While thousands of Leon County residents and businesses continue to languish without power, Leon County Sheriff Mike Wood is defending his senior staff’s personal use of taxpayer-funded portable power generators at their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine. And so far, he’s refusing to identify key members of his command staff who took personal advantage of the county government equipment.
Not only does it raise new questions about the city and county’s shaky response to the disaster, it has current and former law enforcement officers outraged.
“When you’re in law enforcement, public safety comes first, period,” said one former law enforcement official who has since retired. “There are reports across the city where frail, sick and elderly people could have really used a spare generator, but these selfish, so-called ‘leaders’ are only worried about their own personal comfort. That’s not leadership. That’s dereliction of duty.”
Another police officer on active duty declined to be identified, but told The Capitolist that citizens must always come first.
“The priority of life for law enforcement puts victims and citizens before our own. Using public resources for personal use, especially during a crisis, is a selfish and blatant misuse of authority.”
When dawn broke last Friday morning, more than 80 percent of Tallahassee residents woke to find downed trees and snarled power lines, their homes without electricity. Commendably, rank-and-file deputies under Wood’s command carried out their duties, fanning out across the county to check damaged homes, helping those who needed assistance in the wake of the storm. Many of them had no idea about the full extent of damage to their own homes as they patrolled for dangerous electrical lines, flooded areas, and even potential looters looking to take advantage of the unfolding emergency.
But two of the highest ranking members of Wood’s command staff had a bit less to worry about than the men and women they command, thanks to their use of the expensive, taxpayer-funded portable generators. The officials used the equipment to power refrigerators and personal appliances in their homes, while tens of thousands of ordinary citizens waited in dark, overheated buildings for relief.
A spokesman for Sheriff Wood confirmed via email that two command staff members, in addition to other, unnamed personnel, used government equipment at their homes.
“A member of Command Staff did receive the benefit of a generator, while his wife and several minor children were left alone while he worked many 12 hour shifts,” said a Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “Another member of Command Staff utilized a generator for a few hours to recharge a refrigerator and then passed the generator to other employees in need.”
When asked about what corrective action, if any, Sheriff Wood planned to take, the spokesman admitted that no written policy existed that would authorize the personal use of publicly-owned equipment, but went on to imply that the Sheriff’s office viewed the taxpayer-funded generators as equipment available for personal use, rather than exclusively for public safety.
“There is/was no policy for any generator to go strictly to members of Command Staff. Rather, emergency generators were rotated among Sheriff’s office personnel that reported a need or requested the use of a generator,” the spokesman said in an email to The Capitolist.
But this explanation only raises more questions about the decision making process inside the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. For starters, who determined that command staff had a greater need than rank and file deputies, and, more appropriately, Leon County citizens?
“The first question that needs to be answered,” said the retired police officer, “is who authorized two of the highest ranking law enforcement officials in Leon County to put their own personal needs ahead of not only the men and women they lead in the Sheriff’s office, but ahead of the entire population of Leon County? People should be fired for this.”
As of 6pm Wednesday evening, Sheriff Wood’s office had not responded to a request to identify the two senior members of his command staff that utilized the generators.
Here is the entire email exchange between The Capitolist and the Public Information Officer for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office:
Date: September 6, 2016 at 8:41:23 PM EDT
To: “The Capitolist Newsroom” <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Media inquiry
In the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office activated our emergency staffing protocol. Our entire law enforcement operations division was divided into a day shift and night shift of uniform patrol. Many of these team members deployed prior to the sun coming up on Friday, just hours after the eye of the storm made land fall. Most of these employees and their families were impacted by the storm themselves. These deputies left their families, some with minor children, with no electricity, to honor their oath and commitment to protect and serve members of our community. These deputies went to the aid of others, without knowing the extent of the damage to their own property.
The Sheriff’s office has 5 generators in our inventory. These generators, among other generators personally owned and voluntarily donated by Sheriff office employees, were, in fact, rotated among employees that were without power.
There is/was no policy for any generator to go strictly to members of Command Staff. Rather, emergency generators were rotated among Sheriff’s office personnel that reported a need or requested the use of a generator. For example, a generator was taken to the residence of a deputy currently on active duty with the United States Army and deployed overseas. During the storm, his wife and children who is home alone lost power to their residence.
A member of Command Staff did receive the benefit of a generator, while his wife and several minor children were left alone while he worked many 12 hour shifts. Another member of Command Staff utilized a generator for a few hours to recharge a refrigerator and then passed the generator to another employees in need. These same employees are supplying the gas for those generators so no public funds are going to fuel the generators. Many of our employees still do not have power but continue to work long hours to ensure public safety.
The exact numbers of Sheriff’s office personnel that lost power and were provided a donated generator or office owned generator is not known due to the frequency of the movement of the generators. Some of these generators were used for very short periods of time and passed to another Sheriff’s office personnel family in need.
We always refer to our agency as the “Sheriff’s Office Family”. While we were rendering aide to the community during this devastating event, we were also taking care of our family.
If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to give me a call.
Lieutenant Grady Jordan
Public Information Officer
Grady – I have received information that members of the LCSO command staff were using county owned power generators at their personal residences.
I am working on a story about this, but I’d like some comment and/or clarification about it first, if possible. Here are my questions:
1) Did the LCSO authorize the use of these county-owned generators for the command staff?
2) If so, please let me know the rationalization so that I can include that in my story.
3) How many generators did LCSO authorize for personal use?
4) How many members of LCSO’s command staff lost power and therefore needed to use a county generator?
5) How many generators are still in use, and how many have been returned by LCSO command staff members?
6) If personal use of the generators was not authorized, what corrective action, if any, will LCSO take?
Thanks in advance for any information you can provide.