceola Middle School. The forum will start at 5:45 p.m.

Responses from school board, property appraiser and candidates for sheriff follow county commission candidate responses.

The Okeechobee News encouraged readers to send in their own questions for the candidates, who were asked to respond in 100 words or less.

The lack of affordable rental housing is a continuing problem in Okeechobee County. What would you propose the county do to improve the housing situation?

DISTRICT 1
HAZELLIEF: We currently have two companies proposing to construct affordable housing in our county; both of them have applied to the state for approval and assistance. If approved and constructed, this will be a good start. However, we need to encourage investors to purchase or construct affordable housing for the rental market.

SLAYTON: In the past few months, the county has done a good job working with developers in making plans for affordable housing. As a new board member, we can make Okeechobee more attractive to interest in development.

DISTRICT 3
GOODBREAD: There are several state and federal grants for developers and counties to take advantage of in the Affordable Housing Market, some of which rely on the participation of local government. The county needs to take advantage of these grants and work with developers to ensure that the needs of our residents are met.

KEEFE: I will propose to create a County Housing Authority according to Chapter 421, Florida Statute with the sole purpose of creating, providing, and maintaining quality-housing opportunities for our residents. There is much more that the county can – and should – do to improve the housing situation. There are other counties in Florida that have established and successfully operated housing authorities that we can model ours after.

DISTRICT 5
HARVEY: A real problem indeed, from the very start I have had this issue at the top of my platform. We can lower overall living expenses expanding our “State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP)” by lobbying Tallahassee for additional funds and by allocating more internal resources to expedite home purchasing assistance and ensure that all funds are utilized. Of course precautions need to be made so that this program is not abused and buyers understand responsibilities of “home owning.” This program could help the true underlying issue in Okeechobee by helping low-income locals purchase homes with guaranteed down payments.

OWENS: Affordable rental housing is an issue everywhere and will continue until mortgages become easier to attain so people can buy rather than rent. However, it should be noted the availability of rental housing has been an issue in Okeechobee even during sound economic times. In an effort to remedy this issue locally, our county can make the process for private developers who want to build rental properties/developments less cumbersome. Further, ensuring that the land use and build out plan for the county addresses the issue is a proactive way for the county commission to have a positive impact on this problem.

Many parents have expressed concerns about children walking to bus stops in areas where there are no sidewalks, as in some areas they have no choice but to walk on the edge of the road. Do you think the county should provide more sidewalks and bike paths throughout the county? If so, how would you pay for them?

DISTRICT 1
HAZELLIEF: New sidewalks in residential areas are needed and the current commission has started the process in the Basswood/Whispering Pines area. We need to complete the proposed project and move forward in other areas.

SLAYTON: Yes, we do need more sidewalks. The county is doing a good job with adding new sidewalks to neighborhoods. They have been doing a good job working on and securing grants and funding for many different sidewalk projects in our county.

DISTRICT 3
GOODBREAD: The safety, wellbeing and education of our children is of the utmost importance and Job #1 for our local governments! Where improvements such as sidewalks and lights are needed to ensure the safety of our residents, they need to be identified, ranked by importance and resolved. These improvements can be funded through the local tax dollars and by taking advantage of state and federal grants. There are currently improvements being made in this area in Whispering Pines and Basswood which were funded through state and federal grants, and additional grants are being applied for at this time.

KEEFE: The county should already have had more sidewalks and bike paths throughout the county. A lack of vision, insight, and direct involvement of leadership over the past decades has kept Okeechobee from developing, properly. Sidewalks should have been an enforced mandatory feature for any new developments – especially around any new schools built. Recently, the BoCC has approved creating a Master Sidewalk Plan. As commissioner, I will ensure this and other “master plans” are taken off the shelf, implemented, and executed properly. Grants can be applied for to help pay for the sidewalks. But the county must make it part of the budget process – construction and maintenance of sidewalks.

DISTRICT 5
HARVEY: 4) As a young father to be, I can understand this issue completely; and to answer, yes, I think this is paramount. This is one of the infrastructure points I have hit on in the past, we simply lack many core infrastructural utilities that a growing community should have to prosper. I would aggressively apply and lobby the state for more funding “under public road safety grants” to construct covered areas and sidewalks in areas without them on the pick-up lane for the bus route. Such grants are approved to construct the upcoming 2017 Basswood area sidewalks.

