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Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter Gets Another Free Pass From the County 5

Sheriff Mark Hunter
Did The 5 give the Sheriff a free pass for riding to their rescue? Last night he refused to come to the microphone.    (File Photo)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter got another free pass, in a long line of free passes from The County 5, when The 5 rubber stamped a budget transfer of almost a quarter million dollars in the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Hunter, who won reelection last year with over 80% of the vote, no longer gives any explanations to the public regarding his $11,000,000 budget.

The 5, whose job it is to collect, approve, and monitor the Sheriff's budget, deals with him in the back rooms, where most of the County's business is transacted.

Leading last night's Consent Agenda was Sheriff Mark Hunter's $223,597 money transfer. The Sheriff's miniscule explanation was in a letter in the back up material: This reclassification is to more accurately report our Warrants Division under Law Enforcement as it is a Law Enforcement function and not Corrections/Detention related.

Sheriff Hunter is almost 2 years into his second term. It is not clear why it took him almost 6 years to discover this.

Yesterday the Observer wrote, "Don't expect The 5 to ask for any kind of explanation."

Columbia County 5
The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams; Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Stephen Bailey; Scarlet Frisina

Déjà vu

Last night, the Observer asked for an explanation.

County Manager Dale Williams explained, "Item one is an external budget amendment of the Sheriff's Department. It does not change the amount of the budget for the Sheriff's Office. It simply reclassifies for certain expenditures that come from different funds.

The Observer asked, "Why wasn't that done last year during the budget cycle? Why is that being done tonight? He's been the Sheriff for six years.

County Manager Williams replied, "That would be a question for the Sheriff."

The Observer, to The 5, "Is somebody going to ask (The 5 pause) before you approve it?

Board Chairman and long time Commissioner Ronald Williams spoke for The 5, "It's not movin' money around. We trust the Sheriff to do the right thing."

The Observer, "It took him six years to do this."

Chairman Williams, "If the Sheriff want to comment he can. If he don't feel it necessary (to the Sheriff) you don't have to Sheriff.

Chairman Williams relayed a nod from the Sheriff, "The Sheriff say it's not necessary."

None of the other 4 of The 5 asked for an explanation and the Sheriff's budget transfer of almost 1/4 million dollars was rubber stamped.

Epilogue (commentary)

When Mark Hunter ran for Sheriff in 2008, Columbia County's infamous good ole' boys put out the word  –  incumbent Sheriff, Bill Gootee had to go. Sheriff Gootee was becoming uncontrollable and wasn't a good ole' boy, which is what Columbia County is all about.

Since 2008, Sheriff Hunter, by many measures has done a good job, and when he ran for reelection garnered over 80% of the popular vote, an indication that folks supported him.

Now, at every County Commission meeting, there are Sheriff Office employees and others wearing buttons with the letters S-O-S, which is an acronym for Support-Our-Sheriff. With over 80% of the vote, and with a County Commission that probably voted for him en mass, his support has already been established.

It's time Columbia County's Sheriff got out of his chair, wiped the smile off his face, and explained to The 5 that Columbia County's Road Deputies, not the administrators that he has taken care of, are out on the street putting their lives on the line.

This good ole' boy Sheriff needs to stand tall and take his place at the microphone and finally support his Road Deputies, who are some of the poorest paid in Florida. Sheriff Hunter needs to tell The 5 that this is just not acceptable anymore.

Until that time, with this Sheriff, S-O-S really stands for Same Old S....


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