Meet the Candidates - Hernando County Sheriff

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Meet the Candidates - Hernando County Sheriff

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 13:17
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Sheriff Al Nienhuis (Incumbent)

Sheriff Al Nienhuis

Bio

Sheriff Nienhuis holds both a Bachelor's Degree and a Master’s Degree in Business Management from the University of South Florida. His MBA (4.0 GPA) concentrations were management, as well as Management Information Systems (MIS).  He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy (Class 197), Quantico, VA.   Sheriff Nienhuis has also attended at least 2000 hours of advanced and specialized training in everything from Hostage Negotiations to the National Sheriff’s Institute.  The Sheriff has served on the Board of Directors for the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce, Youth and Family Alternative (YFA), the Dawn Center, and the Arc Nature Coast, to name just a few.  Sheriff Nienhuis has also served on the board, as well as board chair, for the Florida Sheriffs Enterprises, the not-for-profit organization that oversees the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Thrift Stores.  Sheriff Nienhuis has also taught budgeting at the Florida Sheriffs Association institute for new sheriffs.  He currently serves as the Board Chair on the Board of Directors of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

The Sheriff has been married to his wife, Rhonda, for just over 30 years and they have three lovely adult daughters.  They also have two grandchildren from their oldest daughter and her husband.

Do you see any areas where the Sheriff’s Office will need to increase funding?  How could this be paid for?

We must, of course, keep pace with growth and address budget mandates, like insurance increases.  My administration has a history of budgeting within growth and addressing needs without having to request local tax money. 

The Hernando County jail, for example, was in disrepair when the Sheriff’s Office took on responsibility for it in August 2010.  It was a struggle to avoid lawsuits and to keep the physical plant safe for the inmates and detention deputies.  We began to work with the US Marshal’s Office, the United States Bureau of Prisons, and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to house some of their inmates, for a fee.  Over the last several years, the revenue generated from this program has allowed us to add much-needed staff to watch those inmates and, at the same time, help watch Hernando County inmates, adding local jobs at no cost to local taxpayers.  This program has also allowed, and will allow, us to pay for millions of dollars in desperately needed jail repairs, again at no cost to local taxpayers.  These savings are on top of running the jail for millions of dollars less than the private company.  We also use volunteer inmate labor to save money and make the community better.  They pick up litter and do landscaping around county facilities, to name just a few.   My administration stands on its record of extreme efficiency when compared to other agencies, as well as my administration’s ability to creatively attack problems at little or no cost to local taxpayers.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut?

Law enforcement is very labor-intensive.  About 85% of the Sheriff’s Office budget goes towards personnel costs.  This means that budget cuts would equate to cutting people.  Since the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office is run with a much lower number of employees and supervisors than comparable agencies, this would not be prudent.  This efficiency was verified by an investigation done by the Governor’s office during the FY2017 budget year. 

Please describe up to three issues that are most important to the Sheriff’s Office and the safety of our residents and how you will address these issues. 

There are two priorities that I constantly stress to my people.  The first is that we must do everything reasonable to keep our community safe.  Fortunately, the crime rate in 2019 was half what it was in 2010 in unincorporated Hernando County.

The second priority is for us to make our citizens feel safe.  We send out tens of thousands of surveys every year.  I am happy to report that our return rate is higher than average and over 90% rate our service as good or excellent.  The vast majority (over 70%) rate our service as excellent.  Recent national events show the importance of this feedback.

Lastly, it is no secret that illegal drugs drive criminal activity.  I am happy to report that my people are doing a great job of bringing drug dealers to justice, as evidenced by our regularly publicized arrests and search warrants.  

What existing or new projects do you see as necessary to continue or undertake for the improvement of the department?

Although I have a few projects on the drawing board, the most important is our continuing project of developing leaders in the organization. The Sheriff’s Office has many employees with great leadership potential.  My administration has focused a lot of effort in this area in the last two years and it is paying great dividends.  I would like to continue refining this project, so leadership development becomes part of the culture of the Sheriff’s Office.      

What areas have you found most challenging as Sheriff and how do you plan to overcome these challenges?