OWENS: Currently, our commissioners have already begun to address this concern.  There is a need to continue putting sidewalks in areas which have heavy pedestrian traffic, particularly to provide safe passage of our children to bus stops and/or schools. The county, city, and school district should all work together to attain grant funding in order to meet the sidewalk needs in Okeechobee. Additionally, when new development comes into an area, the building of sidewalks can be mitigated as part of the project. Bike paths would be a nice addition; however, we have other infrastructure needs on which I would place higher priority.

How would you bring more business and industry — along with jobs that pay a living wage, and provide benefits such as health insurance — to Okeechobee County? Are there any businesses or industries you would want to keep out?

DISTRICT 1
HAZELLIEF: We need to continue to partner with organizations that promote economic development. By working together, we can showcase what our community has to offer. We also need to support and offer the same incentives as offered to new business to our existing businesses that are or may be considering expansion.

SLAYTON: A business friendly building department that will have a fast-track system to assist in the process. We also need a labor force that can support new business.

DISTRICT 3
GOODBREAD: It is not government’s job to pick winners and losers in the economic market, only to create an environment for businesses to flourish through tax policy, infrastructure, safety, quality of life and regulations, etc. It is also my belief that making government and government offices more “user friendly” and customer service oriented will go a long way in convincing and facilitating new businesses/industry to move to Okeechobee as well as helping present businesses be able to grow and expand. Zoning laws are in place to control which types of businesses are allowed in the county and where they are allowed to locate.

KEEFE: Improving the labor force is the key to bringing more businesses and industry. An available skilled labor force is necessary to create any type of new job market. Working with our local business development board, the county school district, and the local college is key to enhancing our assets and creating the desired environment new businesses and industries are looking for. The only entities I would want to keep out are those that would cause major pollution and contamination to our natural resources, or harm our established agricultural businesses and heritage.

DISTRICT 5
HARVEY: To bring in better industry we need to do a few things; first is to invest in our small infrastructure. Doing so will give investors confidence in our willingness to grow. Secondly, we need to be more proactive with our industrial park complexes for we are barely at 50% usage of lots right now. We need to offer strong tax abatements for all qualifying incoming industries, and look into a “build to suit” program for incoming businesses on industrial parks since the land is only leasable and building on land you don’t own is a deterrent.

OWENS: The rapidly growing medical and technological industries are ideal to provide careers. Other rural counties in Florida have successfully attracted businesses and provided careers to their local residents. As your commissioner, I will focus on learning from those small counties and enlist every available network to bring careers to our community. Locally, our efforts should focus on reasonable tax abatement programs, supporting the development of a skilled workforce, and improving/maintaining our infrastructure – all in effort to appropriately market Okeechobee to businesses wanting to come to the area. I am not in favor of bringing in any industry that isn’t “clean.”

The summer algal blooms on the coast have brought attention to the problems with pollution of waterways by septic tanks. Should Okeechobee County have stricter restrictions on septic tanks near canals and waterways? If state funding becomes available to get homes off septic tanks and onto sewage lines, what areas of the county would you prioritize?

DISTRICT 1
HAZELLIEF: All of the homes in south Florida that are on canals or waterways should be connected to sewer systems. I feel the state and federal governments should fund the installation and connection charges instead of purchasing additional lands that they can’t afford to maintain.

SLAYTON: Yes, I feel that OUA needs a plan to expand sewage lines. What I would recommend as a priority would be to infill the county where sewer lines already exist. Also, anywhere properties are within 800-1000 feet of waterways that flow to Lake Okeechobee.

DISTRICT 3
GOODBREAD: As OUA expands to areas of the county that presently do not have access to water and sewer, fewer residents will have the need for septic tanks and wells – although there will always be the need for septic tanks in more rural area. Also, the county should spend more time and effort seeking state and federal funding for cleaning up this problem. Any areas that are near the lake and waterways that lead to the lake will be the first to be identified for change, but the end decision as to the priority would be up to the professionals in that field such as biologists/scientists.

