DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In his swearing in ceremony as sheriff of Volusia County, complete with Irish bagpipes, former longtime Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood promised to be transparent to the public and work for the greater good of the citizens.
“You are going to have a sheriff who is accessible, transparent, straight-talking and listening to the concerns of my deputies and our residents," Chitwood pledged on the stage of the large theater at Bethune-Cookman University in front of a few hundred supporters two days after he took office.
That public pledge would be belied by Chitwood's by events that preceded his first press conference moments after the pomp and circumstance was over.
At that moment, media representatives, including this reporter for Headline Surfer, started walking towards a smaller room designated for Chitwood's first press conference as sheriff, but the internet media outlet was intercepted at the entranceway by Chitwood's main PIO, who asked the reporter to step aside for a moment.
And then came the shocking order one of his PIOs, who said, ""I can't let you go in there."
Chitwood may have gotten word that Headline Surfer learned that Chitwood's campaign manager, Janelle Homan, was hired to start Jan. 1 as a videographer for the sheriff on special projects at a salary of $54,000. Headline Surfer was able to confirm the salary later in the day with a source within the Sheriff's Office and that she even started that very fist day -- a holiday no less. Chitwood had pledged during the campaign to focus on increasing pay for deputies who are among the lowest paid in Central Florida and other pars of Florida as well. There are sone 50 openings in the sheriff's office.
Homan did not return calls for comment. Chitwood could not be reached for comment.
Homan's hiring comes on top of the VCSO's already well-paid civilian public information office staff led by PIO manager Gary Davidson's nearly $100,000 salary, along with staffers Judie Edwards who makes close to $60,000 and Andrew Gant, who makes $50,000. They already perform essentially the same duties Holman is expected to perform. Their salaries combined with hers is approximately $264,000. That total in non-essential public safety monies would cover the salaries of eight starting deputies.
This is not the first time Chitwood has gone after Headline Surfer for its reporting. Back in 2012, Chitwood was livid after Headline Surfer won two Florida Press Club awards for its investigative story earlier that year on Chitwood's promotion of a patrol supervisor. Chitwood had Headline Surfer removed from the Daytona Beach PD's email media alerts before a complaint was lodged with City Manager Jim Chisholm and Headline Surfer reiterated its complaint in an appearance before the Daytona Beach City Commission.
Chitwood was ordered by Chisholm to restore the alerts. A few weeks later, Chitwood, did away with the email media alerts altogether and had his PIOs calling media outlets directly.
The acerbic Chitwood, whose brand is name calling, in particular, use of the word "scumbag," was chief of police for a decade. Having referred to then-Sheriff Ben Johnson as a "moron" a couple years earlier, Chitwood announced last year his run for sheriff. He won the elected position outright in the August primary, besting four other candidates.
In the final two years of Chitwood; tenure, Daytona Beach's violent crime rate had rocketed to among the worst in the nation, with 19 total murders, but the violence took a back seat in the media in favor of Chitwood's outlandish comments and name calling.