James Terry’s Campaign of Smoke, Mirrors and Outright Lies

Challenger for Hernando County Sheriff takes "low" to a whole new sub-level


James Terry has a habit of hiding.“We have done our best to run our campaign on the message of Positive Change,” reads the introduction to one of James Terry’s many vociferous yet completely ambiguous posts on his campaign Facebook page. Terry has challenged incumbent Al Nienhuis for the position of Hernando County Sheriff in the 2020 election cycle. However, where Nienhuis has chosen to maintain a professional demeanor and allow his record to speak for itself, James Terry’s campaign of smoke, mirrors and outright lies has taken “low” to a whole new sub-level.

Let’s start by examining just a few of the budget-busting proposals Terry plans to impose on Hernando County taxpayers.

“We cannot continue to run the Sheriffs (sic) Office with a deficit of more than 20 deputies!” Terry exclaims.

“Time to be pro-active:

Sign on Bonuses.

Moving expenses.

Bonuses for new hires that already have a college degree.”

“These expenses would be one time expenses during employee onboarding,” he explains, just in case you were wondering, “and therefore would not compound annually. HCSO already offers up to $3,000 per year of tuition reimbursement to employees. New hires with degrees simply receive some of this benefit in advance.”

“Doing things the same way has produced the same results, an agency decimated by vacancies,” he asserts strangely. “It’s time for change!”

Okay. Let’s chew this idiocy one ridiculous bite at a time.

Not only does Terry propose to hire 20 new deputies – evidently from outside of Hernando County — he plans to pay them “sign on bonuses,” pay their “moving expenses” and pay “bonuses for new hires that already have college degrees.”

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Where is all of this money coming from? Does he propose Hernando County taxpayers cover the cost of “sign on bonuses,” “moving expenses” and “bonuses for new hires that already have college degrees” – plus their additional salaries and assorted benefit packages — for all 20 new deputies? “Decimated by vacancies?” Where are the statistics proving an additional 20 deputies and the associated expenses are even necessary?

Does he not grasp that the “$3,000 per year of “tuition reimbursement” currently offered is for a degree an employee chooses to obtain while being an employee of HCSO? Also, can someone get him to explain how someone can receive “some of this benefit in advance” for something they already had before they get here?

Smoke, mirrors and outright lies.

A critical piece of information Terry avoids addressing in this inane proposal is the fact that crime rates in Hernando County have been consistently falling since Nienhuis has been in office.

According to City Data.com – The 2017 Brooksville crime rate fell by 10% compared to 2016. “In the last 5 years” their report noted further, “Brooksville has seen decline of violent crime and decreasing property crime.”

In June 2019, FOX 13 reported that crime in Hernando County fell by another 4.1%.

“Based on this trend,” City Rating reported, “the crime rate in Brooksville for 2020 is expected to be lower.

If Terry expects Hernando County taxpayers to pony-up money to pay hiring bonuses, moving expenses and up to $3,000 to potentially 20 new hires who have a degree — and cover their additional salaries and benefits packages — he had damn well better provide a valid reason to justify this expense and stop using his demands for a debate to avoid explaining himself. Enough of the smoke, mirrors and outright lies.

Another blow to Hernando County taxpayers will be Terry’s vague yet Orwellian proposal of tracking a portion of Hernando County’s residents with GPS devices.

“We will implement a bracelet based tracking program to assist in the search and rescue for residents who have been diagnosed with a cognitive disorders; including Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Autism, and Down Syndrome.”

Again, how exactly will this “bracelet-based tracking program” be “implemented” and where is the money coming from? Does he mean he wants to supply all “residents who have been diagnosed with a cognitive disorders,” or just some of them? Who decides who gets one and who doesn’t? Do Hernando County residents get to vote on this or is Terry simply going to impose this on us without our input or consent? How much is this going to cost?

In 2018, US News reported that Los Angeles County in California launched a bracelet-tracking program for the same purpose.

“Each bracelet, and the supply of batteries with it, costs the county” – meaning, the taxpayers — “about $330.”

