Respecting Voters Deserves Salute

Under The Hood


The politics of Sheriffs are a funny thing in Florida. It’s one of the most high-profile and locally powerful positions one can hold through the mere achievement of winning an election. But the job itself holds such a specific set of duties it's not a job all politicians aspire to attain.

As Sarasota enters into its first election cycle in a dozen years with an open Sheriff’s race, we’ll surely see competing philosophies about law enforcement debated in the region. Upon announcing his retirement this week, Sheriff Tom Knight made clear he’d like Col. Kurt Hoffman, his chief deputy, to take over the role, and Hoffman has filed for the seat.

I’m fairly certain Hoffman won’t go unopposed the entire election cycle. There’s plenty of trained law enforcement officer who would love to get the type of promotion to the head of this agency that doesn’t require passing an officer’s exam.

Of note, Knight himself came from outside the Sheriff’s Office when he ran for Sheriff in 2008. At the time, he defeated Larry Dunklee, the second-in-command to retiring Sheriff Bill Balkwill; actually Dunklee came in a startling third place in the GOP primary that year. Knight went on to defeat another department veteran, Curtis Lavarello, in the general election. But Balkwill didn’t endorse a successor as Knight has done. 

Right now, Knight seems to leave with the love of most of his department and the community.  At a Tiger Bay meeting this week where Knight’s arrival became the talk of the room as much as the legislative update from gathered lawmakers, state Sen. Joe Gruters from stage called Knight “probably the best sheriff in the entire country.” It will be curious to see Knight’s next step in this community.

Will voters look internally to Hoffman as a natural choice? Will they elect for a new direction? While the winners in sheriff's election normally boast some experience holding a badge, you do not in fact need law enforcement certification to run or hold the office of sheriff. So truly, anything is possible.

Because of all this, you can definitely expect some pols interested in one of the top jobs in politics to run. But it’s also an office with serious responsibility, one that involves looking for missing kids and murderers, not just for extra dollars to fund a new performing arts hall. None of that should be read as dismissal of the incredible responsibility all public servants hold to the people. But this office can involve a lot of sleepless nights and some heartwrenching press conferences delivering bad news to the world.

In announcing his departure the way Knight has, more than a year before a primary or general election campaign, he did voters a great service and one that’s sadly going out of vogue. Knight will leave it to citizens who should become Sarasota County’s next sheriff, regardless of the preference he already made known.

Too often, sheriffs in this region retire early, letting a governor appoint a chosen heir to the throne, then letting a new sheriff run as an incumbent. That’s a big edge for fundraising, hob nobbing and attending neighborhood meetings in "community outreach efforts" where they obviously but unofficially campaign to keep the job.

Knight says he owes it to the voters to serve out his term. He trusts voters to make a choice, hoping they see value in continuity after a dozen years of his command but as concious as anyone citizens may look outside existing ranks.

For that alone, Knight deserves a salute.

Jacob Ogles is senior editor of SRQ Media Group.

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