OCcitizen | Indy Week

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Re: “Orange County races

I wholeheartedly disagree with any endorsement of Lindy Pendergrass as Sheriff. To endorse Lindy Pendergrass is to endorse having only 2 sheriffs in 60 years, which also is to endorse complacency, status quo, fear of change, not to mention endorsing the king of the good ole boy system. The question isn't whether Lindy Pendergrass still wants to be Sheriff, it is if Lindy Pendergrass can effectively serve as Sheriff, and I see no evidence that he can. I don't want a Sheriff who must be on oxygen for health reasons. It's not personal, but someone on oxygen doesn't have the stamina it takes to be active in the community on a daily basis. Sitting in a recliner monitoring scanner traffic, inserting advice and commentary isn't hard work. It is a low-effort way of appearing active, much like an employee who makes sure to send email early in the morning and late at night as if to appear that s/he has been toiling away long and hard. And, neither scanner surfing or photo ops should be confused with good old-fashion shoe leather law enforcement, in which both Sheriff and deputies get out and meet with average citizens on a regular basis. Rather than having no interests, activities, or hobbies outside of the Sheriff's office, Lindy Pendergrass has made a public service office as his personal hobby, which is highly inappropriate. It is symptomatic of someone who has developed an unhealthy dependency. I honestly believe if Lindy Pendergrass were not Sheriff, he would have no clue what to do with his time. And, we need public officials who are more than a title and whose interests and abilities extend beyond a job description. The position of Sheriff is no different from any other position in that no one can be effective if s/he tries to be on duty 24/7, 365. With the number of citizens involved in healthcare, folks should recognize that when Lindy Pendergrass talks about doing nothing else than sheriffing, he's talking about being unable to recognize his own limitations. One aspect of leadership is understanding one's limitations while also helping others overcome theirs. And Lindy fails on both counts. Competent leadership is leading by example and developing subordinates' abilities to their fullest. Lindy Pendergrass does not do this well. He has a long history of micromanaging his deputies and allowing the good ole boy system to drive department policy and activities. He does not have a history of encouraging his deputies to develop their leadership or decision-making skills. That the deputies are highly dependent on Lindy Pendergrass is not a sign of leadership, it is a sign of insecurity and lack of trusting his deputies to make the right decision without the guiding hand of the boss. Lindy Pendergrass' rages with deputies followed by sweetness and light is legendary as is his penchant for holding grudges. Decades ago, the hierarchical authoritarian boss who ruled by edict or fear was the gold standard of management style. That thinking passed long ago.

At a candidate forum, I had the opportunity to ask Lindy why for more than 8 years he posted stationary patrol in a neighborhood watch area in town limits without he or his deputies ever making the effort to meet the neighborhood watch group or share information with them or with town law enforcement. Not only was he unable to recognize who in the audience were members of this neighborhood watch, but his answer indicated that he had no clue what neighborhood or stationary patrol was being referenced (he reference the ABC store---which was not the 8-year post referenced and he mislead the audience by stating that he and his deputies regularly worked with community watches and shared information with town police). Perhaps that is true in the southern part of the county, but he had and still has no clue who the citizens are who watched 2 patrol cars sit on a corner in front of a drug house for 8 years without ever inquiring about neighborhood watch, much less introducing themselves. All of this, of course doesn't even begin to address the question of why Lindy would post patrol cars within town limits for 8 years, when his jurisdiction is county property, including ABC stores.

All of this is a stark contrast with my experience working with law enforcement under Clarence Birkhead's leadership. For almost a decade, I have collaborated with law enforcement as a neighborhood watch member. Under Clarence Birkhead, our neighborhood went from a drug haven to an area where young families are moving in and residents are visibly investing in their homes and property.

Clarence Birkhead did indeed fix many of the problems at HPD. The officers have become more professional and competent. Gone are the "little lady" comments, and officers ignoring resident complaints. Under his leadership, the officers, including himself and those in administration are talking with---and most importantly---listening to average citizens. Under his leadership, trust between the neighborhood residents and HPD is significantly stronger because residents and law enforcement have gotten to know each other on a personal basis---and this has occurred across the town. Trust of the officers rose also because the officers' professionalism rose. The calibre of the department rose with Clarence Birkhead's implementation of more effective processes, and he led by example a high level of data-driven decision-making, respect, ethics, principles over personalities, and continuous improvement. Many officers' ideas for improvement were adopted, with these ideas ranging from community programs to department operations. Equally important, officers who were unwilling to meet these standards did not remain with the force. Our neighborhood knew many of them and can attest that their skills and attitudes were ill-suited to effective community policing.

As much as my neighborhood will miss Clarence Birkhead as chief, we know that Orange County's Sheriff department needs his skills, expertise, and management style. The contrast between Lindy Pendergrass and Clarence Birkhead is more than a 75-year-old on oxygen vs a healthy, active opponent, it gets down to the fundamental question of whether it makes sense to elect a Sheriff based on sentiment, nostalgia, or fear of reprisal or to elect a Sheriff based on intellectual honesty, forward-thinking, and hope for the future.

Posted by OCcitizen on 04/15/2010 at 9:24 PM

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