Local residents had an opportunity to hear from two St. Johns County candidates during a gathering Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the Palm Valley Barn.
County Commission district 1 candidate Christian Whitehurst and sheriff candidate Rob Hardwick spoke and took questions from the audience at the event, which was sponsored by Ponte Vedra resident Deb Chapin, who called herself an advocate for the two Republicans.
“We’re at a critical time,” she told those assembled at the venue. “We’re at a crossroads. We need to have a strong group on our Board of County Commissioners, our School Board, our Sheriff’s department.”
Whitehurst, who is running against incumbent Jimmy Johns in the Aug. 18 primary, devoted a portion of his presentation to his belief in “smart, managed growth.”
“When I moved to this county, we were a community of 119,000 people,” he said. “Today, we’re getting close to 270,000, and there’s no end in sight.”
He pointed out that the county has already approved the construction of 60,000 new homes that have yet to be built.
“I think the biggest challenge that I have, if I’m elected, is making sure we build up the infrastructure to support growth,” he said. “Do we have the roadways? Do we have beach access points? Do we have boat ramps? Do we have the schools?”
He signaled that he wouldn’t necessarily approve every project presented to the board.
“When a project comes before me, if it’s not a net benefit to our community, if it’s not a benefit to our environment, I simply won’t support the project,” he said.
Asked whether he was in favor of mandating masks countywide, he said no.
Hardwick, who is running against Chris Strickland in the primary, cited his experience. He is currently the St. Augustine Beach police chief and has been an assistant chief investigator with the 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office and an officer with the St. Augustine Police Department. He sits on the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which polices the police.
Under Hardwick, the St. Augustine Beach Police Department became an accredited agency, an achievement shared by only about a third of the law enforcement agencies in the state.
“I’m very proud of that,” he said. “I have some of the best men and women in this profession.”
He spoke in support of new technology to aid the department in its mission. Concerning body cameras for officers, he said that he did not oppose them, but pointed out the budgetary realities that might hinder such a purchase.
“I’m not going to make promises to the citizens of St. Johns County for something that I can’t keep,” he said.
Asked about his position on masks, he said it wasn’t the police department’s job to enforce a mandate, though officers can enforce trespassing ordinances should business owners request someone be removed for failing to wear a mask.
According to a campaign spokeswoman, Whitehurst is endorsed by Sheriff David Shoar, the local Trump Club and county Veterans Council chair Bill Dudley, and has the support of retired Admiral Robert Natter.
Hardwick has received endorsements from The Florida Police Chiefs Association, the St. Johns County Realtors Association, the National Rifle Association, Congressman Michael Waltz, Congressman John Rutherford, Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams, Sheriff David Shoar, Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach and Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey.
Early voting is currently underway and ends Saturday, Aug. 15.