JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Eight months before Jacksonville voters are asked to vote on the next sheriff, one of the seven candidates has already won a major endorsement from the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The FOP's leadership endorsed Jimmy Holderfield, a past president of the local and state chapters who retired after 35 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

That endorsement came as a surprise to many FOP members and many of the other candidates in the race. In the past an endorsement was made after all members were polled. That didn't happen this time.

"The real message here is the voters' endorsement is what counts," said Holderfield (pictured below). "That is what I am out there trying to do. I am pleased that my brother and sister officers have endorsed me, but the simple reality is (it's) up to the voters and citizens of Jacksonville. They should check out all the candidates."

Jimmy Holderfield While an endorsement from the police union carries a lot of weight, its candidate has not always won. For example, the FOP did not support former Sheriff Nat Glover during his first election in 1995, but did support him in his re-election bid in 1999.

FOP officials says a nine-member panel interviewed five of the seven candidates for sheriff. Then, since guidelines of the state organization changed to allowing the union to use a political-action committee when endorsing a candidate, a full membership vote was not necessary.

Many FOP members and even most of the candidates interviewed were not aware of the change.

"It's a disappointment," said Jay Farhat, currently a homicide sergeant with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, former FOP officer and candidate for sheriff. "Anytime you have any organization, be it the FOP or any other group, (that) limits its membership from having any say in the decision-making process it's a bad thing. What it does is, you are moving backwards."

Ken Jefferson, a former JSO officer and crime analyst, says it does not seem fair to change the rules.

"This way seems to have a propensity of being very biased, because you just have a panel of people who make up their minds for the entire body," Jefferson said. "I don't think that is fair."

Other candidates also told News4Jax they were upset about the change. Tony Cummings was not even invited to an interview with the endorsement panel.

"The behavior demonstrated by these individuals is precisely why I chose to run for sheriff," Cummings said. "The same attitude that prompted this body to endorse a candidate without the input of its membership is the very same attitude that has dominated the culture of JSO leadership for the past decade. The attitude that only a handful of individuals inside the JSO know what is best for the citizens of this community. This is not how effective partnerships are developed or sustained. The FOP simply demonstrated on a smaller scale what has been taking place inside the four walls of the JSO for over a decade -- cronyism and favoritism is how business gets done."