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Sheriff-elect T.K. Waters restructures Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Jacksonville Sheriff's candidate T.K. Waters (R) during a candidate forum in July.
Claire Heddles
Jacksonville Today
Jacksonville Sheriff-elect T.K. Waters during a candidate forum in July.

Waters announced more than 40 new appointments to the staff who take over Monday.

Three days before he is sworn in as Jacksonville's new sheriff, T.K. Waters announced a major restructuring of the department's command staff, naming new people to 40-plus positions from head of patrol to director of personnel.

The only position that remains unchanged is that of undersheriff, with Nick Burgos remaining in the job he was appointed to in June by interim Sheriff Pat Ivey.

The restructuring comes as Waters prepares to take his oath of office Sunday, the changs affecting multiple Sheriff's Office departments that will be under his command, with a number of promotions and demotions.

In a statement accompanying the list, Waters said he made a commitment when he ran to take the
Sheriff's Office "in a new direction” to ensure the safety of the community.

"As I looked at the current administration, the changes to staff appointments have been made as a direct result of my commitment to the community," Waters said. "I firmly believe the men and women that I have placed into their new roles are the future of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and we, working together with our citizens, will bring about the new direction needed to make our community a better and safer place to live.”

It is not unusual for an incoming sheriff to "put his team together" before he takes office, said Lakesha Burton, the retired assistant chief who lost the Nov. 8 special election against Waters. But what surprised her is that while previous sheriffs did a "really good job" of including people who did not support them during the election, that doesn't appear to be the case this time.

"The staff members who have openly supported me over the last 18 months, they knew the risks they were taking; they knew the potential if I did not win of being demoted," Burton said. "Obviously when it does happen, it is devastating. Every person who was on staff who supported me, not only openly but monetarily, were demoted."

Waters and Burton were the front-runners in a five-way special election held Aug. 23 because of the resignation of former Sheriff Mike Williams on June 10, after he violated city charter by living for more than a year in Nassau County. Ivey was appointed interim sheriff.

Waters will fill the remainder of Williams' term, then has just filed to run for reelection for the full four-year term. That election will be March 21, with the general election to follow on May 16 for a term that starts July 1, elections officials said.

Waters garnered 46.7% of the primary vote, followed by Burton with 32.8%. They beat former Duval County Schools Police acting director Wayne Clark and former officers Tony Cummings and Ken Jefferson. Since neither Burton nor Waters received 50% plus one vote, they ran again in the Nov. 8 runoff, Waters garnering 55% of that vote to win against Burton.

Some of Waters' new command staff include Director Joe Cowan as head of the Department of Patrol and Enforcement, with Chief Jaime Eason as head of the Patrol Division and the city's six patrol zones. Each of those zones also have new assistant chiefs.

The Specialized Patrol Section will be headed by Assistant Chief Paul Restivo, while the Special Events Division will be handled by Chief Ellis Burns. The Department of Investigations and Homeland Security will be led by Director Shawn Coarsey, whose appointment takes effect next Thursday. The Department of Personnel and Professional Standards will be led by Director Brian Kee; Training Section by Assistant Chief Erica Weber; and the Department of Corrections by Director Tammy Morris.

The Special Events Division will be headed by Chief Ellis Burns, who takes over for former Chief Andre Ayoub, who was demoted to lieutenant on Election Day.

Burton points to Ayoub's demotion, with loss of pay, saying it is due to his support of her election bid.

"It was a frivolous charge," Burton said. "I think it was overkill in terms of the charge they are saying he committed versus what his discipline was. it was outrageous and something that has never been done before."

Burton also points to Support Services Section Assistant Chief Deborah Wesley, Training Section Assistant Chief Travis Cox, Zone 3 Assistant Chief Craig Waldrup and Zone 6 Assistant Chief Lolita Smith, who were removed from those positions. They are listed on Ivey's current command staff organizational chart but not on the new list sent by the Sheriff's Office.

Burton says those men and women were some of the most highly qualified and well-respected leaders in the agency. She called their demotion "disheartening" and a disservice to them. That includes Smith and Wesley, the first Black women to ever reach that rank, she said.

The appointments to director and chief will be subject to City Council approval, Waters said. And he says he expects more consolidation and reorganization as the newly appointed command staff takes over
management of their respective areas.

Waters becomes the city’s second Black sheriff in modern times and the seventh to hold that office since Consolidation. Ivey will join Waters for the swearing-in Sunday at Bible Believers Baptist Church, then retire.

As for Burton, she said she hasn't made any decisions yet about running for sheriff again in March. She is waiting to review Duval County elections data next as she considers her options, she said.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.