Two Fla. officers vie for chief's chair

Two high-ranking officers with the Polk County Sheriff's Office want to be Winter Haven's new police chief

By Merissa Green
The Lakeland Ledger

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Two high-ranking officers with the Polk County Sheriff's Office want to be Winter Haven's new police chief.

Gary Hester, second in command at the Sheriff's Office, has applied, and Maj. Joe Halman Jr. said he will submit his application today.

Winter Haven Police Chief Buddy Waters is retiring in July. Waters, 53, is paid $99,195 a year. The position has a minimum salary of $71,240.

Hester has been the Sheriff's Office chief of staff since 2005 and is paid $125,647 a year.

Hester, 49, has worked as a patrol deputy, K-9 handler, detective, sergeant, captain, major and colonel since being hired in 1979.

Hester said he would like to "help move the Police Department toward the future."

"I think this is a very unique opportunity," said Hester, who lives in Haines City. "It's a great police department and a great community."

Halman, 43, works in the Sheriff's Office criminal investigations division. He grew up in Winter Haven and is the pastor of Greater Works Ministries in Winter Haven. He began his law enforcement career as a cadet and auxiliary officer with the Police Department before being hired 24 years ago by the Sheriff's Office.

"This has been a dream of mine to serve the community in which I began my law enforcement career," Halman said.

If Halman is selected, he will become the agency's first black police chief and Polk's only black police chief.

Sheriff Grady Judd said he had encouraged Hester to apply for the position because he will be forced out of his position in two years because he is in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, called DROP.

Judd said he's excited that both men are applying.

"Winter Haven would be fortunate to have either one of them as their police chief," Judd said.

"I would hate to lose either one of them, but an agency this size and this close to home doesn't come open this often."

Judd said he's not worried about replacing either one of the men because his agency has talented individuals waiting for a leadership opportunity.

If either of the men get the job, it will be the second time within a year that a top-ranked official from the Sheriff's Office has been chosen to lead a Polk police department. Rick Sloan, former chief of the Sheriff's Office Law Enforcement Division, became the Haines City police chief in November.

Two candidates from outside Polk County have applied for the Winter Haven job: Craig Novick, police chief of the Franklin Township, N.J., Police Department, and Lee Spector, a former operations division manager and patrol commander for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Novick, who is paid $185,000 annually, said in his application that he applied for new responsibilities and he wants to take his vision to a new community.

Spector is paid $128,000 in Fort Lauderdale. He said he has reached his maximum retirement benefits in his current position.

The application deadline for the job is June 4. An advisory committee will review the applications June 11.

Members of the committee are the Rev. Clifton Dollison, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church; Deric Feacher, assistant to the city manager; Tony Jackson, Winter Haven fire chief; Howard King, president of the Greater Winter Haven Area Chamber of Commerce; Michelle Stayner, the city's executive services director; Rich Thompson, facilitator from Polk State College; and Waters.

Interviews will be held June 14 through June 25. City officials plan to announce the new chief by July 12.

Copyright 2010 Lakeland Ledger Publishing Corporation

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