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McMullen: Quitting to take on sheriff

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of December 1, 2011)
Photo of Lt. William “Bill” McMullen

The competitive and closely-watched race for Indian River County’s top law-enforcement position took an interesting turn when Lt. William “Bill” McMullen told this publication he plans to quit his command-level job with the Sheriff’s Office to campaign against his boss Sheriff Deryl Loar.

“I feel strongly enough about the need to correct problems in the department that I am willing to give up an $80,000-a-year job in this economy to try and bring change,” McMullen said.

When McMullen faced off against Loar in 2008 as part of a four-way race, the 29-year sheriff’s department veteran was able to keep his job because he was not running against the sitting sheriff.

Roy Raymond, who had served two terms, decided not to seek re-election and co-endorsed Loar and McMullen, donating $500 to each man and stating both were qualified to serve as sheriff.

This time around, because McMullen is challenging a constitutional officer who is his boss, a little-known provision of Florida's “Resign to Run” law compels him to step down in order to become a qualified candidate.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, “a deputy sheriff wishing to run for sheriff against an incumbent sheriff would have to resign.”

McMullen has been conducting an active campaign since last January, but has not become a qualified candidate yet. That will occur when he turns in a petition with sufficient signatures or pays a qualifying fee equal to six percent of the annual salary of the job he is seeking.

"The qualifying fee for sheriff is $7,500," says Leslie Swan, Indian River County supervisor of elections.

The deadline for qualifying is noon on June 8.

There is no criminal penalty for failing to resign while pursuing a qualified campaign against an incumbent, but “if an order of a court that has become final determines that a person did not comply with the resign-to-run law, the person may not . . . appear on the ballot.”

McMullen has served his entire law enforcement career with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.

According to his website, he “has been responsible for administration, management, and operations of the Sheriff’s Office’s largest Division, with 200 division members, over 160 professional service, program and educational volunteers and an annual budget in excess of $15.3 million dollars.  He was the Director of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Division of Corrections from 2001 to 2009 and is now a Patrol Commander.”

McMullen says he is running a grass-roots campaign with strong support from sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and ordinary people around the county.

Raymond, who says he has been disappointed with Loar’s attitude and performance, is backing McMullen as are retired Sebastian Police Chief Randy White and County Commissioner Joseph Flescher.

Loar came to the Sheriff’s Office in 2008 after a 20-year career with the Florida Highway Patrol, in which he rose to the rank of captain.

He has strong support among island residents, businesspeople, professionals, citrus growers and other members of the Vero Beach establishment who cite a good record of law enforcement, budget-cutting and civic involvement as justification for a second term.

“I think he has done a very good job as sheriff and has been very fiscally responsible,” says Mary Beth MacDonald, an island resident and former Vero Beach mayor. “He has run a tight ship and shown a lot of honesty and integrity.”

In their previous contest, Loar raised a record-breaking $209,787, considerably more than McMullen’s total of $129,516, and won the election with 6,975 votes out of 17,989 cast.

McMullen came in second in the field of four with 4,575 votes, followed by Ed Glaser with 3,639 votes and Kent Campbell with 2,804.

So far this time around, it is a two-man race. If no one else gets in by the April deadline, a lot will depend on who wins the support of those who backed Glaser and Campbell in 2008.

In the first three quarters of 2011, Loar raised $107,950 in cash, while McMullen took in $56,016.

Island support flowed almost exclusively to Loar. He received $41,645 from 32963-area businesses and individuals while McMullen took in only $1,185.

McMullen says he is not intimated by Loar's fundraising and is grateful to those who support him. “I have been awestruck by the support we have had over the summer and fall,” he says.

“I am humbled by all the deputies, sergeants and lieutenants who continue to support me, and by the support of all the people who have made contributions. People are having a tough time making ends meet right now in the current economic conditions and I am extremely grateful when someone reaches in their pocket and gives me $5 or $10 or $15. I believe our grassroots campaign will continue to grow.” Loar says he is ready for a long tough campaign and confident of prevailing.

“We are running on our record,” the sheriff says. “The volunteers and supporters who help guide our campaign are business and community leaders and I am confident in the strategy we have developed.”

Because both candidates are Republicans, the race will likely be decided in the Aug. 14 primary election.