Who is running for sheriff?
Elected officials, community supporters and family members gathered at the Golden Valley Community Club on Monday evening for a public forum to hear the five candidates running for Rutherford County Sheriff respond to a variety of questions.
The candidates include Jack Conner (D), incumbent Chris Francis (R), Dan Good (R), Don Huckabee (D) and Jason Wease (D).
Each candidate was given a brief amount of time to answer the questions, some which were asked by a moderator and others that came from attendees in the audience.
Why are you running for sheriff?
Conner: We ran a good Sheriff's Office from 2006 to 2010, keeping the crime rate down and putting officers to work. I started several programs like the child exchange area next to the Sheriff's Office, a criminal interdiction team and Project Lifesaver with the Pilot Club. I also helped to hire the county's first domestic violence investigator. When I left the Sheriff's Office, I felt like I wasn't through yet and I still have a desire to serve the people.
Francis: We've had a lot of accomplishments since I've been sheriff. I understand that criminals change and that law enforcement changes and we cannot be complacent, we must continue to learn and continue to adapt to an ever-changing criminal element. I lead my deputies by example and I want to ensure the department continues to head in the right direction, being professional and proactive.
Good: I like being sheriff more than anything I've ever done in law enforcement because I like to serve the people. When I'm elected, I'm going to reinstate most if not all of the programs I started when I was sheriff. They were effective programs like the Are U OK program, Crime Stoppers, Operation I.D. and Isothermal Narcotics Task Force. I also had a breaking and entering task force and started the K-9 program in this county.
Huckabee: It's about the only thing I haven't done yet, and I have the compassion of wanting to keep serving my county. I see so many things that we do which we can do better. After serving under seven sheriffs, I want to take all of the best things out of each of those periods.
Wease: I never thought I would run for anything, but I decided to run because I felt called to. The Lord got to dealing with me about running for sheriff, and until I said yes, I didn't have much peace. I don't have law enforcement experience, but I've helped to create green jobs through Wease Enterprise and have worked in small business creation. I think we really need change in Rutherford County.
If re-elected what changes would you make if any?
Conner: I would have detectives on-call nights and weekends. I would also change some personnel around. Drugs and breaking and enterings are a concern in our county, and we need to utilize the narcotics team and continue to work with city law enforcement agencies. The Sheriff's Office should consider itself a servant of the county and of the citizens.
Francis: It's not so much about the changes I would make, but how I would continue what I have done and what the Sheriff's Office has accomplished. Since I came into office, we've introduced a field training officer program, we have increased the number of canines we have, worked to get a local Department of Corrections class and updated safety equipment for officers. I've also worked to keep the community involved and informed through our Facebook page, website and Nixle reports.
Good: When I was sheriff I started 22 programs. You can't solve crime without information from the community, and I would re-implement all those programs. There also needs to be some reorganization in the Sheriff's Office, and a change in personnel. I want to reinvigorate the moral of the Sheriff's Office because you can't work and do a good job with poor moral.
What is the greatest opportunity you see if elected?
Huckabee: There are currently too many chiefs and not enough indians; I want more indians by increasing the number of road patrol officers. I also want to restructure the detective division to allow more detectives to work breaking and enterings. I would like to swear in all the city drug officers and form a Rutherford County drug task force and work with the police chiefs to have more manpower. I also want to work toward getting a new animal shelter built and have a committee that will come up with ideas on how we can work toward a no-kill shelter.
Wease: I believe we need to reduce the power from the sheriff's level and put it back in people's hands. If you want to get corruption out of the Sheriff's Office, my concept of a volunteer advisory board is the way to go. The advisory board will protect the folks in law enforcement that have been protecting the citizens. And if you think the Sheriff's Office has not done its duties as required by law, you will have the right to bring the issue before that advisory board.
How would you handle the issue of drugs in our school system?
Conner: D.A.R.E. is a great program for the schools. We also need to try again to get younger, undercover officers to go into schools to seek out drugs.
Francis: As a former school resource officer, I have been able to establish a relationship between law enforcement and public administration in the schools. We bring canines into the schools to search for drugs. We also currently have the G.R.E.A.T. program in the schools for fifth graders and it has been very successful.
Good: When I was sheriff I used to have the D.A.R.E. program in schools. I had someone in every school with the program, and it needs to be reinstated. If you take care of the drugs, you will take care of other crimes, too.
Huckabee: I am for the canines going into the schools, but the drug dogs need to randomly check the schools. Kids shouldn't be told when they are coming, and neither should the principal. Drug searches should be approved by and coordinated with the superintendent.
Wease: We have a lot of drug problems in our county, our state and our schools. This advisory board I'm plugging for is our saving grace. Education on child abuse and neglect should be included with a D.A.R.E. program.
What is your stance on gun control?
Conner: I'm a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and I'm behind guns 100 percent. I think we need them and every person should have one and everyone should have a concealed carry license.
Francis: I've been a gun owner since I was eight years old. And all my own extra money goes into guns, it's a favorite pastime of mine. I've tried to promote gun ownership and concealed carry licenses.
Good: I'm a pro-Second Amendment person and I belong to the National Rifle Association. As long as I'm your sheriff, nobody is going to take your guns away.
Huckabee: You have the right to have a gun and nobody should take that away from you. The crooks will get the guns whether there is gun control or not. I'm not for gun control.
Wease: I'm for gun control, and when I say that I mean any law on the books should be honored. We need to keep the guns out of the crooks' hands, but keep them in the right hands.
Would you support removing the gun-free zone in schools and allowing teachers to have guns?
Conner: Yes, years ago we used to be able to bring our guns to school and go hunting after we got out of classes. The guns are not the problem, it's some of the people behind them.
Francis: No, because it would require a different kind of training for teachers. We do have school resource officers in the schools, but I don't feel comfortable with teachers having guns yet. It may be something to consider in the future.
Good: I'm not sure all the teachers would even want to have guns. I began the school resource officer program in Rutherford County, and I think we must have more than one resource officer at each school.
Huckabee: I believe in guns, but if teachers with guns got mad or upset about something, I wouldn't want anyone to get that phone call saying a teacher took out their feelings on a student. Law enforcement officers go through all kinds of training, and the teachers would have to be properly trained.
Wease: If teachers would take the proper training, I don't see why they shouldn't be able to carry concealed on the job just like anybody else in America. Crooks could still be bringing their weapons onto school property, but we're just not out there checking the cars every day.
From NC House Representative Mike Hager: If elected, during your first phone call to me, what would you ask for?
Conner: What happened to three strikes for criminals and you're out? Can you answer that? Today, people get three strikes and they're still walking free.
Francis: I would continue to ask you for what I already do — how we can strengthen the laws and how we can help protect citizens.
Good: We need more stringent laws. People are not afraid to break the laws if there is no penalty or punishment. We also need more money for more officers.
Huckabee: I would ask to put more common sense into laws and take out the loopholes. For example, with breaking and enterings, the criminals are slapped on the hand and simply told not to do it again.
Wease: I would ask you to clean up the Dan River and do away with the coal ash in the waters. I believe our water is a precious thing and I want our river to be safe, too. I want this place to be in better shape than it is now.