MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – At a town hall Tuesday evening regarding Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniel's proposed $10 million budget increase to help hire 25 new deputies to accommodate for growth, the sheriff went off script and addressed "the elephant in the room."
While Daniels made his case for increased law enforcement resources, he told News4Jax before the public meeting at Centerpoint Baptist Church in Middleburg "what is private is still private." Then he opened up to the entire audience about his private life that has become public -- perhaps not planning to until that moment.
"I will say this since I have the cameras looking at me and I'm on Facebook Live and I've got a wife at home. You know, I've never made a public apology to that woman and I just want to apologize before you all. You know, I'm going to say it in front of God and everybody. I want to make sure that everyone understands that Denise Daniels? I love that woman, and I apologize to her publicly," said Daniels, whose long-running affair with Cierra Smith, a woman he supervised when he was chief of the jail for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, became widely known after Daniels accused his ex-lover of stalking.
Daniels seemed to acknowledge that some question his fitness in office because of the scandal. He told the crowd he only needs to apologize to his wife, who has filed for divorce, and God:
"So me and God are good. Me and Denise are good. As far as my job as the sheriff? I hope not to let you down and that you and I stay good. But as long as I wear the stars on my shoulders and wear this uniform, I'm going to do everything in my power as a man and as the sheriff to keep Clay County safe," Daniels said. "And like I said, I'm not going to apologize for that."
In early May, Daniels filed a report accusing Smith of having a gun in her car and following him in a "manner that caused him great concern." His deputies resisted an order from Daniels to arrest Smith, citing a lack of probable cause, according to a State Attorney's Office document. Daniels is now under a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, although the agency has declined to say specifically what it is investigating. He also addressed that at the town hall meeting.
"Certain things have transpired and caused FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to be conducting an investigation on me and my actions," he said. "I thought it would be done by now."
As far as his budget request, Daniels and top members of his agency painted the picture of reducing his $10 million budget request down to less than $5 million, but only being able to add five deputies.
With more and more people moving to Clay County, Daniels wants to hire 61 new employees, 25 of them deputies. While the request is for 25, the Clay County Sheriff's Office has said that, in reality, it is currently down about 47.
One idea being discussed to accommodate the money needed for additional employees and deputies is a property tax hike on homeowners.
The current millage rate in Clay County is 8.101. The Clay County Board of Commissioners recently voted to raise the maximum cap to 9.333 in case they couldn't find any other way to fund the Sheriff's Office's budget. Commissioners told News4Jax they are not in favor of raising the rate that much.
At a maximum, that would equal approximately $123 per year more on property tax rates for a $100,000 home, according to Commission Chairman Mike Cella.
News4Jax has heard from residents who had a mixed reaction. Commissioners have also said they're not in favor of raising the rate very much.
Daniels said he plans to run for re-election next year. There are three other candidates for the position so far, and people seem split on whether his affair should be held against him when it’s time to vote.