KEEFE: Yes, Okeechobee should enforce restrictions on all septic tanks – not just those near canals and waterways. I think that if OUA water and sewage lines are available and accessible, then they should be connected. Priority areas though, should be those on and near waterways.

DISTRICT 5
HARVEY: 6) The health of our environment is an absolute priority of mine. We should look strongly at incoming buildings near water ways and ensure that the use of up to date and environmentally conscious septic systems are installed until enough state funding is available to hook up sewage lines to the homes at no initial cost to the resident. We must do what is necessary to protect our environment and that starts at the local level.

OWENS: Septic tank restrictions are mandated through the state and managed by the health department. If funding becomes available, use of that money must be coordinated through OUA. Ideally, the funding should assist homeowners in connecting to the utility service in order to (1) alleviate hook-up expenses, and (2) reduce septic tanks. As a commissioner, I would encourage the OUA board members to prioritize hook-ups based on density of septic tanks in order to get the most benefit from any state funding. Finally, I believe it is incumbent upon commissioners to lobby heavily at the state level in order to secure funding for our county!

Biographies for the candidates above can be found within the following articles:

Meet the Candidates, District 1
Meet the Candidates, District 3
Meet the Candidates, District 5

School board candidates questioned by readers

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County School Board District 4 race is a nonpartisan race. Before the primary, there were four candidates for this position. The top two candidates from the primary, Amanada Fuchswanz and Levi Johnson, moved on to the general election, which will be held Nov. 8.

Ms. Fuchswanz has been in Okeechobee for 10 years. She is employed as a Children’s Mental Health Therapist with Hibiscus Children’s Center where she has worked for 8 years. She also has a contract with Healthy Start to provide workshops to teen parents at the Okeechobee High School through a program that she helped create called “On Track.” Ms. Fuchswanz has a Master’s Degree in Human Services with a specialization in Social and Community Services. She also has a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and criminal justice.

Mr. Johnson has lived in Okeechobee for the past 3 years. He was born in Fort Myers and raised on Pine Island. After high school, he attended Airline Training Academy in Fort Lauderdale where he received Private, Commercial, and Certified Flight Instructor certificates as well as an Instrument Rating. He later worked for a number of years for Airline Training Academy as a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor teaching students how to fly planes. He has been employed with Sunniland Aircraft for two years as an aerial applicator, also known as a crop duster. He also teaches as a flight instructor.
The Okeechobee News asked the readers to submit questions for the candidates and asked the candidates to answer the questions in 100 words or less.

What, in your opinion, is the most important issue currently facing Okeechobee Schools, and how would you deal with it?

FUCHSWANZ: One of the most important issues facing our school system is ensuring that our students are receiving the best possible education that will lead them to a productive and successful future.  We need to have an appropriate, up-to-date curriculum that allows our students to succeed. Our teachers need access to appropriate professional development so that they can build their skills and share them in the classroom. Our students need to be accurately assessed in a timely manner and placed in an appropriate setting to achieve their goals. We need to continue to work with the community to fight drug use and teen pregnancy.

JOHNSON: The most important issue is student achievement. We need to start by focusing on maintaining our teachers by giving better incentives to come and stay. We do have great teachers, but Okeechobee is one of lowest paying counties around and usually a one-to-two year stepping stone for teachers coming from elsewhere. We are constantly hiring first-year teachers. I would like to see no permanent substitute teachers in the classrooms, better incentives as far as salaries and benefits offered, a program guiding students towards becoming teachers.

What classes, programs, or services currently not offered in the schools would you like to add?

FUCHSWANZ: I would like to see the school board connect with businesses in the community to create a program that allows for on-the-job training and the opportunity to secure a job upon graduation if the student is enrolled in a vocational program and not college bound. This would give both our students a chance at success and the businesses in our community an opportunity to grow. We could also benefit from a job coach and on-the-job training for our students with disabilities so they can have assistance in identifying their skills and working towards building a career.

JOHNSON: I would like to take a side step and offer a Life Skills class — a Life Skills class that teaches compound interest, credit scores, credit cards, the loan process with banks, interest rates, taxes, resumes and cover pages, how to fill out a job application, interviewing process, cost-of-living calculations, marriages, divorces, supporting a child financially, child support, money-math in their head, and the consequences of crime and drug addiction.

