It has been 16-years since we made an endorsement for this important constitutional officer and over that time our volunteer editorial board has paid attention to the current officeholder so we could be prepared when this day finally arrived.
Historic City News endorsed David Shoar over Glenn Lightsey in 2004, and for the first six years, it looked like it was going to be a good fit. The former sheriff, Neil Perry, held the office for 20-years and would have been re-elected without opposition had he not been ready to retire.
Unfortunately, following the death of Michelle O’Connell on September 2, 2010, every interaction with Shoar, and later with many departments within the agency, became more and more strained. That is not a good sign. Shoar expected a “pass” from us on the mishandling of the case as each week brought to light another mistake or negligent step in the investigation.
It got to the point where I did not feel that I could trust what Shoar was telling me. I met Shoar for breakfast at Jaybirds and had planned to confront him with my doubts. As we were paying our check and getting up from the booth to leave, I told him to look me straight in the eye and tell me that he was telling me the truth about the death. I could tell that he wasn’t expecting my question. He stuttered a minute, looked down and away as he responded, and he was having trouble holding eye contact with me.
From that moment forward, every press release got fact-checked, we made public records requests to support almost everything his spokesman claimed, and what was reported was not always in lock-step with the sanitized version released by Chuck Mulligan. About three years ago, I was informed that the department would no longer issue me a “press pass” or allow me to make media inquiries because the sheriff would not approve what I was writing.
So, when Shoar came out with his endorsement of Robert Hardwick, I was concerned. Hardwick had a good foundation, but it was clear that he would owe Shoar a considerable political debt. The land developers in Duval County started dropping $1,000 personal donations into the campaign and before long, Hardwick’s campaign account was in the six-figure range.
Then as I skimmed over Hardwick’s financial report recently, I noticed that all of the people who played a questionable role in the Michelle O’Connell case were also $1000 personal donors. A cold chill ran down my back and I knew that the only hope for Hardwick at that point was complete independence from Shoar’s influence.
The other members of our board felt the same way. We found that the closer we got to election day, the more influence Shoar was exerting over Hardwick. Then, the morning after Shoar shows up drunk or high at the Republican Club’s candidate debate, a crew of ranking deputies in tow, and a loud, verbal disturbance breaks out in the men’s room between Shoar and J. B. Burney, a campaign postcard arrives with just Shoar and Hardwick’s picture
“We can find no evidence that the current sheriff will not exercise his influence over the alternative, if elected. Anything less than about face from the unaccountability of the past 16-years is not acceptable. For that reason, the Historic City News editorial board endorses Chris Strickland for Sheriff of St Johns County.”