The $30,000 allocated by the county’s Board of Supervisors to get the program up and running covered “about 130 bracelets and a year’s supply of batteries per bracelet,” plus “tracking receivers for two aircraft and six ground units.”

The $30,000 did not cover the cost of maintaining the program after start-up, nor the “additional 30 to 40 people” they planned to hire and trained over “the next three or four months” to keep the program going.

How many bracelets will it take to provide one to everyone in Hernando County who has “been diagnosed with a cognitive disorders”?

According to Florida’s Health Charts Data, there are roughly 6,730 probable cases of Alzheimer’s dementia in Hernando County.

At a cost of $330 per bracelet, this would cost Hernando County’s taxpayers approximately $2,220,900. This does not cover the additional expense of covering residents of Hernando County with Autism and Down Syndrome and does not cover the additional staffing and maintenance costs. Everything Terry proposes is smoke, mirrors and outright lies.

Nienhuis, on the other hand, prefers to provide Hernando County residents with the information they need to make their own decisions rather than making those costly choices for them.

Perhaps the most expensive proposal Terry has for Hernando County taxpayers is his equally abstruse plan to supply Hernando County Deputies with body cameras. While he repeatedly demands that Sheriff debate him on this topic – Terry has yet to justify the need for body cameras to Hernando County taxpayers or explain where the money would come from. In fact, when asked to explain his proposal on his Facebook page he either ignores the question or blocks the person for expecting an answer.

After asking Sheriff Nienhuis if he opposed Body Cameras, I received a clear, concise and very respectful response.

“This is an EXTREMELY complicated subject,” Nienhuis said. “It is important to determine why a community is considering body cameras. Is it to address a specific problem?  If so, will it address that problem? Regardless of the answers to these questions, there are operational issues, financial issues, and legal issues.”

“Often,” he added, “the initial expenses are minor compared to the ongoing and indirect expenses.”

Indeed.

As reported by Government Technology, “Bakersfield police Sgt. Gary Carruesco said body-cameras are discussed every budget cycle but none have been purchased yet.”

Just like Hernando County’s Sheriff Nienhuis, Sgt. Carruesco said Bakersfield’s Chief Greg Williamson isn’t opposed to them, but understands there is “going to be a lot to look at” before they’re implemented.

The cameras the Bakersfield police department has looked into cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000. On any given day, if there are 200 deputies interacting with citizens in Hernando County (just picking a round number), that would require 200 cameras.

Using the $1,000 number, that’s a total of $200,000 to purchase a camera for each deputy of those deputies.

The storage of data for those cameras will cost about another $100 a month. With 200 cameras, that adds up to $20,000 a month — or $240,000 a year — in storage costs.

Between the purchasing and storage costs, that’s about $440,000 for the first year, plus an additional $240,000 every year afterward.

That figure does not include maintenance or replacement costs, additional staff, the time and work necessary to review the footage to see what portions can be released to the public and the software to blur unrelated faces to comply with privacy laws.

Moreover, body cameras have a history of not being effective at addressing the very issues some jurisdictions experiencing and are spending considerable money to solve. The cop who knelt on the neck of George Floyd was wearing a body camera.

As The Columbian reported in 2019, “evidence suggests that improved training is more effective than body cameras; avoiding a deadly situation is more important than deconstructing one after the fact.

An email sent to Terry offering “an opportunity to provide clarity” for his side as well received no response. Go figure.

For a man who spends so much time challenging Al Nienhuis to a debate on these topics he certainly avoids every opportunity presented to him by Hernando County’s residents to present his case. He talks a lot and has a lot of expensive plans, but when it comes to explaining how any of it will work, whether or not it’s even necessary and where the money will come from, he has nothing to offer. While he tries to convince voters that he is going to bring “positive change,” all he really offers little more than smoke, mirrors and outright lies.

“Recently,” Terry complains on yet another verbose yet equally ambiguous post, “we have come under attack by a group of people spreading lies on every possible forum available.” However, as usual, he provides no examples of the specific “lies” he claims “a group of people” are “spreading.”

“As such,” Terry continues, “we must respond with the facts.”

Actually, all Terry offers is — you guessed it — more smoke, mirrors and outright lies.

