Rick Wells will be Manatee’s next sheriff after no one files to run against him

Rick Wells will be Manatee County’s next sheriff.

Wells, 51, officially became the sheriff-elect Friday after no one filed to run against him before the qualifying deadline.

The news was still surreal to him Friday afternoon.

“I am extremely proud to be the next sheriff of Manatee County,” Wells said. “I love this county, I love the sheriff’s office.”

He’s also proud of the men and women who make up the sheriff’s office, saying it will be a privilege to continue to work alongside them.

“I have been very blessed with the overwhelming support from the community,” Wells said.

Last July, Sheriff Brad Steube announced he would not seek re-election, but instead retire at the end of his term in January.

Steube has held the position since April 2007 when he was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist after Charlie Wells, father of Rick Wells, retired before the end of his term. Steube had held the chief deputy position under then-Sheriff Wells.

Soon after the sheriff’s announcement, Rick Wells declared his intention to run for the office.

Wells was chief of police for the Palmetto Police Department from July 2010 until February 2014, when Steube appointed him to the chief deputy position that had been held vacant for more than a year.

It has been Steube’s hope the younger Wells would succeed him.

“Although Rick wins today, the real winners are going to be the men and women at the sheriff’s office because of the continuity of leadership,” Steube said Friday. “And then the real winners above that are our community, because of the continued good law enforcement that will take place for all.”

The two have worked closely together since Wells returned to the sheriff’s office taking the No. 2 position. In the months ahead, Steube says he will act as a teacher intending to begin handing over some of his responsibilities starting in October.

“I have the faith and confidence in him because I know his work ethic. I know how he handles himself,” Steube said. “If I didn’t think he was the right guy, I would never have brought him back as chief deputy.”

It was this confidence that also made him support his candidacy, he said.

“We believe in the same things,” Steube said.

The sheriff also believes Wells will bring new ideas with him.

The son of retired Sheriff Wells had always dreamed of being sheriff himself, and ending his career at the sheriff’s office where it had all began. So when his father first took office in 1984, the younger Wells left the sheriff’s department and went to work for the Florida Highway Patrol.

It was only after the elder Wells retired, that the younger Wells went to Steube and told him he had hoped to finish his career at the sheriff’s office. Steube hired him to be a crime prevention lieutenant.

Future plans

Looking toward the future when he takes office in January, Wells said one of his primary goals will be to make sure the sheriff’s office continues to grow to meet the needs of a growing population.

“We need to continue to focus on the growth of Manatee County and how we are going to be able to properly staff the sheriff’s office,” Wells said. “We do have a shortage at this time.”

Wells commended the county commission for trying to get the sheriff’s office the funds needed to properly handle that growth.

“One of the primary jobs is to take care of the community,” Wells said.

With no challenger, Wells said, he feels the support of the community.

“I believe that being in the community and working with people on a daily basis, helps build the trust between law enforcement and the community you serve,” Wells said. “And I will continue to partner with them and support them.”

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012