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Florida Votes 2016: Citrus County Sheriff

For the first time in 20 years, Citrus County residents will elect a new sheriff.

Current sheriff Jeff Dawsy is retiring after 20 years of service to Citrus County. Michael Klyap Jr., and Michael Prendergast are vying for the position that will be decided during the Nov. 8 general election.

The unexpected death of candidate Phil Royal during a charitable fundraising race in July has shadowed the already strained election — only the 3rd time in 36 years residents have needed to choose a new sheriff.

“It was shocking to everybody. He was 47 years old when he passed away,"said Prendergast, who has been endorsed by the Royal for Sheriff Campaign and Royal’s widow, April Royal.  "There wasn’t a one of us that wasn’t stunned by it."

The endorsement was posted on the Royal for Sheriff Campaign Facebook page with this message from April Royal.

“It was not without reservation,” said April Royal. “Mr. Prendergast must provide steady leadership to both law enforcement officers and firefighters. To gain my support, he must do the right things for the right reasons as Phil promised. Our promise is to be among the first to hold Mr. Prendergast accountable to Phil’s ideals.”

Klyap said he first had the idea to run for office 6 years ago during a conversation he had with Royal. As he recounts his last conversation, he said “the conversation was, ‘you know what Mike, it’s me and you on November 8th, and whoever wins is best for this county. It’s going to be either you or me as the sheriff, and that’s what this county will need.’ ”

Both Klyap and Prendergast would bring experience gained from law enforcement careers spanning more than 30 years, respectively.

Currently, Klyap owns a small firearms company called Always Be Prepared, providing training to people pursuing concealed carry permits. Prendergast resigned as Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veteran’s Affairs in March of this year, in order to focus on his campaign.

Klyap is a supporter of Florida’s open government law, “I think the law makes it perfectly clear what could be released and what couldn’t be released," he said.

Prendergast agrees with Klyap that the current laws are effective, and believes that federal laws should follow Florida’s example, “The federal government is far too restrictive on the information they share with the public, the people who comprise the tax paying base of this country.”

Both candidates say that drug-related crime is the number one problem they anticipate facing in 2017. They have very different opinions on the current marijuana possession ordinance.

Klyap supports the current law which leaves it up to the deputy to decide whether to fine or arrest a person, as long as the amount of marijuana is less than 20 grams. His bases for support on his experience with working narcotics said, “Marijuana is not your problem. It’s the more heavier use drugs outside the recreational use of marijuana,” and would support possible further decriminalization measures.

In contrast, Prendergast believes the 20 gram mark is too high, and doesn’t accurately show it that it is for personal use only. He would not support any further decriminalization of marijuana, but says that his job would be to enforce the law, not create it.

When asked how they would ensure the sheriff’s office avoids racial profiling, both Klyap and Prendergast agreed that extensive training is the answer. Neither candidate was able to think of a reported case of racial profiling in the county, but admitted that it’s something that could happen anywhere and that further training could only aid in prevention.

Klyap and Prendergast are both strong supporters of the 2nd amendment, and believe American citizens have the right to own guns.

They also both support Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Prendergast said he agrees with leaving the law as is, “The legislature has taken a good hard look at the Stand Your Ground law, and elected not to change it in its present form.”

This story is part of our guide, Florida Votes 2016, leading up to the Nov. 8 election. Check your voter registration status here.