MARCO ISLAND — Two years as a private citizen was enough for former Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter.
By Aug. 8, he will be back in uniform as the new Marco Island police chief, city officials announced on Friday.
“I think any law enforcement officer of duration and with experience such as mine will feel the same as me. You do miss certain elements of the work, exposure, sense of excitement and threat,” Hunter said after the announcement. “You miss serving elements of the community that are gratifying and appreciative of your service.”
Hunter replaces current Marco Island Police Chief Thom Carr, who announced his retirement on July 6, and will step down at the end of the month.
“We’re excited about new leadership,” Marco Capt. David Baer said. “There are certain concepts in leadership and law enforcement that are universal, others are local as well as statewide.”
“It’s not like he’s going to have to come in here and learn the law,” Baer added.
Hunter, 59, joined the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in 1979. He was first elected sheriff in 1988, and left the agency in January 2009 after deciding not to seek a fifth term. Since then, Hunter worked as a law enforcement consultant with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where he focused on sex offender tracking and child protection. He also served as an international police instructor for the Organization of American States.
When he takes over as chief, Hunter will make the 60-mile round-trip commute daily from his North Naples home to Marco Island. If he had been required to live on the island in order to take the job, it would have been a deal breaker, Hunter said.
When Marco Island City Manager’s office contacted him in early July, “the reason I was a little cold on the idea was the residency requirement, the housing market being what it is,” he said.
Once informed that he does not have to live in the city to serve as its police chief, the hiring process progressed.
Marco Island’s City Manager James Riviere was tasked with filling the position. There was no application process, City Clerk Laura Litzan said.
A contract signed by Riviere and Hunter, provided to the Daily News following a public records request, was postdated Aug. 8, 2011. The city clerk could not provide an exact date for when the contract was actually signed.
Attempts to reach Riviere to confirm the date were unsuccessful.
Under the agreement, Hunter will make an annual base salary of $100,000, approximately $5,000 less than what the current chief makes, and well below the $142,736 he made as Collier County sheriff — which is approximately what the current sheriff, Kevin Rambosk, makes now.
Rambosk, who worked for five years under Hunter before being elected sheriff in 2008, was upbeat after Friday’s announcement.
“It’ll be great to work with him in a reverse capacity,” Rambosk said. “He will be an excellent chief for Marco Island, there’s no questions. He has a strong administrative and operational background, and that’s very positive for the community.”
Hunter was sheriff when Marco Island’s police force started up he under heavy debate in 2000. A referendum held that September affirmed that residents wanted a local department.
Pat Reese was a member of Citizens for a Safer Marco, an organization that supported the fledgling department. He recalled Hunter as being “antagonistic” toward the Marco police.
“I am very disappointed in the choice. This looks more political, like the good old boys club,” Reese said.
An internal hire would have been the better option, he said.
“I would like to see them promote within if qualified,” he said. “Those guys (now lieutenants) fought hard to retain the department, these guys stuck it out.”
Memories on the island differ, however.
John Soldenwagner, a member of Marco Island’s first city council, was on the committee to form what was then called the Public Safety Department.
When he heard that Hunter may become police chief, he remembered the former sheriff as “always helpful, certainly with the start of the police department.”
He offered assistance and I don’t think he made a public stand,” Soldenwagner said.
Once Hunter takes charge of the island’s police, he will have 12 months to test out whether being back in uniform feels good again. Asked whether he chose a one-year renewable contract in order to run for Collier County sheriff in 2012, his response was succinct.
“I have no interest in that,” he said.
“The work (as sheriff) isn’t what I’d shy away from. It’s the campaigning,” Hunter explained.
Hunter will lead the Marco Island police department with 34 full-time officers, five civilian employees, several volunteers and a budget of $4.4 million.
He will be sworn in on Aug. 8 at 10 a.m. at Marco Island City Hall.