Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells resigns to take No. 2 position at Manatee sheriff's office

PALMETTO -- Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells is resigning to become chief deputy with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, officials announced Tuesday.

"It is with great regret that I accept Chief Wells' resignation," said Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant. "However, we wish him well in his future with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. He has brought the Palmetto Police Department to the next level."

Bryant said she will nominate Deputy Chief Scott Tyler to succeed Wells. Tyler served the Palmetto Police Department 20 years and as deputy chief since 2012. The Palmetto City Commission will consider the nomination at its March 2 meeting.

"Being recommended for such a prestigious position is the crown jewel of my career," Tyler said. "It's something I've long wanted and I look forward to it. But it's bittersweet, and losing my boss of a couple years, and not only my boss but also my colleague and my friend, is a tough thing."

Wells, 50, son of former Sheriff Charlie Wells who

retired in April 2007, will have the rank of colonel and be No. 2 at the sheriff's office under Sheriff Brad Steube. The position has been vacant since January 2013 when Col. Chuck Hagaman retired.

Charlie Wells said he is delighted his son will be working with Steube, in an email to the Bradenton Herald Tuesday night.

"The sheriff is a committed and dedicated law enforcement office who has integrity," he wrote.

Wells said he continues to have a great relationship with Steube, his own former chief deputy, and considers him one of the hardest-working law enforcement officers he knows.

"If Rick decides to run for sheriff when Sheriff Steube has finished his time I know he would make a great sheriff," he wrote. "Rick's work ethic is much like Steube's and he is a genuine person."

Charlie Wells said he never encouraged his son to run because of the demands of the job, but said he would be honored to support his son should he make the choice to run one day.

Steube said he purposely left the position open to focus funds on other areas but he's looking at a massive number of retirements in certified positions the next few years -- 13 this year, 18 in 2016, nine in 2017 and another nine in 2018 -- and will need someone in the No. 2 spot.

The retirements come five years after the Florida Legislature considered ending the deferred retirement option plan, which boosts the pensions of participants who agree to retire after five years.

Many employees of the sheriff's office entered the program five years ago so they would be grandfathered in just in case the Legislature did eliminate the program. Now, Steube said, they're hitting mandatory retirement at the same time.

"I'm going to have to concentrate on running the agency and mentoring and training new leaders," Steube said.

Steube said he plans on running for re-election next year, and he'll take any future decisions to retire term by term. He's had a succession plan for a while, he said, and Wells has told Steube he "always wanted to be a sheriff."

"If in the future he still wants to be a sheriff and I step down, he'll be in a good position to do that," Steube said.

Wells said he isn't thinking about running for the sheriff's seat right now, and his father told him to "stay out of politics."

"Whenever that time comes I'll take that into consideration," Wells said.

Wells, a former state trooper and Manatee sheriff's lieutenant, was appointed Palmetto police chief in July 2010 after the sudden retirement of former Chief Garry Lowe.

"I love the city of Palmetto. I've had a great career here ... and they always found a way to give us what we needed." Wells said. "I'll never be able to express how important it was for me to come in here and to have a group of people like you to take me under your wings and show me the way here in Palmetto. And even though I'll be across the river, I will still be here to help you as well."

Wells said Steube approached him about taking the job. Steube said he chose Wells because of the way he has handled leadership at the Palmetto Police Department.

"He's had a lot of successes there," Steube said. "He's well-liked by the community and he communicates well with his community. That's what we try to do here."

Wells will begin March 2 at the sheriff's office and earn $122,667 per year. He will continue working at the Palmetto Police Department until he takes over at the sheriff's office.

Leslie Bahnsen Wells, Rick Wells' mother posted a comment on the Bradenton Herald's Facebook page posting regarding his new appointment. "Congratulations to our son, so proud of you! 30+ years of law enforcement experience, you are the perfect choice. Love you!" she wrote.

-- Bradenton Herald crime reporter Jessica De Leon contributed to this story.