O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
The County Attorney’s Office works with local law enforcement agencies to supervise law enforcement and directly manage the prosecution of most felony crimes. In April 2018, before I took office, my predecessor Dennis Hogan made a move to obtain $500,000 of additional funding and called his office “on the brink of collapse.” This was an act of desperation to try to help repair an office that had been misled and misguided into an under-resourced office by Hogan, and other county leadership, for at least the past eight years.
My career has involved working with companies struggling to comply with their duties and obligations, including startups and billion-dollar global organizations, like the TD Garden going through a time of crisis after being investigated and sanctioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. It was quickly clear to me that the County Attorney’s Office needed help. I decided to stand up and take a step forward to help the people of Hillsborough County. I knew we could do better. And in the fall of 2018 I was elected to turn things around.
After taking office in January 2019 I dug in. I met with the staff to learn about the office’s operations and issues. I leveraged my financial experience, technology background and budget management skills from years of service on our local Planning Board. What I found was shocking: the average caseload per prosecutor was over double the average across county attorney offices in the state. This was creating ethical and operational consequences within our county that spilled over into my tenure. With over 3,500 cases coming into the office each year, and an obligation to public safety and crime victims to give attention to every case, there was a real problem that needed to be quickly addressed. Within three months of taking office I developed a four-year plan to bring sorely needed resources into the office while spreading out the budget increases over time in order to minimize impact to our taxpayers. While planning for the budget cycle I exhausted all available remedies and was able to hire two prosecutors including one with over 17 years experience prosecuting from the Attorney General’s Office.
While I laid the foundation for improvements the Attorney General’s Office maintained its concerns about the office and took over the day-to-day management of the office’s prosecutorial operations and asked for my resignation. I knew better, however, and declined to resign because there was much more work to be done. Results took time as new resources were used and I knew I would continue delivering progress for Hillsborough County. The office needed strong management and my departure would only cause further instability for the team. Critical to our operations is supporting the team working hard every day and dedicating their careers to justice and public safety in Hillsborough County. I would not abandon them. More than ever the office needed me to help ensure the next decisions were reasonable, appropriate, and furthering the mission of improving our operations. The people of Hillsborough County elected me to do a job and I was dedicated to that mission, then and now.
There were a lot of uncomfortable meetings but that was a small price to pay for being able to support and advocate for an office with such an important duty to our community. And months later, through our collaboration, we forged ahead with improvements which the Attorney General noted in his letter to me in June 2020. He stated that after taking office in April 2017 he was immediately concerned with the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office and “systemic issues” that were created before my tenure. I shared this concern and by working together, with additional resources from his office and my leadership, we have made progress.
When I met with my predecessor before taking office he didn’t even know the names of the prosecutors who worked there. Now he’s back on the campaign trail and endorsed my re-election opponent, who already had his chance as County Attorney over 15 years ago. You won’t hear my opponent talk much about his time as Hillsborough County Attorney and there’s a lot of reasons why. Decades of experience walked out the door either because he fired them or they resigned. He got in trouble with the Attorney General’s Office for hanging an offensive photo in his office that he refused to take down. Then he launched an investigation against his own team after accidentally recording himself at work calling co-workers “a bed of snakes” and talking about hitting an employee on the head. He then quit before finishing his first year. Although serving less than half his term, enough damage was done, and it was continued by Dennis Hogan over eight years before I took office in 2019. This is not the type of leadership that is needed at the County Attorney’s Office.
I have worked hard to move in a different direction, overcome adversity and lead by example with integrity, dedication and experience. Whether today by absentee ballot or election day on November 3rd the voters of Hillsborough County have a choice: revert back to old leaders that had their chance and drove the office to the brink of collapse, or continue improvements with a dedicated public servant who has shown the strength to stand up, support victims of crime and our law enforcement agencies, and work together with the Attorney General’s Office. With your support I hope to continue the important work as your County Attorney because we are now on the Brink of Greatness.
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Michael Conlon is seeking reelection as Hillsborough County Attorney in November.