Was enjoying a pleasurable Saturday afternoon when someone sent me a text with an 18-minute recording stopped at the 9:49 mark.
“The sheriff has something to say about you right before this moment,” the texting person said.
Full stop on the beautiful Saturday. I went to the tape.
Sheriff Mike Prendergast was speaking to a local organization about the unfair county commissioners who dare to question his budget and not just hand over $40 million.
Someone told the sheriff that I said the county commission gave him everything he wanted last year.
This was Sheriff Prendergast’s reply:
“Mike Wright lies. Just put Mike ‘The Liar’ Wright, and you’ll have it pretty well squared away.”
First off, Sheriff, thank you so much for reading my Just Wright Citrus blog. Wow, what an endorsement. I’ll make sure EVERYBODY knows. And, I’ll send you a “follow” invite.
That said, um, calling me a liar is fairly harsh. So I listened intently at what followed because I know you, our top law enforcement officer, would never say such a terrible thing about a fellow Citrus County citizen without backing it up.
First, a little about how we got here.
As mentioned before, Prendergast is taking his budget requests directly to community groups, mainly Republican clubs, for their support in the hopes they’ll convince county commissioners to vote for it. The budget includes pay raises, hiring more deputies and body-worn cameras.
Some commissioners are cool to the idea and they’ve asked specific questions, of which Prendergast has responded, and the board will decide July 26 where to go with this.
In the last few weeks, though, we’ve learned something interesting about the sheriff’s pay and budget reach. A state law that gives pay hikes to highway patrol troopers and other first-responders also slipped in a $24,000 pay raise for all sheriffs. That raise is set by the state but paid by you and me.
That same new law also gives the sheriff autonomy over his budget once the county commission approves it. If commissioners approve the $40 million sheriff’s budget, Prendergast can do with it what he wants regardless of public promises.
So there was the sheriff speaking last week to an organization I recognize as one of Citrus County's more right-wingers, rambling on a familiar theme: County commissioners talk about public safety but don’t put up the money for it.
As he concluded his remarks, a voice I easily identified as Winn Webb’s said:
“Recently current county commission candidates were asked by Mike Wright about the budget. He said they gave you everything you asked for last year. Is that true?”
The sheriff’s response:
“No, that’s not true. Mike Wright lies. Just put Mike 'The Liar' Wright and you’ll have it pretty well squared away.”
First off, Winn Webb! Thanks for mentioning me by name in public. I could tell by the groans and laughs on the recording that Just Wright Citrus has many followers in the room.
Truthfully, though, I’m fairly sure I never asked a question in that way to any commission candidate. The only time I’ve questioned county commission candidates as a group was during the Chronicle forum on June 30. From reviewing that video Sunday, I did ask the candidates if they supported the sheriff’s budget increase and the tax increase that commissioners say is necessary to pay for it.
Never said a word about that other stuff.
Now, I did write about it in a blog about the sheriff’s budget. I quoted an email from board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who was responding to an email he received from one of the sheriff’s budget supporters.
To refresh your memory, per Kitchen:
“The Sheriff has received every dollar he has requested without question for the last two years. He needs to be transparent about how he spends it.”
So, as you can see, it was the county commission chairman who said that, not me. I wouldn’t know if the sheriff received every dollar he wanted last year from the county commission. Ron Kitchen would, though.
Perhaps the sheriff might like to swing that “L” word from me to the board chairman.
The person who sent me this recording (and, no, I’m not going to link it and neither will I mention the group’s name) was disgusted by the politics of it.
I’m not, but I will say this: He may wear a uniform and badge, but Mike Prendergast is no better or worse than any other elected official in this county. He answers to the public first.
We don’t have time for these shenanigans. Goofy politics that played in the 1990s have no place in a community facing significant new challenges every single day.
As for the sheriff’s cheap shot, I’ll wear it well. I see “Mike ‘The Liar’ Wright” coming to a T-shirt soon.
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