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Lee Sheriff’s race offers four candidates

By CJ HADDAD - | Sep 23, 2020


Heading into the Nov. 3 General Election, the race for Lee County Sheriff is one of the more crowded on voter ballots this time around.

Incumbent Carmine Marceno was victorious in the Republican Primary and now faces Democrat Robert Neeld and two no- party-affiliation candidates, Carmen McKinney and Michael “Coach Ray” Qualls.

Marceno said he’s learned a lot through the primary, where he defeated James Leavens. While Marceno is the incumbent, this is his first campaign. He was appointed by then-governor Rick Scott in 2018.

“It’s my first run as a candidate and it’s been a long run but a great run,” Marceno said. “Being laser-focused on the job at hand and making certain that our citizens are going to be safe in this county, that’s most important to me.

“Staying in the office is truly significant as well. In the primary, I’m blessed to say the residents spoke and they showed that all the hard work and dedication that I’ve done so far, they appreciate and they also support.”

Marceno said while he was pleased with the results of the primary, he didn’t take too much time to celebrate knowing there was more work to be done.

He said while he is the face of the office and the party, it’s the work of his department as a whole that makes the difference.

“I couldn’t do this job without the men and women of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. My team is truly amazing and I feel blessed to lead just amazing, amazing people,” he said. “I work with the best.”

Marceno, who took office after Sheriff Mike Scott retired, said his hard work and track record thus far are what set him apart.

“I give it my all every day, we’re doing amazing things in this county,” Marceno said. “The statistics back that up and show it and prove it — it’s not just words.”

Marceno said he is looking forward to opening up satellite offices of LCSO in the near future and will continue to keep the safety of students in the county at the forefront of his efforts, along with continuing to reduce violent crime.

“We just got recognized No. 1 by FASRO (Florida Association of School Resource Officers) as a school resource officer program in the entire state. That’s a huge deal,” Marceno said. “School safety is No. 1.”

Marceno said LCSO also is an advocate for those who “don’t have a voice,” such as animals, the elderly and youth.

While candidates across all forums have had to get creative with their campaigning efforts due to COVID-19, Neeld is taking a page out of the playbook of a former U.S. Senator and Florida governor he looks up to, Lawton Chiles.

Chiles once walked from Pensacola to Tallahassee as part of his campaign, shaking hands along the way. This year, Neeld will walk from Alva to Bonita Springs (he also walked the length of the district back in 2016 in a bid for the House) and hopes to be at the post office in Bonita by the first weekend in October. Neeld has already begun his trek and said he has found success in meeting and greeting residents.

Neeld ran a generation ago for sheriff and is hoping his image as “the business man” will create success this time around.

“The job of being a sheriff is not a law enforcement job, it’s an administrative job,” Neeld said. “A sheriff doesn’t go out every day and arrest the bad guy, he in-turn hires someone to do that. He applies a big budget — lots of (resident) tax dollars.”

Neeld said it’s time to “drain the swamp” in Lee County.

“There’s not just a swamp in Washington or Tallahassee, there’s a swamp in Lee County and there’s a swamp at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “This year, I’m encouraged that (voters) will choose the businessman, as they did in 2016 (for President Trump).”

His goals include “demilitarizing” the agency.

“Military weapons and tactics have no place in domestic law enforcement,” Neeld said. “I would like to reduce the violence and make sure LCSO does their job without being violent towards the people, and I need to restructure the department to do the job which has been thrust upon them.

“The sheriff has had thrust upon them, the duty of attending to people in this community who may have mental illness or addiction issues and we have to restructure the department so we can better deal with that to the benefit of all.”

McKinney, who retired from the LCSO at the rank of major, is seeking office due to what he calls “unethical” standards with leadership.

“If they want a sheriff that is concerned about the people, and not self-serving interests, then I’m their person,” he said. “I have been in police work for well over 34 years and been in government for over 40. I’ve worked in multiple capacities with LCSO over the years.”

McKinney said the first thing he would do as sheriff is “to restore integrity.”

Planks of his platform include: to enforce professional police standards by example and by enforcement, eliminate “reckless” and “self-serving” expenditures and to establish a pay grade system and promotional system that draws the most qualified candidates and creates better retention. He hopes to improve communications and working environments with employees, the media and the community.

Qualls, now a life-coach after a 21-year law enforcement career, is hoping to take his profession and ingrain those practices into the office.

“I believe the life-coaching concept would be perfect for law enforcement,” Qualls said. “I help people change their negative thoughts and turn them into something positive. I try to look for their strengths and build upon those. I want to have all of the deputies and corrections officers get certified as life coaches and I want to have a life coaching program in the jail for the inmates.”

Qualls would also like to see a mentor program for kids and a “crime prevention committee” made up of those with first-hand knowledge of the criminal mind, including former criminals.

“I believe they have the knowledge in their mind of why crimes are committed and what to look for,” he said.

Qualls also advocates for deputies and corrections officers to be in-shape and will create a mandatory fitness test and drug program.

For General Election information and how and where to vote, visit www.lee.vote.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj