At the Pinellas County Sheriff candidates debate Tuesday night in Clearwater, current sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Republican, former sheriff and state legislator Everett Rice, Republican, independent candidate Greg Pound and lone Democrat Scott Swope argued themselves in circles.
In response to the budget shortfall for fiscal year 2013, Pound argued that it was a moot question.
“We don’t have a budget problem,” he said. “We have a corruption problem.”
The numbers show that there clearly is a budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.
Hosted by Bay News 9 anchor Al Ruechel, most of the debate seemed to revolve around clarifying conflicting stances.
The candidates covered topics ranging from immigration to open-carry legislation, but few offered solid answers.
In Ruechel’s “Clearing the Air” segment of the debate, he asked the candidates to clarify issues most frequently in the press.
Rice addressed his potential double-dipping with a pension and a salary during his term.
His solution is to donate his pension to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch and keep his salary. But taxpayers would still be paying for his pension, even if he didn’t keep it.
Gualtieri faced fire about investigations into four detectives accused of trespassing to gather evidence against indoor marijuana growers. Three of the detectives resigned in June and the fourth was fired in the same month. But this doesn’t say anything about the sheriff’s office, he said.
“It’s not a corrupt agency. It’s not a rogue agency. It’s not an agency out of control,” Gualtieri said. “Four people did something wrong and we’re holding them accountable.”
Of 2,700 employees, four corrupt officers isn’t cause for concern, he said.
Swope fielded questions about his stand on the decriminalization of marijuana. The costs of housing and feeding inmates arrested for possession are far too high, he said.
Instead, Swope suggested issuing citations and fines for possession of marijuana. The sheriff’s office would be gaining money instead of losing it.
Gualtieri argued that Swope was simplifying the matter though.
“It’s not about the person smoking a joint on a Saturday night,” he said.
Instead, it’s about the grow houses and public disruption.
Write-in candidate Greg Pound had one answer to every question he was asked: the government is corrupt and he is the only candidate who can legally run.
Pound was insistent that lawyers cannot legally serve as sheriff. As Gualtieri, Swope and Rice have all served as lawyers at some point, Pound said they are automatically disqualified from office.
Ruechel gave Pound little opportunity to quote the Constitution, however.
Gualtieri, dressed in his sheriff’s uniform as a stark reminder of his experience in the position, implored voters to focus on the future of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Rice, Gualtieri said, is stuck in the past.
“Just because you were doesn’t mean you should be,” he said.
Gualtieri will go head to head in the Aug. 14 primary with Rice in the GOP primary, with the winner facing Swope and Pound in the November elections.