Election Day 2020 is more than 18 months away, but Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood is wasting no time in launching his re-election campaign.
The county’s highest law-enforcement officer announced the launch of his campaign for another four-year term during a press conference Thursday on the steps of the Volusia County Historic Courthouse in Downtown DeLand.
“I need your help. Our campaign is up and running. I know it’s a little early,” Chitwood told gathered friends and media. “There’s a lot of great things going on here, and I want to be part of it.”
So far, no one has stepped forward to oppose Chitwood in his bid for re-election.
“Anybody that wants to run, feel free to run,” he challenged.
Formerly the police chief of Daytona Beach, Chitwood said his supporters are now circulating petitions for putting his name on the ballot in lieu of paying a qualifying fee.
He is seeking the signatures of at least 3,850 eligible voters to avoid paying a filing fee of at least $6,000. The fee is equal to 4 percent of the salary of the sheriff, which is about $150,000.
Standing on the south side of the Historic Courthouse under sunny skies, with traffic on New York Avenue whizzing by in the background, Chitwood said he is looking forward to reducing crime and revamping the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
Chitwood again hailed Amendment 10, the Florida constitutional amendment approved by a majority of the Sunshine State’s voters last fall.
The sheriff added he wants to continue the work he has begun since his election in 2016. One of the biggest obstacles he faces, he said, is resistance to change.
“People are not accepting of change,” he continued, pointing to problems such as the opioid epidemic and active-shooter incidents. “We have to be more flexible.”
Amendment 10 promises to bring change, Chitwood assured.
The amendment restores constitutional status to other county elected officials, meaning those officials have more power in setting their budgets and personnel policies, without being subject to the county’s usual administrative hierarchy.
A constitutional officer answers directly to the governor and the Florida Legislature.
For the past 48 years, Volusia County has maintained a special status as a charter home-rule county, in which the sheriff, elections supervisor and property appraiser are actually elected department heads within an organizational structure under the supervision of the county manager.
“It’s the ability for us to manage our own destiny,” Chitwood said, adding he is looking forward to setting up his own human-resources office and choosing the attorney for the Sheriff’s Office. “We’re not going to be encumbered by the bureaucracy of the county.”
Not long after he took office in 2017, Chitwood clashed — sometimes heatedly, as reported in local media — with then-County Manager Jim Dinneen over personnel matters.
While declaring a need for pay raises for deputies and emergency-center dispatchers, the sheriff denied he intends to increase spending that would require tax increases.
“As we go through the process, we’re looking at ways to save money and streamline the process,” Chitwood said.
The sheriff, as a constitutional officer, may also elect to set up a separate purchasing department and decide on acquisitions of police equipment, including vehicles.
The Volusia County Council and two architects of the home-rule charter, Dr. T. Wayne Bailey and Dr. P.T. Fleuchaus, are suing the state to exempt the county from Amendment 10.
The plaintiffs contend the provision, if enacted, would undermine the home-rule charter, which was adopted by a majority of the county’s voters in 1970.
The Leon County Circuit Court dealt Volusia County a setback in its lawsuit over the revision, and the case is pending before the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Chitwood has been outspoken in his objection to the county government’s court battle against the amendment.
“The election is over. The voters have spoken,” he said.
Chitwood was first elected in 2016. He obtained a slim majority of the vote during the August primary election that year — 50.64 percent of the vote — just enough to avoid a runoff election, despite running in a crowded five-candidate field.