Sheriff “irritated” by process, pulls vehicle purchase request

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods is shown in this July 2020 file photo. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods was irritated during Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

His mood was affected by the process involved in the planned purchase of a new mobile command unit with funds from the penny sales tax.

The process was so troubling to him that he handed a letter to the commissioners asking them to forget the whole thing and use the estimated $1.3 million to help pay for renovations to the Sheriff’s Operations Center.

Despite the request, the county argued the vehicle was part of Emergency Management, which is not directly considered law enforcement. In fact, the county recently had initial discussions about moving emergency management operations from the sheriff’s overview to county control. Some commissioners noted counties similar in size to Marion have standalone emergency management operations. Those discussions, however, did not continue and a scheduled workshop on the idea was tabled in July.

On Tuesday, the question of oversight came up again.

“This is a law-enforcement tool,” said Woods flatly.

Marion County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes interjected that the purchase may fall under Emergency Management.

“No,” Woods replied.

“In the five-year plan, this unit is under emergency management,” Bouyounes responded.

In addition to who would control the purchase, Woods and the board seemed to disagree on which manufacturer to use. E-One and Frontline Communications both presented their proposals for the mobile command unit. Woods preferred Frontline citing a price tag $30,000 less than the E-One model, among other reasons. The board seemingly preferring home-town company E-One.

After some discussion between Woods, Bouyounes, and the board, Woods decided to push pause.

“At this time, I am canceling the purchase of the Mobile Command Unit,” he said.

Commission Chairman Jeff Gold briefly mentioned moving the purchase to the fire budget, and Commissioner Kathy Bryant brought up how the purchase was a priority because it had already been delayed once after the MCSO helicopter was involved in an accident in 2018.

Ultimately, however, the commission unanimously decided to delay the purchase. There was no timeline for when the issue would return

Marion County’s website lists the mobile command unit as a purchase for the Sheriff’s Office under the penny tax.

Posted in Government, News

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