It's Time to Vote For Sheriff in Pinellas County
Candidates challenge incumbent Sheriff Jim Coats
By Bill Lopez
TARPON SPRINGS - A Republican, Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats will not be on the primary ballot in August because no other Republican is on the ballot to challenge him but he will face a Democrat challenger in the November election.
With what promises to be the biggest USA election turnout ever, voters and civic minded groups are delving into candidate background and agendas like never before in hopes of righting several courses that seem at times to be off track. Pinellas County is particularly active in this regard.
A political election forum Monday night created a standing room only crowd of over 200 at the Crescent Oaks Country Club in north Pinellas County.
The event, sponsored by the Council of North County Neighborhoods, featured candidates for sheriff and county commission. Enthusiastic voters who came in support of their candidates along with others taxed the limited seating provided for the event. It was held inside the clubhouse well behind manned security gates at the entrance to the manicured, upscale Tarpon Springs neighborhood.
The Crescent Oaks neighborhood, like many in Florida, has provided the fuel for revenue generation in local and county government for years. These new communities generate new taxes and developer fees in large numbers. So successful has the building been in Pinellas County that giant municipal and county budgets have grown to become very big business here.
But now new home building has come to a near screeching halt and cash for the next local government budget cycle is scarce. So scarce that the County of Pinellas will have to trim back its budget by 10 percent, according to statements made by some of the candidates who spoke at the forum.
Incumbent County Sheriff Jim Coats and his challengers, who received top billing for the event, began an hour-long presentation that was followed by interviews and responses from commission candidates.
Sheriff Coats lead the discussion with an overview of what he characterized as a stabilization period in budget constraints. He said the county will continue funding the entire corps of deputies with all the hours required. This will presume no interruption of service and prevent any decline in police service levels now in place in Pinellas County.
Coats served in the U.S. Air Force and has been sheriff since 2004. He started with the department in 1971and took two leaves to work in Santa Rosa and Gulf Counties at the behest of the governor in 1992 and 1994. From deputy, he rose through the ranks and was appointed Sheriff by Jeb Bush before Coats' elected term started in January of 2005. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and holds a degree in criminal justice.
Two Democrat contenders for sheriff include Randall M. Jones (Dem.) and John Pikramenos (Dem.). Greg S. Pounds (NPA) is a fourth candidate who qualifies to run by properly making application and has no party affiliation. In the forum, each provided assessments of what is wrong and what is needed in the sheriff's department indicating how they would deal with the funding constraints.
Finance, however, is not the main thrust of John Pikramenos' candidacy. He said that the budget tightening is not a crisis. Rather, he pointed out that the department is presently suffering from very low morale. He said "it (low morale) is not because of money because many deputies would work for a lot less since they love what they do." He indicated the administration of the department has created a morale problem, one that he would fix.
He believes that intradepartmental communication is weak and a lack of communication exists in the chain of command. He has been with the department for 30 years serving as its most senior Sergeant with supervisory assignments in patrol and other operating units within the Sheriff’s Department.
Pikramenos has an Associates of Science degree in Police Administration and a BS degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in business administration.
Randall James (Dem.), said the fiscal affairs of the department area not being properly handled and that he would make as his first priority, a return to fiscal responsibility. He graduated from Clearwater High School and the Law Enforcement Academy at St. Petersburg College. According to campaign literature, his endorsements include Pinellas Progressive Democrats of America, Teamsters Local Union No. 79, AFL-CIO and the Sheet Metal Workers Union.
James spent 18 years with the department and resigned on April 18, 2008 to comply with Florida’s election laws as he began his campaign for sheriff. He was named Deputy of the Month by the Fraternal Order Police in October of 2005.
When the fourth candidate, Greg Pounds, had an opportunity to speak, he quickly drew boos from the audience who universally rejected his salaciously based remarks about candidate Pikramenos who experienced a divorce after 27 years of marriage. Pounds also ranted about the improprieties in the department and indicated it is dysfunctional and corrupt.
During the break, he would not pose for pictures or provide a statement to the Clearwater Gazette preferring to speak one-in-one to persons in the attendance. No background information was made available about him or his candidacy except a reference to a video available on the Internet (FreeOurKids.com). His candidacy appears to be a way to showcase his campaign of verbal assaults on the justice system and child welfare resulting from an unfortunate child custody issue.
His Internet video tells of Pounds and his wife having had their four children taken away by DCF for over two years. It states that Pounds "spent a month in the county jail for refusing to tell Judge Marion Fleming where his wife is (was) living with their new baby (named Moses)."
The August 26 primary is a prelude to the general election and will determine party nominees for many positions in local and state government. The Clearwater Gazette will bring worthy candidate information to readers now and through the elections and present different views that affect Clearwater and Pinellas County.
Contact Bill Lopez at email@example.com
Return to Current Edition