Should administrators and teachers be drug tested at random, as students in extra-curricular programs are? Why or why not?

FUCHSWANZ: Okeechobee County Schools are drug-free areas for all students and employees therefore all school administrators and teachers should be allowed to be tested at random. Drugs are not just an issue in our schools but in our community as well. We should continue to work with law enforcement and other community agencies to tackle drug use. I would also support parent/teacher workshops lead by local law enforcement agencies to discuss current drug issues in schools and the community and create collaboration between all parties to seek realistic solutions.

JOHNSON: No, The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. Recent U.S. District Court ruling has overturned a school board decision for random drug testing for teachers. Any school board decision to implement a random drug test on teachers and/or administrators is an infringement of their constitutional rights.

How would you propose to resolve the issues with the buildings at Okeechobee High School?

FUCHSWANZ: Safety of our students is the first priority. All issues related to keeping our students safe need to be repaired immediately. We should make the necessary repairs while continuing to seek special facilities funds in order to build a new high school. Special facilities funds are set aside for small rural communities such as Okeechobee and our students deserve the opportunity to have access to these funds as needed. These funds would allow for a new and innovative high school that would allow us to provide a state-of-the-art learning environment for our students.

JOHNSON: I propose the Okeechobee County School District repair the schools while pursuing funding for the high school. In my opinion, the school district is doing a fantastic job going forward in hiring a lobbyist and reapplying for the grant for the sixty million dollar school. The truth is, we do not know exactly when we’ll receive that funding. It could take years to receive the funding and in the mean time we still need a functioning, safe, and operational school.

Three compete for property appraiser office

Okeechobee County Property Appraiser Bill Sherman is retiring this year.

On Nov. 8, Okeechobee County voters will choose his replacement.
Three candidates are competing in this election, Republican Mickey Bandi, Democrat Steve Cates, and Sharon Wallace, who has no party affiliation.

Mickey Bandi, 37, is currently the assistant property appraiser in the Okeechobee County office. He has worked in the local office since 2002.

Mr. Bandi attended the University of Florida where he received a Bachelors of Science degree in food and resources economics. His course work included: economics; accounting; finance; investing; rural property appraisal; and, human resource management. He has also taken graduate level courses towards a Masters of Agribusiness Management. Mr. Bandi has been a Certified Florida Evaluator for 11 years. He has taken annual ethics training, including records retention and the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law. Since 2008, Mr. Bandi has had sole responsibility within the appraiser’s office of qualifying sales, calculating and setting the base rates for the values, assessing telecommunication and utility properties.

Steve Cates, 60, is currently employed as an independent insurance adjuster who is licensed in 13 states. He has held that position for seven years. Mr. Cates is a 1973 graduate of Mayfield High School in Mayfield, Ky. He attended Murray State University and is a Vietnam veteran having served in the U.S. Air Force. He has over 30 years of experience in fair and equitable assessment as he has worked in the Okeechobee County property appraiser’s office; the Cole Layer Trumble Company; and, the Graves County, Ky., property valuation administrator’s office. He also served as the reappraisal project manager for Cole Layer Trumble Company — a subsidiary of Tyler Technologies, which is one of the world’s largest mass appraisal companies. He worked in the local property appraiser’s office as the senior appraiser from 2001 until 2008.

Sharon Wallace, 55, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology. She is also a certified Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP). For the past four years, Mrs. Wallace has been the GIS coordinator for the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners where she worked closely with that county’s property appraiser, sheriff’s office, supervisor of elections, tax collector and the clerk of courts. She also worked with the municipalities of Avon Park, Lake Placid and the City of Sebring. Years ago, when she set her sights on the property appraiser’s office, Mrs. Wallace began taking International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) courses at her own expense. These courses are required by the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) for all newly-elect-ed property appraisers.

The candidates will answer questions at a public forum at Osceola Middle School on Monday, Oct. 17.

The Okeechobee News asked readers for their own questions for the candidates and asked the candidates to respond in 100 words or less.
Should a property appraiser be allowed to appraise his or her own property, or property belonging to family members? What about friends?

Where would you draw the line to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest?

