To the Editor: Open Letter to the Citizens of Marion County

letters to editor, ocala, marion county, ocala post
James Preston Florida State Lodge FOP President

Marion county, FloridaYour Marion County Deputy Sheriffs need your help. They are calling 911. There is an urgent emergency!

As veterans of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, we live here. We work here and raise our families here. We have proudly dedicated our professional careers to serving Marion County as law enforcement officers. We can no longer stand by and watch our agency, our men and women, our county fail to provide the level of safety our citizens demand and deserve. It is time to speak up.

It is evident our current serving Board of County Commissioners have lost sight of their role and sworn duty to provide for the security of those they serve. We believe as an employee and citizen of Marion County that we deserve more from our elected officials.

The current situation at the Sheriff’s Office has become unattainable. Your Deputy Sheriffs have not seen a raise in eight years and their equipment has reached its useful life span and needs replacement or upgrading. Average response time to calls for service from our community have reached an average of 11.5 minutes. That’s without backup. If it is your emergency, is that acceptable? We completed a salary survey, which told us what we already knew, our professional law enforcement officers are some of the lowest paid in the state of a Florida with little or no benefits, no cost of living adjustment or career path to follow for advancement. Our folks are giving up and leaving to go elsewhere for the sake of their families.

Under the current administration of elected officials, there is no light at the end of this very long tunnel. We are asking for your help, we need you as our backup. The shortage of manpower, the long response times, the dangers of law enforcement and the dangers to our community are no longer acceptable.

Our advice to any potential candidate looking for employment at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, look somewhere else. Here you are promised low pay, no cost of living adjustments, heavy workload, worn-out equipment, and no respect from your County Commission for what you do. These are some of the reasons that there is no longer a waiting line to become a team member of the MCSO, but instead a worn path along the exit route from the office!

Sheriff Blair did go to the commissioners last year with a sizable request for funding that was clearly not received well. They asked that he form a five-year “recovery” plan and he delivered it to the commission this year. There has been no discussion concerning the plan, nor have we seen any action to achieve the goals in that plan. The sheriff needs much better negotiation skills. It was also recently released that Lee Niblock, our county administrator, was seeking employment within another community. Truth be known, this is his second attempt to vacate our county this year. His latest application is with Alachua County and the first words from one of our commissioners during a public meeting were “I think we should offer him a raise.” Seriously? This recommendation was made to all of the other commissioners based upon his last performance evaluation and the fact that he has not had a raise in eight years. He is already one of the highest paid employees of the county with a salary that exceeds $160,000.00.

At what point, when you call 911 for a law enforcement emergency and receive a delayed response does that become acceptable? It is becoming much closer to reality and the delays are numerous per day. A couple of minutes do make the difference between life and death during an in-progress call. Our men and women are professionals and are doing the best they can.

We ask for your help. Contact the County Commission and let them know we are not going to take this anymore. Fund your public safety departments as your life depends upon it.

Jim Preston, President
Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police

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