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Upfront

Orange County races to watch

County's municipal stakes bring the backyard controversy

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The race for Orange County Tax Collector, pitting longstanding Democratic incumbent Earl K. Wood (first elected way back in 1964) against virtually unknown Republican challenger Jim Huckeba, is an unexpectedly entertaining circus of stumbles.

Confusion surrounded Wood's decision to run for reelection, with accounts reporting that the 96-year-old accidentally missed the withdrawal deadline for candidacy bids in an attempt to run against then-possible candidate, former Mayor Rich Crotty. Though Wood says he plans to maintain the integrity of the office, Huckeba paints a different picture. (Wood did not return calls for this story.)

"I don't think Mr. Wood has the ability to lead this agency anymore," said Huckeba. "He doesn't go to work anymore. His physical condition doesn't allow him, as most people who are 96."

Reports indicate that Wood is known to be in the office only a few days a week, and for a public servant who collects a $151,082 yearly salary plus pension, Huckeba believes that's a misuse of public funds.

"I just have a fundamental problem with public servants who aren't fulfilling their functions," said Huckeba. Among the changes he is proposing is a complete overhaul and evaluation of the agency's use of technology in assisting taxpayers, along with a consolidation of the office's functions. "Why should [anyone] have to spend two hours in line at the tag office?" Huckeba wonders.

Orange County Sheriff: Jerry Demings vs John Tegg

The race for highest lawman in the land between current Sheriff, Democrat Jerry L. Demings and Republican challenger John Tegg (a repeat of the 2008 race for the same seat), has mostly hinged on legal actions suggesting that the Orange County Sheriff's Office hasn't been forthcoming about the county's actual crime stats.

"It becomes a crime if you're manipulating those numbers up or down," said Tegg, whose supporters, members of Citizens for a Safer Central Florida Inc., have filed a non-monetary suit against the Sheriff, citing falsification of burglary reports as the organization's primary motivation.

Under Deming's authority, crime in Orange County dropped by 23.2 percent, according to Deming's literature, with violent crime diving 28.2 percent. The incumbent, first elected in 2008, calls the allegations of manipulation "ridiculous," according to the Orlando Sentinel.

While Tegg recognizes that there has been some decrease in murder cases, the challenger asserts that it is not enough.

"A few years ago, we had a record level of homicides," says Tegg. "He might have brought it down from record numbers, but it is still too high."

Tegg's plans include the reallocation of dispatched patrol officers, a move to fill 86 open agency positions with returning veterans, and a host of agency-supported training classes for private security officers working along International Drive.

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