BY JAMES HARPER
Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson is accusing his challenger Seminole County Deputy Wendell Bradford of lying in public about what he has accomplished in Volusia County.
“That’s getting into credibility. Is that what you want for your sheriff, (someone) that’s not going to tell you the truth,” questioned Johnson.
He also declared that Bradford is not qualified to hold the position of sheriff because he has no managerial experience.
Both Johnson and Bradford were interviewed by the Daytona Times recently as both campaign to win in the Nov. 6 election.
Johnson said Bradford has accused him of promoting on the “good old boy” system.
“He’s accused me of cronyism. He doesn’t have a clue how I do it. If he did, he is telling you a lie or he would be correcting what he said,” Johnson explained.
Johnson said he promotes those who pass the test. He said he can take anybody in the top five, but he chooses the person with the highest score.
“If they have worked hard, done all this to do well on that test, they deserve the right. I don’t know how fairer I can get. If that is good old boy or cronyism, then I’m not going to change my ways,” he remarked.
‘Particular about who we hire’
Johnson also has been criticized for the makeup of the Volusia County Sheriff Department.
Presently, there are 450 officers working for him and only 19 are Black.
Twenty-seven are Hispanic.
“We are very particular about who we hire,” Johnson said, adding that he wants to hire more minorities.
“We want to see diversity. We have seen people (coming out of) the military. We have done sponsorship programs. You go out to the junior college. How many minorities are sitting in the law enforcement classes,” asked Johnson.
“We can’t hire them until they are law enforcement officers. We definitely want to hire them. Get educated so we can hire. I need the help of the community so we can fill those positions. I can’t just walk out on the street and say you are a cop,” said Johnson.
Johnson questioned why after 21 years with the same Seminole Sheriff’s Department, Bradford has never held any rank other than as a deputy.
“You don’t start as president of the U.S. being the White House gardener,” Johnson said.
If elected, Bradford would be the first Black to hold the position.
Johnson’s path to sheriff
Johnson has been Volusia County’s Sheriff for the past 12 years.
Johnson, who was born in DeLand 62 years ago, said he never planned a career in law enforcement but hoped to be a lawyer.
He said 10 positions became open under his former boss Ed Duff in 1971 and his plan was to work as a deputy to help pay his way through college.
“In 30 months time I was made a sergeant. I had five years in and was promoted to lieutenant. I found something I loved – never wanted to leave,” Johnson said.
After 27 years with the department, Johnson retired in 1988 to run for sheriff in 2000.
He defeated a field of four, which at the time included Bradford, who didn’t make it into the run-off.
Johnson went on to defeat Gus Beckstrom and has held the position ever since.
Sheriff on cities:
We work together
During the Times interview, Johnson responded to some of the allegations made against him in public and in news articles.
Bradford has accused Johnson of not allowing his officers to work in cities and only in unincorporated areas.
“We do work with the cities. Wendell does not realize deputy sheriffs working patrol are not paid for by city taxes. (You) do not see DeLand or Daytona police officers coming into the county unless it is an emergency or some specific thing city residents aren’t paying for deputies that are working patrol,” Johnson said.
Johnson did add that some of his deputies are paid by general funds of some cities.
“We took over Oak Hill. We were asked by them. They had problems with their police department. We contract with them,” Johnson explained.
“He’s going to have city police go out into the county. City residents don’t want their people out there on general calls. County residents don’t want their tax dollars spent inside the city. We work together. We help each other,” Johnson continued.
Overtime pay an issue
Johnson said there is only so much they can do with the funds they have available.
“We don’t’ have the manpower we would like to have. Wendell does not understand the differences in tax bases and how the people are paid,” Johnson said.
Bradford has also criticized Johnson for all of the overtime he pays officers.
Again, Johnson cited Bradford’s inexperience for not understanding how a sheriff office runs.
“Overtime money is just not free money; it is vacant salary money. It is budgeted salary money,” Johnson said.
Johnson said while people are training to fill vacant positions that salary money is used for overtime.
Training requires 13 weeks in class and 10 weeks in a car.
“During that period of time, you do have overtime. Overtime money in one pot, salary money in another pot. In Volusia county, you are always going to have more overtime than other counties because of special events,” Johnson explained.
Johnson also said it is cheaper to pay overtime than to hire deputies year-round. Part–time or temporary deputies do not qualify for insurance, other medical benefits or vacation time, Johnson noted.
Johnson touts leadership skills
Johnson said some have said he should retire because of his age – that it’s time to give someone else an opportunity after being in office 12 years.
“I have proven leadership skills, which is very important. That’s change for the sake of change. If you start getting stale, that’s one thing. This is something I love. When I start getting tired, that’s the time to quit,” Johnson concluded.
Bradford cites qualifications
Bradford took issue with Johnson criticizing his qualifications to be sheriff.
“That is why I went to school and received my bachelor’s in business administration and my master’s in strategic leadership,” he said.
As far as only being a deputy, Bradford said he has taken the sergeant’s test four times and passed and was on the list to be chosen.
“My sheriff picks who he wants. You can be first on the list and he doesn’t have to pick you,” Bradford explained.
“I can’t force my agency to promote me. I am not going to leave my agency and go somewhere because they picked someone else.’’
“It is my job as the sheriff to look at mission, vision and future of the sheriff office, which he has failed to do,” Bradford continued.
Bradford said his education gives him the ability to run an agency.
“He (Johnson) is saying everybody that has a degree should just burn it. What he has forgotten someone with a degree is usually picked over someone who does not have one. If he was doing his job and being a good leader, I wouldn’t be running against him,” Bradford said.
Bradford questions lack of diversity
Bradford said he has proof that Johnson has not been actively trying to integrate the sheriff’s office.
He stated that he knows a Black marine who recently retired from the service after 32 years who tried to get a job with the sheriff’s department. The marine said he did every thing that was required of him, and Johnson “gave him the runaround.”
“There are Blacks and Hispanics trying to get a job. They are being turned around and not receiving letters. They are waiting five or six months for an interview. He is saying we have higher standards. As long as these folks can pass the test, he should hire them,” said Bradford.