WINDERMERE – Even before he was named Windermere Police chief nearly nine years ago, concerns had surfaced about Daniel Saylor's ability to lead the department, according to his personnel file.
In her formal letter offering Saylor the chief job in July 2002, Town Manager Cecilia Bernier outlined "areas of concern" which he would have to "improve in over the next year."
Only one performance evaluation appears in his personnel file since he became chief, and it was an average one in which he met "operational standard" in seven of 10 factors. That lone review, dated Oct. 3, 2008, mentions a series of shortcomings in Saylor's job performance.
"Very concerned about chief and dept for several months," wrote Bernier, who noted Saylor had been out of touch with officers, failed to file financial reports or respond quickly to problems. "Now seems to be getting back on track & looking for the return of the professional dept we had."
The criminal case against Saylor, 44, involves charges that he shut down an investigation to help a friend accused of molesting two young Windermere girls, according to court records. The friend, Scott Frederick Bush, 50, of Windermere, remains held without bail in the Orange County Jail on child rape and molestation charges that could land him in prison for life.
After Saylor was charged with one count of giving unlawful compensation for official behavior and one count of official misconduct, he was suspended without pay, Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn said.
On Thursday – a day after the arrests – Bernier wrote a memo to Bruhn and the town council explaining why Saylor was hired as a police officer in 1997 and promoted to police chief in 2002 despite knowing that a background check showed he previously had a troubled career at the Melbourne Police Department.
In her Thursday memo, Bernier attributed Saylor's hiring partly to a tiny candidate pool and low salaries. Saylor was not, she wrote, her first choice for the job. In fact, it was offered to the then-chief of police in Lake Placid, Florida, who declined the job.
"Of course, in 1997 we did not have an abundance of highly-qualified candidates simply because the unemployment rate was far lower than it is now," she wrote. "Historically, our starting salary for police officers is well below that of larger agencies as the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Orlando Police Department."
While Windermere is the wealthiest community in Central Florida it pays its police officers some of the lowest wages in the region, according to records and interviews. Records show that as chief, Saylor last year earned $62,868.
Personnel records show that when Bernier offered Saylor the chief's job on July 5, 2002, she placed him on one year's probation to learn his responsibilities and reminded him that "the job is not political," that he worked for her, and to control his "emotions and temper as befitting the title and management level of the job."
In her letter to the mayor and council Thursday, Bernier wrote that there were some "incidents during his time at the Melbourne Police Department," but she closed the letter by saying "I am now satisfied that our decision some 14 years ago to hire Chief Saylor and our decision some nine years ago to promote Chief Saylor were both professional, business-like, and justifiable."
Last year, when the Orlando Sentinel wrote about Saylor's disciplinary history and practice of hiring officers who resigned from other agencies while under investigation, Bernier said, "They are the best officers for this town, and I stand by the police department and the officers because they are the best department in Orange County."
On Thursday night, Saylor complied with a condition of his release from the Orange County Jail by turning in his personal collection of nine handguns, five rifles and a shotgun to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.
Saylor also returned five police-issued firearms, including a semi-automatic M-16 assault rifle, according to the Windermere Police Department. He is not allowed to possess firearms pending the outcome of his criminal case. If convicted of either official misconduct or giving unlawful compensation for official behavior, both felonies, Saylor would permanently lose the right to own a firearm.
Gary Taylor contributed to this report. Henry Pierson Curtis can be reached at 407-846-1559 or firstname.lastname@example.org.