Commissioner questions cost, timing of Sheriff's PSA's

Commissioner questions cost, timing of Sheriff's PSA's

By Matt Grant. CREATED Apr 3, 2012

FORT MYERS - In election years, candidates have to pay if they want to talk to you on TV through commercials.

But one sheriff running for re-election is getting a lot of face time he's not paying for by appearing in public service announcements.

"Very few, if any, are going to dispute that these are powerful, powerful messages," said Scott, "that deal specifically with public safety."

From texting and driving, to theft, to prescription drugs, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott is in a lot of PSA's saying he wants to protect the public.

The ads are paid for with money seized from drug deals, not tax dollars. By law, the funds can be spent on charity, law enforcement equipment or education.

Scott says the ads are public education.

"We're communicating matters that are literally life and death," said Scott, "that have grown to epidemic proportions in our community and others across the country."

By last September, the sheriff's office reportedly spent more than $225,000 on TV ads. On Tuesday, county commissioners voted 4-1 to give Scott's office $80,000 to be spent on more PSA's featuring the sheriff this year - the same year he's running for re-election.

"It just doesn't feel right to me," said County Commissioner Brian Bigelow.

Bigelow was the only one who voted against giving the sheriff the money.

"In all the time I've lived here," said Bigelow, "I've never seen a sheriff use public service announcements this way and timing with an upcoming election to this level."

He says he doesn't question the purpose of the PSA's, but he does question the timing.

"On the fact of it," said Bigelow, "that certainly bolsters his chances of re-election." 

Scott denies recording more PSA's to increase his exposure. Rather, he says educating the public is part of his job.

"I think it's a good use of the funding," said Scott. "And that's why we continue to do it."

Scott says he uses seized funds for other things besides PSA's like buying equipment and donating more than $700,000 to charity.

Critics question why the sheriff has to appear in the PSA's himself, saying the commercials could still have the same message without him in it.

"I think it's very important for those messages to come out, to come from law enforcement and to come from, in this case, the sheriff," countered Scott. "Because I have the county-wide reach and we have the resources to do it."

Matt Grant