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Lee sheriff’s race to step off with a partisan primary

By Staff | Jul 2, 2020

The Lee County Sheriff’s race appears on both the Aug. 18 Primary and Nov. 3 General Election ballots

The Republican primary has two candidates, incumbent Carmine Marceno and James A. Leavens, a major and watch commander with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office until his retirement. The top vote-getter will then advance to the General Election where there will be three additional candidates on the ballot: Coach Ray, NPA; Carmen McKinney, NPA, and Robert Neeld, Democrat.

Leavens and Marceno each were asked what the community could expect under their leadership.

“The citizens, visitors and communities of Lee County can expect to continue to have one of the lowest crime rates in the State of Florida,” Marceno said. “See the expansion of existing programs, such as my ‘Safe Kids-Safe Schools’ initiative, as well as my continued commitment to hold Career Criminals accountable. Everyday, I will work diligently, to safeguard lives and property, respectfully enforce the laws of the land and work cooperatively to lessen the impact of crime on the lives of residents and visitors.

“Working together with local law enforcement agencies, continue the fight against Opioid dealers (drug dealers will be held accountable) and hold to a zero tolerance of abuse & cruelty of any kind, including elderly, child or animal. Remain laser focused in our Community Policing through our Community Response Unit and our Real Time Crime Center.

“Our citizens will continue to see my leadership in keeping our families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while remaining available and transparent to the public. Southwest Florida is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise our families. I am committed to keeping Lee County the paradise it has become.”

As for Leavens, “The first thing that’s going to happen the minute I get into the agency is I’m going to realign the man-power,” he said. “We have too many people – upper echelon – sitting in cushy offices. Right off the bat I’m going to realign the agency to get more boots on the street.

“Through attrition, as those upper echelon positions leave the agency, I’m probably not going to filling a lot of them. For each one of them that retire, I can hire three more deputies on the street without a nickel expense to the taxpayers.

“I am the only pro-life Republican candidate, my family’s pro-faith.

“I can’t wait to get in the office and put my spin on things and take charge.”

Republican Primary, Aug. 18

* Jim Leavens, 57, R

Leavens has a wealth of law enforcement experience over three decades of work in Lee County. He held Captain’s rank at LCSO for 14 years and his final position was that of a nighttime watch commander; the highest-ranking member of the agency between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. Leavens began his career as a corrections officer and then road patrol, before working his way through the ranks. He has also held positions as a detective, sergeant and lieutenant.

“Over 20 years of my career was in a supervisory role, 14 as a Captain. As a commander, you have the advantage of a unique perspective as you watch things run. I began to develop ideas for how things would run more smoothly: identifying budgeting successes and shortfalls, training solutions, and creative ways of maximizing manpower and achieving proactive policing. The thought of being able to implement these ideas is exciting!” Leavens said.

Planks of his platform include: anti-human tracking initiative, a special response team for de-escalation of emotionally-charged calls, a task force for the opioid crisis, integrity and ethical steadfastness, proactive policing, adequate staffing, increased shooter scenario training and more.

* Carmine Marceno, incumbent, 48, R

Marceno was appointed to his current role as sheriff by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott following the retirement of former sheriff Mike Scott in 2018. Marceno said he brings 20-plus years of law enforcement service to the table. When it comes to his service in Florida, Marceno was first a part of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked in many different divisions throughout the department. With LCSO, Marceno served in the Public Services Division for a few years before Mike Scott promoted Marceno to his executive officer. He is a 2017 graduate of the FBI National Academy. In 2019, he received “Outstanding Law Enforcement Executive” acknowledgement & award from the Southwest Florida Police Chief’s Association.

He is running to provide “safety and security for our citizen’s, families, businesses and visitors of Lee County.

“To keep Lee County and SWFLA having one of the lowest crime rates compared to the 67 counties in the State of Florida” and “To continue building interagency relationships with law enforcement agencies, first responders, business, educational and citizen leadership to collectively keep Lee County a thriving paradise.”

Planks of his platform include “Safe Kids Safe Schools,” holding career criminals accountable, the opioid crisis, animal abuse and cruelty and common outreach.

The winner of the Republican primary will advance to the Nov. 3 General Election and face the following candidates:

* Carmen L. McKinney, 68, NPA

McKinney is a retired Lee County Sheriff Officer with a rank of Major. He worked with LCSO from 1981-2007 and has a Lee County resident for 39 years. At LCSO, he held supervisory positions in the Patrol Division, Aviation and Marine Divisions, Criminal Investigation Division (Major Crimes) and Criminal Investigations (District), Training Division, Internal Affairs and coordinator to the U.S. Customs Blue Lighting Strike Force. McKinney was project coordinator for the construction of the Lee County Gun Range.

He is running because, “The conduct, experience and background of the current Interim Sheriff has caused me to seek the position of Sheriff as has the reckless use and self-serving expenditures of tax funds.”

One example cited includes the expenditure of tax funds to go to Tallahassee to attend a two-hour retirement party for a FHP Bureau Chief. He said the trip included seven ranking officers attending, use of one private aircraft, dispatch of two departmental vehicles, and rental of two vehicles at Tallahassee and seven motel rooms with an expenditure of over $6,000.

“Florida State Statue is clear on this; the expenditure of public funds must have a ‘public purpose,” he said.

Planks of his platform include: to enforce professional police standards by example and by enforcement, eliminate reckless and self-serving expenditures and to establish a pay grade system and promotional system that draws the most qualified person and creates better retention.

* Michael “Coach Ray” Qualls, 47, NPA

Qualls has a myriad of law enforcement experience spanning 21 years at the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office. He has been a Lee County resident for 26 years and is a retired member of the Navy.

He is running “to make changes in how law enforcement is conducted.”

His top three issues include life coaching in jails to rehabilitate instead of just punishment; to create a mentor program for kids to cut down on teen suicide, bullying and school shootings and training for law enforcement to build a stronger relationship with the community.

* Robert M. Neeld, D

Mr. Neeld said he would prefer to submit his information after the primary

*?Bio information submitted by the candidates

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj