On Tuesday, May 24th, the four candidates for Leon County Sheriff fielded questions at a forum hosted by the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates (NEBA). The forum was held at the Capital City Country Club and approximately 120 people attended.
The election for Sheriff will begin with the primary on August 30th and conclude with the general election on November 8th.
The primary will be a contest between Democratic candidates Tommy Mills,who is a former officer with the Leon and Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office’s, Walt McNeil, former City of Tallahassee Police Chief and current Sheriff Mike Wood. The winner of the primary will face Charlie Strickland, a businessman and former lieutenant with Leon County Sheriff’s Office, who is running with no party affiliation.
The forum featured specific questions about concealed weapons on college campuses, unionizing the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, and the City of Tallahassee’s recent vote to extend closing times for night clubs to 4:00 a.m.
It became clear early on that current Sheriff Mike Wood, who was appointed by Governor Scott after the untimely death of Sheriff Larry Campbell approximately 18 months ago, would be the target of the other three candidates.
The three challengers all repeated various comments centered around recent reports on high crime rates buttressed by the theme that “what we are doing is not working.”
However Strickland and McNeil were the most aggressive.
Strickland said that “Sheriff Wood had one and half years and it is not working.”
McNeil criticized Sheriff Wood for not having a plan to work with the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) and said “we are in a bad place” and “Mike does not get it.’
McNeil told TR after the forum, the Sheriff must address City crime through more leadership and in tangible actions that go beyond public relations.
Sheriff Wood responded by telling the audience that “collaboration is our strong point” and that the Sheriff’s Office works well with TPD. He cited anti-gang initiatives with TPD and state agencies as examples.
Sheriff Wood also spoke enthusiastically about the recent decision by the Sheriff’s Office to roll out body cameras.
Strickland, who is the owner of the Talon Range, used his business experience to distinguish himself from the other candidates.
Mills, who narrowly lost to Sheriff Campbell during the last election cycle, spoke of his disappointment in the current crime rate and said it was “time to roll your sleeves up” and “do things differently.”
None of the candidates said they supported unionizing the Sheriff’s Office or consolidation. However, Walt McNeil said the question is about working together versus consolidation and if we can’t work together then we need to consolidate.
All the candidates, but Charlie Strickland, were against allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.
Walt McNeil and Sheriff Wood spoke against the City of Tallahassee’s 3-2 decision to extend bar hours to 4 a.m.. McNeil labeled the decision “wrong headed.” Strickland and Mills did not speak against the City’s decision.
Wood won the straw poll of NEBA members. Strickland came in second, McNeil in third and Mills in fourth.