Public outraged at sheriff’s refusal to sign school resource officer contract



Note: Readers asked for the contract to be published. You can view it here.

After multiple requests, Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast finally spoke about his refusal to sign a three-way contract for the funding of school resource officers.

Prendergast says he will not sign the contract because he does not agree with the auditing of SRO funds and claims the contract is illegal.

The contract, which was obtained by the citrus Gazette, states that the county commission and school board must split any additional funding. However, Prendergast says all additional funding must be used for the SRO program.

The public has chastised Prendergast, stating that he must be hiding something if he refuses to be audited. Prendergast denies those claims.

Commissioners said that Prendergast is the first sheriff ever to refuse to sign the contract.

Citrus County Commissioner Ron Kitchen said it doesn’t seem right to potentially put deputies out of a job just because Prendergast refuses to tell taxpayers what is being spent.

Commissioners say that the sheriff’s refusal to sign could end the SRO program.

Now, the school district will move forward to create the Citrus County School District Police Department. Officials said it is getting closer to reality every day.

Prendergast said he will send a deputy to each school on August 13, which is now required by law, but he refuses to sign the contract.

The $2.4 million contract was signed this week by both the county commission and school board. The contract requires the sheriff to provide a resource officer in every school and three additional sergeants.

The public should also know that the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office refused to allow multiple media outlets into Thursday’s press conference.

At 7:54 p.m., Thursday, Prendergrast released the following statement on the CCSO Facebook page:

I have never wavered in my commitment to have School Resource Deputies at all of our public school campuses to maintain the safety and welfare of the children in our community. School Resource Deputies have been on Citrus County’s public school campuses – protecting students, teachers, and staff – for 33 years. Since the senseless tragedy in Parkland in February, I, along with my Command Staff, have worked tirelessly to find a solution to safeguard our schools from a potential threat. In fact, in the hours immediately following the Parkland shooting, we acted responsibly, and added needed deputies on all public school campuses – long before new law requirements were passed by the Legislature (Senate Bill 7026) and signed into law – to protect our students and faculty.

More than a month ago, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office had an agreement with the Citrus County School Board regarding funding to keep SRD’s in every public school. As I have said many times, the budget does not adequately fund all of the requirements we deem necessary to do this job, so we have already applied for federal grant funding to help us meet some of these shortfalls. The Citrus County Board of County Commissioners have since injected illegal and unconstitutional language into the contract. The main points of contention involve any allocation of additional state funds and the distribution of federal grant funds. Plus, the bureaucrats have added an expensive and unnecessary additional audit – at significant taxpayer expense – that was not included in the original contract.

The illegal wording included in the contract specifically states: ”The Parties agree that any additional allocation from the State from SB 7026, or from any other source for School Resource Officers made to the Sheriff, the School District or the County shall be applied to reduce the County’s and the School District’s proportionate contribution under this Agreement. Any additional allocation received by any party shall be sent to the County for distribution.” If the state reallocates Senate Bill 7026 funds, or if the Sheriff’s Office is awarded federal grant funding, the CCSB and the BOCC are asking that the awarded money be distributed to them and used for how they see fit. What this means is that they are asking me to commit a fraud, which is a violation of federal law as well as a violation of Florida Statutes. The federal government specifically precludes us from using grant dollars for anything other than what the grant is intended for. State law has similar language. This illegal language compromises the safety of not only our students, teachers, and staff, but also our deputies who have taken a solemn oath to protect and serve.

The CCSO has always been transparent with our budget and taxpayers’ dollars. The agency currently undergoes a yearly audit by an independent firm hired by the BOCC. This contract in question also subjects the agency to a secondary audit, which is expensive and unnecessary. As your Sheriff, I am bound by law not to sign an illegal and unconstitutional document.

I understand the frustration and uncertainty of parents, teachers, and school staff who are witnessing a political tug of war that is unnecessary. However, the frustration should not lie with this agency or myself. The dissatisfaction should be on the shoulders of the parties who have chosen to circumvent what is legally, morally, and ethically right.

I intend to fulfil my obligation to ensure the highest level of security on our school campuses by providing every public school with a highly trained School Resource Deputy who will greet students and staff on Monday, August 13, 2018.

Yours in Service,
Sheriff Mike Prendergast

Many Citrus County residents are outraged.

Mark Dobleman wrote, “What a total load of BS, nice political try to turn it around but you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar !!!! Step down and let a real L.E.O. take charge, one who is a law officer & not a politician !!!!”

Brad Hollingsworth wrote, “Time for a recall election. Don’t ever forget that you’re a public servant and you work for us. Your statements are on record and in the paper. You’re trying to avoid an audit of funds. You’re no better than most of the elected officials out there. They seem to think that they are a ruling class as well. This faux apology and passing of the buck is too little too late.”

We want to hear from you. What do you think?