“It is with great honor and pride that I stand ready to serve you, the citizens of Marion County.
I am humbled beyond words at the opportunity to work with you and my fellow board members in making the decisions involving growth management, solid waste, economic development, and the protection of our precious natural resources. These decisions will not only affect us, but our children and the future generations that will be lucky enough to call Marion County home.
It is my desire that during my time of service to you, the citizens of Marion County, that should you ever have any questions, concerns or suggestions you will not hesitate to contact me.”
Above is the statement of Kathy Bryant, Chairman of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. She signed it, “Sincerely”, Kathy Bryant.
Two words that residents of Marion County do not believe belong in the same sentence is, Sincere and Kathy Bryant.
The first line of her statement indicates she is ready to serve citizens, however from the disposition she displayed toward citizens at last night’s board meeting while discussing the increase of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office budget, citizens would never know she cared.
As Sheriff Chris Blair made his entrance into the auditorium, the crowd roared with applause, however that was quickly dimmed by Kathy Bryant threatening to clear the room if the crowd did not quiet down.
The County Commissioners meeting was jam packed with deputies, corrections officers, and citizens begging the Commissioners to increase the budget in order for Blair to have the ability to add more deputies.
Begging County Commissioners on an issue that many say, should be common sense.
The turnout was so great, the Fire Marshal had to step in and ask a portion of the crowd to stand outside of the packed auditorium.
All night there were stories about lack of deputies , failing equipment, and crimes against citizens.
One by one deputies expressed their concerns to the Commissioners and showed their support for their sheriff.
Chrisean Bollers of the MCSO, told Commissioners that the greatest threat to Marion County was not terrorists or criminals; the greatest threat was the people in the room.” (Meaning the County Commissioners.)
One woman told Commissioners,” look at the scars on my mouth, they are scars of a victim of crime.”
The support for the sheriff was overwhelming and the brotherhood among the Sheriff’s Office seemed to be more than just a brotherhood, it was more like family.
It was very clear to citizens that Sheriff Blair does care about his community and his employees.
At one point Sheriff Chris Blair got up to take a short bathroom break, but before returning to his seat he stopped to take the time and thank the citizens that were outside of the meeting listening on the overhead intercom; he thanked them for coming and said that he truly appreciated their support.
Employees of the Sheriff’s Office are not turning their back on Blair, nor are the citizens of Marion County, because it is more than evident that Chris Blair inherited the depreciation of $24 Million. The Commissioners allowed Sheriff Blair to walk right into the deteriorating Sheriff’s Office. Blair was put into office in January of 2013. Since that time he has uncovered a massive deficiency that was being swept under the rug so to speak, for years.
Blair said there were approximately between 20-30 graduates from the College of Central Florida’s Police Academy in the last three weeks.
“Not one of those graduates applied to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office“, said Blair. He went on to say, “what kind of message is that sending?”
Cadets will not apply to an agency that is underpaying its deputies by approximately $9,000 compared to surrounding counties. The starting pay at the Sheriff’s Office for deputies in roughly $28,500, while Ocala Police Department starts its officers at approximately $36,000. Deputies say the huge gap in pay is not the fault of the Sheriff, it directly falls upon the shoulders of the County Commissioners that the public elected to serve the citizens and employees of Marion County. Commissioners were not elected to serve for their own political agenda, said one deputy.
It was obvious that everyone that came to support Blair agreed on one thing: the small increase in property taxes is a small price to pay for the safety of deputies, corrections officers, and the citizens of Marion County.
There were very few people who disagreed.
Donald Barber, a business owner in Belleview, said he had voted for Blair but is now “disappointed” that the sheriff wants to increase spending. He begged the commission to “stand strong” and reject Blair’s spending increase. Barber was lucky to make it through the crowd outside the auditorium as his comments did not sit well with a vast majority of the citizens. One private citizen said, “I should have tripped him as he was walking by.” Many laughed under their breath, but the seriousness and importance of the meeting to citizens was very evident after Barber spoke.
Privatization of the jail was a huge topic of the night for corrections officers, but commissioners said they were not there to discuss privatization.
The commissioners told the crowd that the tour of the jail with executives from the Corrections Corporation of America was to explore “every possible option” before a tax increase was considered by the board, which has approval authority over the Sheriff’s Office’s budget.
Officials say the privatization of the jail by turning it over to Corrections Corporation of America would be the downfall of Marion County.
Ocala Post wanted to know more about Corrections Corporation of America, so we made some calls and did a little investigating.
Corrections Corporation of America is basically a company that preys on county jails and prisons when budget issues become a concern. CCA has been accused of mistreating inmates, mistreating employees, falsifying internal investigations, violating civil rights, falsifying hours that are reported to the state in which they are running a prison or jail, and have been the center of a major FBI investigation. Many of the allegations against CCA have turned out to be true yet the company remains in business.
Corrections Corporation of America has been referred to many times as, “The New World Order.”
Needless to say that the implied allegations by officials that CCA would be the downfall of Marion County, proved to be true.
Privatization of the jail would ruin lives in Marion County. Every corrections officer would lose his or her job if CCA were to take over. The Marion County unemployment rate would sky rocket.
Wives of deputies told the Commissioners they were afraid of losing their home if the budget was not increased. Wives, many with small children, said they feared for their husband’s life every time they walk out the door because of old equipment and lack of man power.
You could hear the pain in the voices of those who spoke. Worried family members and staff alike had different stories, but the same agenda; to implore the Commissioners to increase the budget.
During the meeting the Commissioner’s were told very bluntly, that they did not care about public safety.
Officials of the MCSO stated many times during the meeting, if the budget is not raised, crime will.
In the end Sheriff Chris Blair said to Commissioners, “It is a shame where this Sheriff’s Office is. I will never apologize for standing, and taking a stance for these people.” Adding, “don’t make me have to look you in the eyes and say I told you so.”