BANDI: Field appraisers that review, measure, and classify the individual properties do not review their own or family properties. Other appraisal changes in a mass appraisal system performed within an appraiser’s office are typically done on either an entire neighborhood, or some larger grouping of similar properties. Properties that have some differences that affect value either positively or adversely, are reviewed by multiple individuals within the office and changes to a single property require multiple signatures. Currently there are no processes for an elected property appraiser to delegate their appraisal duties on any property including their own.

CATES: As the elected property appraiser there is an obligation to fulfill fair and equitable assessments. The property appraiser should be allowed to appraise all property within the county. By saying this, I would and have proposed the VAB (Valuation Adjustment Board) review all properties belonging to the property appraiser and the staff yearly. The VAB would then make their formal review for the record and the property appraiser would need to correct any findings. The property appraiser and staff assessments should never be in question.

WALLACE: A property appraiser should send staff appraisers to perform assessments on family and/or friends’ real property to avoid the appearance of impropriety. As your next property appraiser, I will implement management procedures to ensure the assessments are accurate and impartial. I will go to great lengths to guarantee nondiscrimination in all assessments performed by this office. I will not allow a breach of the public’s trust. That is why I am calling for a review of our county’s tax roll by an independent appraiser appointed by the Florida Association of Property Appraisers. I am offering a solution.

What changes, if any, would you propose to assure equitable property assessments for all property owners in the entire county?

BANDI: While I think we have an equitable tax roll, I don’t think that equity is something an appraiser can ever be completely content with. We currently have one vacant field appraiser position that we are trying to fill. Once this is filled it will allow us to train a person to audit properties such as agriculture and tangible personal property. Which in turn will increase the equity in our tax roll.

CATES: State law mandates that at least once every three years a physical inspection is made of each property in Okeechobee County. I will ensure that all classes of property are inspected within this mandate. We are cheating our children (schools) and taxing authorities with the under assessed, unassessed and fraudulent exemptions I have not taken any contributions to my campaign from any special interest or large property owner. By doing this there is no obligation by me the elected property appraiser to show any favoritism. This will ensure that all property will be assessed on its merits and there will be fair and equitable assessments throughout Okeechobee County.

WALLACE: The questions submitted for this article by the citizens of Okeechobee suggests a loss of confidence and trust in the honesty and integrity of this office. As your next property appraiser, I will request audits be conducted so that we can evaluate the internal controls that are in place to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse. In addition, I will provide staff with tools to promote accuracy and uniformity of tax assessments. By utilizing GIS, staff can visualize and map surrounding properties allowing them to better analyze market data for property values and uniformly assess properties with greater precision.

How often should properties which have been allowed the agricultural classification be reviewed to determine whether or not it is currently a bona fide agricultural business? What criteria or documentation should be required to determine if a property qualifies to be taxed at the lower rate afforded to agricultural use?

BANDI: We annually deny properties which have failed to maintain an agriculture use each year. This is a continuous problem which experience has shown us is primarily related to smaller parcels less than 50 acres. Areas of the county that have a lot of these size parcels are looked at almost annually to see how they are being used. Properties are also looked at every time they sell. Documentation that can be required, are leases if they are under lease, fertilizer, lime, and mowing receipts, but Florida Statutes and case law have continuously held that the classification is based on the actual use.

CATES: Each year the application for agricultural classification would be reviewed. Pursuant to Florida Statutes 193.461 (3) (a), “No lands shall be classified as agriculture lands unless an application is filed on or before March 1st each year.” Only lands used for bona fide agricultural purposes shall be classified agricultural. “Bona fide agricultural purposes” means good faith commercial use of the land. 12D-5.001 Agriculture Classification, Definition is the pursuit of an agriculture activity, for a reasonable profit. January 1 is the statutory assessment date; therefore, in order for property to be considered for agricultural classification, it must be in use as of January 1 each year. Tax returns, insurance policies, land leases and other documentation will be required by the applicants.

WALLACE: Florida Statute requires all lands to be classified as either agricultural or nonagricultural for assessment purposes on an annual basis and each year stands on its own. Approval one year does not indicate approval in subsequent years. As your next property appraiser, all properties requesting agricultural exemption will be inspected annually to determine eligibility. Lands which are clearly used primarily for bona fide agricultural purposes will receive the exemption. Decisions regarding marginal operations will be reviewed on an individual basis.