“In 2016.” Terry claims, “I became aware of a plan by Sheriff Nienhuis to keep more than 1.3 million dollars from being turned over to the County Commission as required by statute.”

Oooo… “a plan.”

“I opposed this plan and expressed so on 3 occasions,” he shares further of the evil plan he alone has uncovered. “On the third occasion I was adamant that the money needed to be disclosed and turned over to the BOCC. A few days later I was suspended by Sheriff Nienhuis with no reason provided.”

Actually, Terry was suspended with pay pending an investigation of “numerous complaints” being filed against him by his coworkers. But I digress.

When I asked Sheriff Niehuis to respond to this allegation he was not offended. In fact, he was more than happy to oblige. He even provided documents to back up his side of the story. What a concept!

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis

“It is obvious from the documents provided” (Proposed Annual Budget Fiscal Year 2015 – 2016Proposed Annual Budget Fiscal Year 2016 – 2017, the Federal Inmate Revenue Timeline and Outside Inmate Revenue Timeline) “that I attempted to get the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to renew the Federal Inmate Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),” Nienhuis explained. “It is also obvious that I did not shy away from highlighting the program and the revenue both verbally and in writing.”

“Since the BOCC was not interested in addressing the expired MOU,” Nienhuis said further, “my staff and I elected to put the revenue in the bank.”

“It was obvious,” he explained, “that my predecessor and the BOCC felt the money should only be used to support the revenue generating Federal Inmate program and/or to make capital improvements at the jail.  We could have defended spending up to half the money on jail operations during this time of silence from the BOCC. We, instead, erred on the side of caution and put ALL the revenue in the bank until the BOCC was willing to address the issue. We did not want to be criticized for unilaterally spending the money without coordinating with the BOCC.”

Terry McClanahan Hernando County Comptroller“The BOCC shut down communication,” Nienhuis insisted. “not the Sheriff or the Sheriff’s Office (as shown by my attempts to open dialogue).  I think the documentation supports this completely, whereas there is not a shred of evidence to support my opponent’s assertion. It simply was not a fund the BOCC wanted to address, so we elected to sit on the money.”

This defense was reiterated independently by Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Comptroller Terri McClanahan in response to Terry’s public accusation of misconduct directly on his Facebook page. However, Terry again avoids facing the facts and continues to perpetuate his campaign of smoke, mirrors and outright lies.

“It is totally absurd,” Neinhuis asserted in his defense, “to think we could be so public about a program and then be accused of somehow hiding the revenue from that same program.”

Terry even went so far as to fabricate his own timeline and post in oh his campaign Facebook page to give the illusion that his accusations have merit. There is nothing official about this timeline. Anyone with a computer can create one. It’s just another example of James Terry’s campaign of smoke, mirrors and outright lies.Terry even created a timeline to give his accusation the illusion of having merit.

Unfortunately for Terry, this unsubstantiated accusation has also been exposed as bogus by independent auditors.

According to a June 23, 2017 email from Helen Y. Painter, CPA, Audit Partner with Purvis, Gray & Company to Deputy County Attorney at Hernando County Jon Jouben, “the funds received were reported in the Sheriff’s 2016 audited financial statements on pages 3, 4 and 8 in a Special Revenue Fund identified as restricted for federal inmates.”

“The reporting is fully transparent,” Painter concluded, “indicating that the total amounts received were put into reserves in accordance with the Sheriff’s budget.”

“In our opinion,” the Independent Auditor’s Report concludes, “the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material aspects, the respective financial position of each major fund and the aggregate remaining fund information of the Sheriff as of September 30, 2016, and the respective changes in financial position, budgetary comparisons, and, where applicable, cash flows thereof, for the year then ended with accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.”

In the midst of the smoke, mirrors and outright lies, Occam’s Razor teaches us that, when you have two competing theories the simplest of the two is usually the correct answer.

So, either Nienhuis devised a plan to hide over a million dollars (albeit in plain site on a budget report) — and independent auditors were conspiring to help him cover up his nefarious plan — or Terry simply doesn’t understand basic accounting practices.