No gay bashing: Sheriff Scott says he meant no disrespect to Lee commissioner in e-mail

Sarah Palin in Naples

Bigelow

Bigelow

Sheriff Mike Scott

Sheriff Mike Scott

— Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott and Commissioner Brian Bigelow are not on the same ballot. Scott was re-elected in 2008, and Bigelow is seeking his second term this year.

That doesn’t mean they’re not running against each other.

Bigelow offered a comment Wednesday during a county goals workshop, saying the sheriff’s $160 million budget should be subject to the same intense scrutiny the county departmental budgets are.

“He’s already contributed to one of my opponents so I’m not going to stop pointing him out,” Bigelow said.

When Scott heard the comment Wednesday night, he fired off an e-mail to the commissioner. He said he was “appalled” that Bigelow would say such a thing in an open meeting discussing the county budget.

“Regardless of why you said when you did, let me remind you that my political inclinations should be no more of a factor in our professional relationship than religion, sexual preference, my favorite food, or any number of other variables independent of the business at hand,” Scott wrote.

Bigelow is openly gay. Scott said he didn’t know that for sure when he sent the e-mail, but added that it should be no more of a factor than his $250 campaign contribution to long-time friend Sonny Haas, who is running against Bigelow.

Scott also offered a contribution to candidate Dick Rippe, who’s also running against Bigelow. Rippe said he thanked the sheriff but declined.

“I said to myself, ‘What the hell does that have to do with anything’,” Scott said, referring to his campaign contributions. “I think he was way, way out of line.”

Bigelow has been a critic of what he sees as a runaway sheriff’s budget since he was elected in 2006. He pointed out that other commissioners agreed the sheriff’s budget would have to be reviewed. Commissioner Frank Mann dubbed it “the elephant in the refrigerator.”

Bigelow said the e-mail seems like an attempt to deflect attention from a budget that’s tripled since 2000.

“It’s unsustainable,” he said. “There is fairly widespread, almost unanimous agreement that the sheriff’s budget has ballooned.”

Bigelow said he thinks taxes are too high, and it’s his job to make sure the county takes only those tax dollars it needs. He said it’s no surprise the sheriff would support his opponent.

“I have a job that’s different than the sheriff’s,” he said. “I have to protect us against over-taxation.”

Scott cited his long record of political involvement. He supported state Rep. Nick Thompson when then-Commissioner John Albion left his post to seek that seat, and made national headlines when he introduced former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a Fort Myers rally.

That has nothing to do with the sheriff’s budget or his relationship with commissioners, he said.

“Why he chose to bring it up early in the budget process, as if to imply it’s in his mind when he’s thinking about the budget, it’s dangerous thinking,” Scott said. “It’s wrong. It’s disrespectful.”

Scott said he expects his budget to be under close scrutiny, pointing out his 2009 budget was the first in Lee County history to be lower than the previous year. He then returned almost $4 million to commissioners at the end of the budget year.

“If that doesn’t demonstrate we take this issue very seriously then nothing does,” he said.

Scott said he will again squeeze his budget, but not at the risk of public safety.

“At the end of the day public safety is the number one priority of county government,” he said. “The number one responsibility of government is the safety of its citizens.”

His own reference to sexual preference was merely an example, Scott said.

“Gay or straight, married or single, black or white, short or tall, none of it matters in a budget meeting,” he said.

Bigelow said the reference didn’t bother him.

“I wasn’t offended,” he said. “It’s well known I’m gay. It’s irrelevant.”

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