Benton faces Garcia
JOE SEELIGSEBRING - Though the Highlands County Sheriff's race won't be decided until November, the candidates have now met three times with the public in the lead-up to the general election.
Published: August 14, 2012
Published: August 14, 2012
Incumbent Sheriff Susan Benton and challenger Candido "Candi" Garcia met Monday at a Highlands Homeowners Association candidate forum. Each used their introductory time quite differently.
Benton, in her eighth year in office, didn't spend a lot of time talking about her personal history because that appears in the newspapers, good, bad or indifferent. She spoke about the organization.
"I am your sheriff and I'd like to be your sheriff again for another four years," Benton began. "I think that any of you who have been around for a while know that all of the commitments that I have made during the first campaign and the second campaign …we have pretty much accomplished every single thing we have set out to do."
She complimented her command staff for her success and said they are meeting this week to wrap up the 2011 to 2014 strategic plan and begin work on the 2012 to 2015 strategic plan.
"That plan is what drives the sheriff's office," she said. "We asked the community 'What do you want your sheriff's office to be?' And from everything everybody said we developed our vision.
"Then we said, 'OK now that you've told us what you want us to be, how do you want us to do it?' That became our marching orders and our mission statement."
Looking at the goals the community set for them, they developed actions steps to accomplish those goals, she said.
"We've been very, very successful," she said, adding that she meets with her staff to learn where they are on accomplishing the steps they are responsible for.
Garcia told the audience it was an absolute honor for him to be there. As a pastor for 20 years, he said he likes to wake up early and pray for the county, the government, the schools and the people; "the community," he added.
"My name is Candido, they call me Candi with an 'I,'" he said. He was in law enforcement for more than 25 years, he said.
He was born in New York City, the Bronx, he said. It's rough there, but he's not rough, he said.
"I was first a police officer in Puerto Rico," he said. "...I also worked for the Secret Service for two years. Then I move to Florida – Highlands County and I've been here 27 years."
After the meeting he told Highlands Today that when in the Secret Service, he was assigned to Vice President George Bush Sr. as the lead motorcycle driver in his motorcade during the Reagan administration.
He joined the Highlands County Sheriff's Office in 1986 to 1995 or 1996. He worked for seven years in the Public Defender's Office as a public defender investigator.
"I worked inside the jail; I know how the jail works, I know how the road works and I know how the judicial system works," he said.
He has been married to the same woman for 30 years.
He is on the local board of Habitat for Humanity as well as the ministerial association, he said. He was also a police academy instructor for five years, he said.
Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency Acting Director Robin Hinote asked both candidates what they thought about keeping the Sheriff's Office downtown.
"It's not my decision or it would have been made a long time ago," Benton said. "Ideally the best place for us to be is right across the street from where we are on county property (downtown) in the parking lot where we park now. The county has plenty of property for us to do that."
She said they had to divide that project because there was not enough in the county budget. They are moving ahead to build its laboratory and evidence storage in a stand-alone facility on Kenilworth Boulevard.
Garcia said he would leave it where it is at but would investigate it.
"I want to do it at the least cost as possible," he said. "I don't want the people to have to pay (for) it in taxes, because I have to pay taxes too."
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