On Tuesday, Aug. 30, voters across Palm Beach County will go to the polls and make choices from among several candidates vying for countywide constitutional officer positions. As you consider people for these crucial roles, we recommend looking carefully at experience. Most of these positions are functionary posts that require detailed knowledge and experience to run fairly technical offices. With that thought in mind, we make the following suggestions in the races for Public Defender for the 15th Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County Sheriff, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections and Palm Beach County Property Appraiser.
Public Defender: Incumbent Public Defender Carey Haughwout faces a challenge from attorney William “Bill” Abramson. Haughwout has held the office for nearly 16 years, where she has been in charge of the legal staff that represents individuals charged with crimes who cannot afford representation in a court of law. It’s a difficult and often thankless job, but it fills a crucial constitutional obligation necessary in our criminal justice system. In this role, Haughwout has worked to increase the department’s diversion programs to keep people out of the criminal justice system and implement services such as substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as support services for the homeless. Haughwout runs an underfunded and overworked office about as well as can possibly be expected. Abramson argues that the department needs transparency and better morale, but we believe it needs four more years of professional stability led by one of the experts in the field. The Town-Crier endorses the re-election of Carey Haughwout as Public Defender for the 15th Judicial Circuit.
Sheriff: Incumbent Sheriff Ric Bradshaw faces three challengers: retired Riviera Beach Police Major Alex Freeman, retired Riviera Beach Sector Commander Rick “Rosco” Sessa and former PBSO Deputy Samuel Thompson. The non-partisan position runs one of the largest employers in the county, by far the largest law enforcement agency in the county and the biggest single recipient of county tax dollars. It needs a qualified individual to handle the operation.
Freeman has law enforcement experience, more than 20 years’ worth, and this experience makes him worthy of consideration for the position. He believes there needs to be more transparency in the department, and that there needs to be an increased emphasis on community policing and relations between the sheriff’s office and its local constituencies, things we agree can always be improved in every bureaucratic position. Sessa’s main arguments are accusations of misconduct by Bradshaw and his office. He has filed nearly 20 such accusations against Bradshaw at the state and federal level. Like Freeman, Thompson feels that the PBSO is out of touch with the community. He brings the perspective of someone who used to work inside the agency.
Bradshaw, seeking his fourth term, is far from perfect, but he has done more than enough to merit re-election, especially against a field of challengers that offers little experience in actually running a department as large and diverse as the PBSO. One of his continual battles has been to fight gangs and gang violence. While Bradshaw’s work to crack down on gangs and pill mills has been successful, it’s a never-ending quest to keep crime in check. Since taking office, crime is down in Palm Beach County, and when it comes to evaluating his job, this is a big factor to consider, especially considering that the department has achieved it while also working to keep costs in check during a difficult economic stretch. Yes, Bradshaw could do a better job at outreach to minority communities, and he really needs to be more of a leader in the current nationwide conversation regarding the sometimes tense relationship between policing agencies and the communities they serve. Nevertheless, when it comes to the most important aspect of the job — protecting Palm Beach County residents — the PBSO has been successful under Bradshaw. The Town-Crier endorses the re-election of Ric Bradshaw as Palm Beach County Sheriff.
Supervisor of Elections: Two-term incumbent Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher faces a challenge from Christine Spain, a business attorney and CPA. Bucher was elected to the position in 2008 and has brought stability to a post that experienced anything but in the prior decade. Since taking office, she has worked on programs to increase voting, secured funding for voting equipment and streamlined the election process. She has plans for other upgrades as well, such as online voter registration. Bucher was also the first elections supervisor to work with a vendor to use technology that allows photos to be checked at precinct locations with mini iPads. Spain, whose husband Paul Spain is the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Florida’s District 21, has expressed concern that under Bucher’s leadership, there have been occasional mistakes made in election operations that should not have taken place. While we acknowledge her concerns, we believe Bucher has done a pretty good job the past eight years, given the inherent difficulties in being an elections supervisor. The public demands speed and accuracy in the reporting of election results. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to have both. Ideally, this office should not be an elected position, but rather an appointed position accountable to experts but removed from the irony of having to simultaneously run in and oversee an election process. However, that is not how it works in Palm Beach County. The Town-Crier endorses the re-election of Susan Bucher as Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections.
Property Appraiser: The property appraiser’s office has been under the same leadership for 24 years, but incumbent Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits is retiring. In this nonpartisan election, there are two candidates to fill his extremely large and important shoes: Chief Deputy Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks and County Commissioner Shelley Vana. Being property appraiser is a thankless position that people often mistake for being the person in charge of taxation. Jacks has been with the property appraiser’s office since 1988. Her accomplishments within the department include setting up the Property Appraiser Public Access (PAPA) system, a sophisticated web site that allows residents to research a plethora of property records, file for exemptions and more. Vana is an experienced politician and former educator who has served in numerous offices over the years, and while she has made many political connections within Palm Beach County and Tallahassee, we’re inclined to believe that a strong, experienced individual from inside an effective program is a better option in this case. While both candidates might do a fine job in the role, Jacks’ experience is more relevant to the task at hand. The Town-Crier endorses the election of Dorothy Jacks as Palm Beach County Property Appraiser.