Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Sheriff Candidates Rendezvous at the NCFL Tea Party

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night the North Central Florida Tea Party sponsored a candidate night for the Sheriff candidates of Columbia and Suwannee counties. All three candidates for Columbia County were in attendance, as well as Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron, whose opposition did not show up. First-term Columbia County incumbent, Mark Hunter, was joined on the stage by challengers Rudolf Davis and Carl Hodson.

Columbia County's candidates alphabetically

Rudolph Davis

Former Lake City police Capt. Ralph Davis told the audience he was a lifelong Columbia County crime fighter. He said, "I have worked in virtually every field of law enforcement and as a former police Capt. I know what it takes to lead to a law enforcement agency."

Mr. Davis continued, "I believe the office of sheriff should be filled by the most qualified person. One who has a vast amount of law enforcement experience and is a person who possesses leadership skills, communication skills, honesty, courage, compassion, integrity, and one who is conservative and committed to keeping the Constitution of the United States of America... We will not in any way violate people's constitutional rights to keep and bear arms."

Mr. Davis addressed the serious issue of juvenile crime in Columbia County this way: I will work hard to solve juvenile crime and help make Columbia County a model of how a community can successfully address the issues of juvenile crime. As an advocate for our youth, I firmly believe that early intervention and prevention programs are the best and most cost effective programs that can successfully deter juveniles from committing crimes.

Mr. Davis concluded his ten minutes this way: This community deserves a law enforcement agency that will act and make the best decisions on its behalf and a law enforcement agency that will protect the people's rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The badge should not define the person. The person should define the badge.

Carl Hodson

Carl Hodson told the audience he was a retired 30 year Law Enforcement veteran who had spent 30 years working "in our community." Mr. Hodson explained he began his career with the Florida Department of corrections; then spent 14 years with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office; followed by 15 years with the State of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Mr. Hodson emphasized his strong community ties and counted being the first recipient of the Mentor of the Year in Columbia County as one of his greatest accomplishments.

Mr. Hodson told the audience that he would provide the people of Columbia County an accountable and professional Sheriff's Office by making himself available to the people and by building healthy relationships between the community and Deputies. "You have to answer to the people – You have to stand up before them."

Mr. Hodson recognized the problems Columbia County has with the youth. He said he would like to set up a mentoring program and explained that mentored youth have better school attendance and grades.

Mr. Hodson said, "Training for the deputies has to be stepped up and I am going to push very hard for it... Training saves lives."

Sheriff Mark Hunter

Sheriff Hunter began by introducing his right hand, "My wife Marilyn... I wouldn't be where I am at today if it wasn't for her."

He told the group, "This is what America is all about -- an election process. You decide who your elected officials are going to be."

Sheriff Hunter said that he is 51 years old; was born and raised in Columbia County and went through the school system; spent 30 years with the Florida Army National Guard; worked at PCS for 13 years; worked at Tobacco and Firearms (state); and at one time was a school resource officer.

Sheriff Hunter said that when he began his tenure as sheriff there were no business practices in place.

Sheriff Hunter said that he has broken up the Sheriff's office into divisions, each one with its own leader. He said, "They answer to me and I answer to you."

Sheriff Hunter said that through his reorganization efforts he has been able to increase patrol by a reallocation of manpower.

Reflecting the difficult economic times of the past few years, Sheriff Hunter said that he is the first Sheriff since 1984 that has experienced a budget cut. "Even though we've had a budget cut we generated better stats than they've had probably in the last 15 years," he said.

Sheriff Hunter, as he did in a recent press release, highlighted his crime solve statistics, but left out the fact that crime increased 15% county wide last year.

Sheriff Hunter said, "We are doing more with less; we are going to continue doing very well, but I am going to be accountable for your tax dollars, because I know that you expect that."

Sheriff Hunter said that the retention rate among his employees has averaged 90% over the past three years. In these difficult economic times, if that number is correct, it is not difficult to understand.

Sheriff Hunter concluded his presentation with a joke about donuts. He did not mention the problems the County is having with youth crime.

One question and one question only

The Observer asked one question:

 For the past couple of years the Sheriff has not been showing up at County Commission meetings. If you are elected, will you show up at County Commission meetings and be answerable to the people?

Rudolph Davis: I think it is very important that the Sheriff show up at County Commission meetings. Sometimes there are questions people may have. It gives the Sheriff an opportunity to meet the people and he should take advantage of it. I would attend the meetings.

Sheriff Hunter:  I have attended county commission meetings. I look at the agenda and if its pertinent to the Sheriff's Office I go to those meetings. I go where I feel like I need to be. At times, I may be going to another function which I feel is important.

Carl Hodson:  It is important to be there if you can be there. If you can't make it I feel that you should have a representative there to take some notes or at least to advise you on what occurred.


In a recent trip to cover a breaking story in Bradford County, the Observer asked Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith if he always attended County Commission meetings.

Sheriff Smith said he always attended. Also at the Bradford County Commission meeting were other members of his command staff, as well as the County Clerk and Deputy Clerk.

Sheriff Smith said, "We are here to serve the people of Bradford County. If somebody has a question, we are here to answer it." In Bradford County the public is encouraged to attend meetings and Sheriff Smith pointed out that all the major department heads attended Commission meetings for the same reason, i.e., to serve the public.

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