Outgoing Tammany sheriff touts office’s solid financial position; incoming sheriff plans major review _lowres

Randy Smith

Slidell voters will have a long wait to choose a new police chief. The election to fill the remainder of Randy Smith’s term won’t be held until next November.

Smith, who unseated St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain in a Nov. 21 runoff, won’t assume his new office until July 1. He hasn’t said when he will resign from his municipal post, and the Slidell City Council can’t call a special election until he does so.

Qualifying for the March 5 elections begins next week, so that date is already off the table.

Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan said he will meet with the city attorney Monday to discuss what the city charter requires to address the vacancy. But with months likely between the departure of Smith and the election of his replacement, an interim solution will be needed.

Smith, who was first elected police chief in 2010, was returned to office for a second term when no one qualified to run against him in February 2014.

Candidates have already emerged for the 2018 race for mayor, with Drennan term-limited. Kevin Davis, a former St. Tammany Parish president, told the Slidell Independent in July that he was considering a run. Bruce Clement, the chief operating officer at Slidell Memorial Hospital, has a Facebook page for his planned campaign.

There’s been less chatter about who will run for chief.

But one candidate is already preparing a run — Tommy Benasco, a reserve officer with the Slidell Police Department. Benasco hired political consultant James Hartman in the spring, saying that he planned to run for police chief whenever Smith left office, either because of a victory in the sheriff’s race or else in 2018, when Smith would have been term-limited.

Benasco confirmed Friday that he is running, saying that he had considered seeking the office six years ago.

Benasco, 52, who worked for the Slidell Police Department from 1993 to 2005, said he has extensive knowledge of the agency after having worked in almost every department, including patrol and as a detective investigating major crimes.

He now works as a contractor but said he has a passion for police work and returned to the department as a reserve officer six years ago.

Sgt. Daniel Seuzeneau, who is the Slidell Police Department’s spokesman and a supervisor in the Criminal Investigations Division, took to social media immediately after his boss beat Strain, addressing what he called dozens of messages and phone calls asking whether he’s running for chief.

“First off, I am restricted by civil service rules which state that I cannot ‘directly or indirectly receive or solicit political contributions or campaign for any party or municipal service,’ ” Seuzeneau posted on a Facebook page.

Running isn’t an option as long as he works for the department, Seuzeneau said, adding that he expects to sit down with Smith after the holidays “to discuss future plans.”

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.