Martin County Sheriff William Snyder on department reorganization, 'This has not been a bloodbath'

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- "This has not been a bloodbath," the newly inaugurated Martin County sheriff told me during his fourth day on the job.

Less than a week into his tenure, Sheriff William Snyder already had eliminated the highest ranks within the agency (gone are the titles of colonel and major, except for one who will continue to oversee corrections).

With that, he demoted his former political rival, John "Ski" Pietruszewski, from major to a sergeant on the gun range.

Snyder also reassigned four civilian employees and about 15 law enforcement officers. Among them was legal adviser Terence Nolan, who has been replaced by newly hired Glenn Theobald, who will earn $108,000 a year.

And he hired outsiders to serve as the faces of his agency in the community: former congressional aide Steve Leighton, who will fill a newly created "business and government affairs director" role, and former TV reporter Christine Christofek, the sheriff's new public information officer.

Both Leighton and Christofek campaigned for Snyder and donated to his campaign.

"I need people next to me that share my vision and my passion for how I think this agency should look," Snyder said. "That is the fundamental core essential ingredient in personnel selection — to have people to my left, to my right, in front of me, behind me that agree with my direction."

I asked him what that direction was.

"My goal, my mission for this agency is that it be highly professional ... motivated to good law enforcement and public safety," he answered.

Would anyone disagree with that?

No, he conceded. But they might disagree with his methods.

What are his methods?

"I think that's a question that's impossible to answer in a sound byte," Snyder said. "I think it's one of those things — you know it when you see it."

We have seen more than a taste of it during his first week on the job.

Nobody has been fired since Snyder took office Tuesday. Career service law protects most workers from losing their jobs without cause.

But many have retired or been reassigned to less-appealing positions, creating an air of uncertainty over the agency that now-retired Sheriff Robert Crowder ran for 20 years.

"I'm not defending what I did," Snyder said. "I did what was right."

He explained that he eliminated the majors — except for the director of corrections, Maj. Casey Szparaga — because he wanted to have a closer working relationship with the rank-and-file.

"It would not have been easy for me to work through two levels of supervision — colonel and major — to get at a division level," Snyder said, adding that he might bring the positions back later.

The seven captains who are now on his command staff got "administrative stipends" for picking up extra duties. Even so, he estimates his top-level reorganization will save more than half a million dollars a year (though he is not including Leighton's position in that figure since he is not technically part of the command team).

Snyder's overhaul of the agency has been swift, and it has prompted cries of political favoritism.

I called his predecessor, Crowder, to ask what he thought of the changes at the agency he ran for so long.

Crowder was loathe to criticize Snyder, even though the two have had their political differences. But he cautioned that the changes could damage morale.

"You know, once you win the election, then you have to forget about the past and let these people have an opportunity to reassign their loyalty and get in step with you." Crowder said.

Crowder practiced that philosophy back in 1993, when he hired Snyder after beating him in the previous year's sheriff's race.

"By and large, I didn't regret it," Crowder said.

But he conceded that the politics of the office can be a distraction.

"I really think the office of sheriff should be nonpartisan," he said.

Having walked this gauntlet during five terms, Crowder said he didn't think the internal changes would hurt public safety. But Crowder does think Snyder's shake-up will have one effect:

"It's going to generate opposition for him in the next election, I'm sure."

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