It wasn’t exactly a love fest, but it wasn’t the slug fest that characterized their campaigns, either. When Broward County Sheriff-elect Scott Israel met with outgoing incumbent Sheriff Al Lamberti Monday, the two appeared cordial in public and spoke of “professionalism” and “cooperation.: They managed to shake hands for the cameras three times after emerging from Mr. Lamberti’s office.
But there’s still some public sniping. Mr. Israel has complained about lame-duck personnel decisions that Mr. Lamberti is making, hinting that he doesn’t agree with some and may undo them once in office. He also complains because his transition team isn’t being allowed to operate from the sheriff’s headquarters.
Mr. Lamberti defends his personnel moves, citing the promotions he’s making as deserved. He also says that, because some of the members of Mr. Israel’s transition team were former employees that he fired, it would threaten internal security to allow them inside.
Some of this to-ing and fro-ing is to be expected between two men who conducted bruising campaigns against each other. But the Broward sheriff’s department is a huge county entity charged with enforcing the law, among other duties. Public safety should hold sway over politics, which is what this appears to be all about. Like every big institution, the sheriff’s department has factions and favorites. Evidence of the internal politics is clear in that some members of the Israel transition team were fired by Mr. Lamberti. They have an axe to grind. So do some of Mr. Lamberti’s supporters within the department. A few of Mr. Lamberti’s top level employees have already quit because they’ve gotten the message that they won’t be welcome by Mr. Israel. This doesn’t make for a promising transition.
We supported Mr. Lamberti’s reelection bid, but his post-election behavior isn’t good for the county as a whole. Even members of the Broward County Commission are beginning to grumble. Mr. Israel’s transition team is hampered by not being allowed to operate in the sheriff’s headquarters. Surely any security concerns could be dealt with. And it’s unfair to promote personnel who may see their new titles and responsibilities go Phewt! after Mr. Israel is sworn in on Jan. 8.
As for Mr. Israel, it’s troubling that his transition team includes sheriff’s employees who were fired. Mr. Lamberti’s tenure was marked by professionalism and a gratifying lack of grandstanding and internal controversy. There is every reason to believe that he only fired employees for cause. What’s more, Mr. Lamberti supported diversity in the top echelons of the department, opening doors for more African Americans, Hispanics and women in his inner circle. We’d hate to see those strides reversed.
The sheriff is the most powerful elected official in Broward County. Even with 600 employees lost in recent years to attrition and layoffs, the sheriff oversees 5,800 employees and operates with an annual budget of around $700 million. In addition to running several cities’ police departments and having countywide jurisdiction in some law-enforcement areas, the department runs the county’s emergency-rescue service and supervises its jails. It’s a big job.
Maintaining such heavy responsibilities well on a day-to-day basis during the transition between sheriffs will require all the professionalism and cooperation both Mr. Israel and Mr. Lamberti lauded on Monday. Time for both sides to call a real truce and work together.