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Lee County’s former, current sheriffs butt heads at debate; Fighting for slot on Nov. 4 ballot

By Staff | May 29, 2008

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott and former sheriff Rod Shoap faced off Wednesday night during a debate forum held by the Cape Coral Republican’s Club.

The forum took place from about 7:15-8:15 p.m. at 918 S.E. 46th Lane, where Scott and Shoap discussed issues regarding the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and crime.

Both candidates are vying to become the Republican candidate for sheriff to face off against Christian Meister, who is running without a party affiliation, in November.

Scott opened by defending his four-year administration as sheriff, claiming to have headed up an “unprecedented attack on the drug trade in Lee County” with a record-number of marijuana grow house busts, as well as assigning investigators to pursue cases of child abuse and neglect which are investigated by the Department of Children and Families.

Scott said that though Shoap does not agree with his policy toward limiting the mail allowed to be sent to inmates at the Lee County Jail to postcards, the practice is one which he is proud of.

He concluded his opening speech by saying he is the only one of all three candidates to receive more than 2,000 signature petitions to run as a candidate for sheriff.

Shoap said many of Scott’s signatures were of sheriff’s office employees.

Shoap cited his background in law enforcement as a qualification for sheriff. He said he has four college degrees, including a degree in criminology, and worked as a patrol deputy, detective, lieutenant and captain in law enforcement.

Shoap said Scott’s drug busts are good for Lee County, but he feels they come too late and are politically motivated.

“Burglaries and thefts are creeping up,” he said. “Arrests for burglars are going down, but burglaries and thefts are going up.”

Shoap said that although there are about 2,300 to 2,400 people entering the jail per day, a large amount of those arrests are traffic-related while more serious crimes continue to increase.

Scott challenged Shoap to go to the Lee County Jail with him and say which inmates he would like released.

Shoap said Scott’s budget showed “poor spending habits.” He said the budget hit $51 million in 2007, which he attributes to unexplained salary increases for approximately 700 employees and excessive equipment such as a belt-fed machine gun.

Scott said the equipment is necessary to law enforcement officials with the growing population and growing crime.

Both candidates agree that the use of patrol vehicles while off-duty should be allowed for deputies.

Shoap said it is about $20,000 per week for fuel costs for patrol cars, a small price to pay for the quick availability of deputies to respond to calls on the way to and from home.

Scott said that when deputies drive to stores to do shopping using patrol cars, those cars in the parking lot deter crime.

Scott asked Shoap if he could hold the uniform up to the standard he has as sheriff.

“Yes,” said Shoap. “I loaned the uniform to a friend for a party, and I admit that was wrong. But I apologized to every employee face to face.”

“We’ve gotta get back to fighting crime,” Shoap said in closing. “We’ve become very much a traffic-oriented sheriff’s department. The jail is full and we’ve got to pay for that.”

“There are three types of people: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen and people who wonder what happened. I’m the kind that makes things happen,” said Scott.

Martin Flaherty said that based on the debate, he will likely vote for Scott.

Flaherty recently returned from the Marine Corps after spending a year and a half stationed in the Pacific and four years prior at Camp Pendelton in California.

“He (Scott) has that military discipline,” said Flaherty. “He answers questions, he doesn’t ask them. Also, he had a lot of support. You could tell he was a sheriff.”

Flaherty’s mother, Regina Kennel, said she was disappointed by the debate.

“I don’t think either candidate really had a chance to say the changes they’ll make,” she said. “It was a lot of tit-for-tat. I would have liked to have had more information.”

Kennel did not like the accusation of crime rate increases regarding Scott’s time as sheriff, saying the crime rates grew because of population growth.

She added that said she liked Shoap when he was sheriff, but voted for Scott in 2004 because she liked his Crimestoppers program and his eagerness to meet citizens.

Kennel said Scott went door-to-door.

“He stopped and talked to us, and he shook our sweaty hands,” she said. “Shoap I’ve only seen on TV.”

Both candidates agreed the debate went well.

Shoap felt there were more of Scott’s employees at the debate than common citizens, though Scott felt the debate would have little impact on switching supporters from one candidate to another regardless. It was a good way to keep in touch with the public and keep them enthusiastic, he said.

The Republican primary for sheriff is August 26.