As he prepares to be sworn in to office on Jan. 3, sheriff-elect A.J. Smith has broken with tradition and put in place a nine-person transition team to advise him on organizational policy and personnel decisions.

Highlighting the unpaid, volunteer group of five local residents and four from outside the county, are a former director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a retired Army major general who once headed the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Last week, Smith began a series of interviews with sheriff’s office personnel to help him decide on the makeup of his new administration, making clear that employment decisions won’t be under the auspices of the transition team, and won’t be made until he assumes office the first week of the new year.

“They are not making any hiring or firing decisions,” said Smith. “The transition team is not interviewing FCSO staff for employment purposes and only to identify processes of the agency.”

The team’s purpose, Smith wrote in a news release, is to participate in interviews with personnel “to determine the level of morale and issues important to the internal health of the agency.”

He said he assembled the team so as to combine community stakeholders with experts in law enforcement and management. The team will submit a report to Smith in the weeks ahead to facilitate organizational policy and personnel decisions once he takes office.

Serving as point-person on the team is retired Pasco County Sheriff Bob White, who was a part of Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team. He has served as sergeant with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and with the Florida Highway Patrol.

Also included are St. George Island resident retired Army Maj. Gen. James E. Donald, a former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, and past chairman of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole. Donald retired as deputy chief of staff with the U.S. Army Forces Command after a 33-year military career, during which time he earned the Bronze Star for his leadership as a task force commander with the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” during the first Gulf War.

Part time St. Teresa resident Jerry Bailey, retired after serving as head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for eight years, has been named to the team, as has Dr. Ed Naggiar, a 20-year Navy SEAL officer, with a PhD in industrial organization, who founded Panama City-based Human Performance Consulting, an organization specializing in resilience and leadership training worldwide.

Joel Heape, chief deputy with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, also serves on the team. A 32-year law enforcement veteran, he is a certified trainer in high-liability areas of law enforcement and has extensive experience with information technology.

Others serving on the team include Ted Ruffner, with 30-years experience in banking and securities investment, who retired in 2004 as first vice president from Wachovia now Wells Fargo, Bank. An avid hunter and fisherman, he has served on several local nonprofit boards and Friends groups; Kristy Banks, an Eastpoint attorney and Franklin County native who has practiced both civil and criminal law; Mark Friedman, an Eastpoint certified public accountant and financial advisor; and Lindsey Bockelman, an 18-year resident of Franklin County who began her career in real estate and for the past eight years has taught at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School.

Smith said the team will study the financial picture of the current sheriff's office “and help develop a sound budget going forward, to develop a sound audit program with good internal controls, and full public accountability.

“The team will be also asked to study cost centers such as payroll practices and purchasing policies for insurance, automobiles, communications and other equipment. These reviews may reveal other areas to study,” he wrote.

Looking for areas to consolidate or combine similar services, eliminating redundancy, will be another key focus of the team.

“This study will provide clarity of mission, which creates greater organizational effectiveness, efficiency, and improves service delivery.,” Smith wrote. “The team will also study supervisory structure, identify and recommend elimination of redundant functions if necessary. This could help to create new leadership framework to enhance decision making, provide better service and increase professionalism.

“The plan has been designed to build mutual trust with internal and external customers, and to ensure transparency and open communication throughout and beyond transition,” he wrote.

Smith offered thanks to outgoing sheriff Mike Mock ‘for working closely with me as we make the transition and for allowing members of the team access to facilities and employees.”