How often should agricultural properties be inspected by a property appraiser in person, in order to add new structures such as barns, to the tax rolls? How often should residential properties be inspected? How often should commercial properties be inspected?

BANDI: Current protocol for reviewing properties are every sale, to know the specifics since we are using it to set other assessments; we review building permits; and by statute we do a comp review every five years to account for depreciation, or improvements that were built without our knowledge. Buildings built without or exempt from permitting are a problem, and to combat this I have redone our aerial photography program at no increase to existing budgets to have aerials of over 90% of our properties annually. The “Changefinder” GIS program highlights which properties have improvements to add to the tax roll annually.

CATES: I will have every property in Okeechobee County physically inspected every three years. With the advances in geographic information system, satellite imagery, Eagle View, Pictometry, Goggle Earth and other sources every parcel in Okeechobee County can be reviewed yearly for new growth. I will immediately review all agricultural properties in the county. I will use the technology that is already available to its fullest potential. It appears that the residential, commercial/industrial properties have been carrying the majority of the tax burden for years. Without building permits on agricultural properties, a physical inspection on every acre of land will need to be preformed to ensure that all property/structures are on the tax roll.

WALLACE: By state law, all property subject to ad valorem taxes are to be annually appraised. Staffing shortfalls are a concern when addressing improvements or new construction, however, use of innovative technology will help with this. Technology is no longer a commodity of convenience; it’s an essential we rely on. With the current utility improvements taking place, we can efficiently assess the new infrastructure via a government utilities technology service. With my background, education and skillset, I can lead this office to the forefront of property valuation.

Sheriff candidates respond to questions

Republican Noel Edwin Stephen and Michael Hazellief, who has no party affiliation, are candidates for the office of Okeechobee County Sheriff. Sheriff Paul May will retire at the end of this term of office.

Noel Stephen, is the current major at the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO). He has been with the OCSO for nearly 29 years. Maj. Stephen attained the rank of road patrol captain on Nov. 1, 2001.On Jan. 4, 2005, he was named to his current rank of major. Maj. Stephen, 49, has served as Sheriff Paul May’s undersheriff for the past 12 years. He has served on the OCSO command staff as captain and major for 16 years, and prepared the OCSO budget for the past 12 years. The OCSO major graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1984. He has attended numerous advanced educational classes at Indian River State College, South Florida State College, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,  along with a host of other organizations and schools, but said his most important education has been what he learned on the job.

Michael Hazellief, 45, has been a full-time deputy with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) since August of 2004. Prior to that he served on the OCSO auxiliary as a volunteer. He has been a supervisor for the OCSO road patrol division for the past four years. Before that he was on the OCSO agricultural unit for nearly six years. Cpl. Hazellief graduated from Fort Pierce Central High School in 1988. Since then he has received his Associate of Arts Degree from Indian River State College, and his Bachelor of Science -Organizational Management in Public Safety from Indian River State College. He is currently enrolled in the Master’s program in Criminal Justice at Florida State University. He graduated from the Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Leadership Academy in 2015, and is a 2012 graduate of the Leading by Legacy program.

The Okeechobee News asked readers to submit questions for the candidates. The candidates were asked to respond in 100 words or less.

The sheriff’s office is currently funded primarily by ad valorem taxes, with some revenue from grants and confiscated property that can be used only for designated purposes. Can the department continue to operate within the funding currently available, without increasing the ad valorem tax burden? If not, what other sources of revenue would you seek?

HAZELLIEF: I believe as the county’s anticipated growth over the next few years is extremely positive, we can continue to operate within our current ad valorem budget levels with allowances for cost-of-living increases. Increased revenues from others sources will start with cost saving measures. I will work to reduce the cost of our healthcare and fleet maintenance program, as well as implement efficient, safe alternatives of incarceration. Contrary to current procedures, we will pursue opportunities available to us through small agency subsidies and grants, and target the proceeds of criminal activity through an aggressive forfeiture and seizure program.