The Sheriff’s Office is an organization with several hundred employees.  Those employees are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The work is critical, fraught with danger, and high in civil liability.  The challenges can be frequent, unexpected, and stressful.  Fortunately, with almost 20 years as Undersheriff or Sheriff, even some of the most difficult situations can now be dealt with effectively and efficiently.  Preventing problems through selecting the right employees and holding them accountable is key.  I have found that employee selection standards must not be lowered and, if an employee is not treating citizens or subordinates right, they must be asked to leave the organization, regardless of that person’s rank or tenure.    

Why did you go into law enforcement?

I was watching a local news show on a Sunday afternoon in the mid 1980’s.  Bob Hite was doing a segment on the Florida Marine Patrol (now FWC).  They highlighted boating safety and volunteer auxiliary FMP officers.  It sounded interesting, so I applied and started my law enforcement service in 1984.  I volunteered for a couple years and then worked part time for a couple more before joining the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco fulltime as a Special Agent in June of 1989.  I have thoroughly enjoyed making a difference for over 35 years!

 

Major James Terry (Candidate)

 

Major James Terry

Do you see any areas where the Sheriff’s Office will need to increase funding?  How could this be paid for? Roughly 90% of the Sheriff’s Office Budget is employee salaries and benefits; therefore, we will have to increase funding to pay for annual employee pay increases. Increases should be paid through growth in taxable revenue taken in by the Board of County Commissioners. If the natural growth of revenue is insufficient, then the pay plan will be re-evaluated to avoid tax increases to our citizens.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut? Yes, as Sheriff I will enter into agreements with the Board of County Commissioners regarding how excess budget revenue and unspent funds will be handled. ,there is no agreement; therefore, every year rather than rolling over unused funds to offset a budget increase the money is spent on other things. Over the years this issue has plagued Sheriff’s, if you turn over too much money at the end of the year some might say there was no need for it to start with. This promotes a spending spree at the end of the budget year. Having defined guidelines on the ability to roll over excess funds, promotes fiscal,  avoids year-end spending sprees. There are times in which the amount of funds able to be rolled over would cover the entire cost of employee raises for that budget year.

Please describe up to three issues that are most important to the Sheriff’s Office and the safety of our residents and how you will address these issues. 

  1. Having trust and support of our community: Trust will be established and maintained through complete transparency, including the implementation of body-worn cameras for our deputies. Body Cameras protect the deputy and public alike. This modern transparency tool is needed now more than ever. 
  2. Budget control and transparency: After an 18% tax increase, and the decimation of so many jobs by Covid-19, we must have a Sheriff that works hand in hand with the County Commission to ensure that modern and effective law enforcement is provided while avoiding tax increases. This will be done by building partnerships and reaching agreements with commissioners. We all must work together to serve the citizens.
  3. Mental Health Concerns: Problems with mental health in this county have been a challenge for years. We will have enhanced training regarding all aspects of mental health and cognitive impairment. Training on how to identify children who suffer from cognitive impairment such as Autism is entirely insufficient. We must ensure that our deputies are able to engage with these children effectively and safely. Real-world training with actual parents explaining their challenges and concerns will be a top priority. We must address mental health from all angles and partner with local specialists.

What existing or new projects do you see as necessary to continue or undertake for the improvement of the department? Hernando County needs to implement body-worn cameras for their deputies. This step forward in transparency is essential in today’s policing. GPS bracelet tracking programs will also be pursued to help locate those with cognitive impairment who may wander. This will benefit children with conditions such as Autism as well as seniors with Dementia. Current search methods are manpower intensive and more importantly too slow. Every moment a person with cognitive impairment is away from home, they are in danger.

What areas have you found most challenging in law enforcement and how do you plan to overcome these challenges? 

The most challenging aspect of law enforcement is providing modern effective law enforcement within a reasonable budget. This will be addressed through partnerships and transparency as previously mentioned.

Why did you go into law enforcement?

Almost 30 years ago my wife was almost murdered. She suffered tremendously physically, and our entire family suffered emotionally. Having gone through such a terrible ordeal, I was filled with a desire to protect and serve others that still burns to this day. 

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