STEPHEN: It has been quite some time since the sheriff’s office has operated within the revenues generated by the county’s ad valorem taxes. There are very few revenue generating functions that the sheriff has control of. A couple examples are confiscated drug monies and citation revenue. Both of these are currently being done at your sheriff’s office. As sheriff I will work with our citizens and commissioners to maintain fiscally responsible budget while assuring the level of law enforcement our community needs and deserves. I will work with the commissioners to research any and all alternative funding sources.

Do you think road patrol deputies should have body cameras? If they have cameras, should they be required to film all incidents involving a member of the public?

HAZELLIEF: I believe officer-worn body cameras will be a standard practice in law enforcement in the near future and yes, I believe they should be active in all encounters with the public which are work related. They have been proven to reduce citizen complaints against officers but also a reduction in officer’s use of force. There are several challenges with implementation of these devices which have caused the delayed use by many agencies. I plan to actively pursue every resource available to secure funding for these cameras and reap their benefits for our community and sheriff’s office.

STEPHEN: I do believe that cameras can be very beneficial to law enforcement today. The concerns that I have are related to the administrative end of the cameras. Record retention and public records requests. These two concerns alone can monetarily effect the sheriff’s budget dramatically. How long do we keep the record will relate to how many servers has to in purchased, installed and maintained. Then an additional person, with sufficient computer knowledge, to produce the record with only that information which can be given per Florida Statute.  We need our Legislators to address these concerns.

Some of the calls deputies respond to are issues that do not warrant a deputy — for example, the woman who called for a deputy because her roommate’s dog ate the hotdogs, or the parent who calls for a deputy because a child refuses to go to school. Would you make any changes in the factors that determine whether or not a deputy is dispatched to a residence?

HAZELLIEF: When citizens call for service, they have expectations to speak with a deputy. I believe in providing excellent customer service and being responsive to our community’s needs. Each call for service is unique, and a seemingly minor or apparent non-law enforcement related call-for-service may have underlying factors. A simple, economical solution will be to have a desk deputy available to speak to the caller and determine the actual need. Many times these calls can be handled by referring to alternative services.

STEPHEN: This topic will be tough to cover in 100 words. Our calls of service are receive by our communications officers who receive 300 hours of training mandated by the State of Florida. They are not trained to handle and determine whether the call being received is a violation of county ordinance or Florida Statute. Very often, especially in today’s society, an incident that starts off being minor turns into a violent situation. That same roommate may pull a knife on the other roommate or the child refusing to go to school may slap mom. Unfortunately a deputy needs to respond.

Do you propose any changes to the structure of the department? Explain.

HAZELLIEF: I believe there is a lack of balance between administrative and front line employees. I plan to redefine our organizational structure and correct this imbalance starting with the elimination of the undersheriff position. I also plan to reorganize our line personnel through the implementation of specialty units such as a traffic unit and a criminal suppression team. I will create a Reserve Deputy program which will incorporate current auxiliary deputy members and fully sworn or retired law enforcement, reducing our overtime through the use of volunteer and part-time personnel. I will also implement annual employee evaluations and a professional standards program to help eliminate the cost associated with negligent hiring.

STEPHEN: The structure of the agency is fine. The persons occupying the positions are critical. That is why I felt it imperative that the staff and community know who these key individuals will be.

In light of recent events across the country, do you think deputies and even supervisors should receive additional training in regard to use of deadly force?

HAZELLIEF: These events have brought the need for continuous and advanced training into clear view for the public. As criminals around the country are evolving and adapting, law enforcement professionals around the country have seen the need for advanced training, but some have not taken action to implement it. Currently, we are offered minimum levels of state required training and must personally seek out additional advanced training. I will introduce training which will include de-escalation and less lethal training. I will develop a community-based platform that will incorporate citizen input and law enforcement interaction to ensure an active dialog directed towards safe and professional contact between law enforcement and citizens.

STEPHEN: All law enforcement officers have to continuously train. Our men and women are routinely confronted with people dealing with being under the influence of drugs/alcohol, mental illness, autism and various other conditions. We can never train enough nor be prepared enough but we are doing our level best to do so.

The public can take advantage of the opportunity to ask the candidates questions on Monday,  Oct. 17, 2016, at a political forum at Osceola Middle School, 825 S.W. 28th St., from 5:45 to 9:45 p.m.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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