The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

June 12, 2012

Sheriff candidates speak on leadership, goals and taxes

ENID — The four candidates for Garfield County sheriff expressed their views and answered questions Monday night.

The all-Republican field of candidates will face off in a June 26 primary for retiring Sheriff Bill Winchester’s office, but a winner likely will be decided in an Aug. 28 runoff election.

Candidates are former Garfield County Sheriff’s Office Deputy George Dillman, GCSO Lt. Shon Jackson, current Undersheriff Jerry Niles and former Enid Police Department Chief Rick West.

Monday’s forum in Enid City Commission chambers was sponsored by Chisholm Broadcasting, Enid News & Eagle, Eagle Marketing, PEGASYS and Williams Broadcasting. Questions were posed by members of each media outlet, and Eagle Marketing Director Frank Baker moderated the event.

Questions ranged in scope from what candidates think are the biggest issues facing them in the upcoming election to their views of jail overcrowding and funding.

Each candidate was afforded a three-minute opening and a two-minute closing statement, with Dillman going first.

He said the results of his campaign have been “staggering,” and he has been keenly listening to what county residents have to say.

Dillman said he recently received a phone call from a couple saying they wanted to vote for him because he was born and raised in Enid, is the only candidate with military experience and is the only candidate who has pledged to take a $500 a month cut in pay.

Jackson said he was the only candidate who has worked his way up through the sheriff’s office, but was quick to give credit to everyone within the department for its success.

“Every deputy in our department has contributed to our success,” he said. “I want to continue to grow with the sheriff’s office.”

Jackson said he wanted to see resolution for crime victims and constant patrols conducted by deputies throughout the county.

“I want to close the doors of our drug houses, and not just focus on our highways,” he said.

Niles said he had 33 years of law enforcement experience, 14 of those with the sheriff’s office.

He said in the time he has spent with the county, there have been updates of technology and the implementation of financial programs, as well as increased sharing of information with 110 law enforcement agencies.

West said he has served the public for 32 years as a member of Enid Police Department.

He said he was the first officer in Garfield County to solicit the use of DNA testing in a homicide case, a technology he learned of by watching “20/20.”

He said he wanted to give Garfield County the best investigative techniques, and would use his experience as a police chief who oversaw a $7.8 million budget to help lead a sheriff’s office facing budget constraints like all others across the state.

When asked of endorsements they would like to announce, Niles said he recently was endorsed by the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge.

“It’s a humble honor to be backed by the men and women of law enforcement in the county,” he said.

West did not go into specifics about endorsements, but said those endorsing his campaign were educators, bankers, lawyers and blue-collar workers.

“My support isn’t limited to one specific part of the community,” he said, “it is broad and wide.”

Dillman said former Iraqi minister of electricity Aiham Alsammarae flew from Chicago in February to be the first to endorse his campaign.

“He flew in on his own accord to endorse my candidacy,” Dillman said after noting he had saved Alsammarae’s life in Iraq.

Jackson said his candidacy had a lot of support from the community.

“The greatest endorsement I have is my wife and family,” he said.

Three of the candidates said they would seek the best person to fill the position of undersheriff, if elected, but only Rick West named a man he would ask to be his second in command.

West said he would ask a former EPD captain and colleague, Tim Goodpasture, to be his undersheriff.

“I have spoken to him, and I think he would consider being my undersheriff,” he said.

Dillman said he would search for an undersheriff who shared his ideals and is willing to work toward the same goals.

Jackson said he would look within the department for someone with leadership skills and law enforcement experience.

Niles said his undersheriff would be educated and a strong administrator who can lead in the absence of the sheriff.

The topic of re-upping a sales tax that funds jail operations brought varied responses from the candidates.

A three-eighths-cent sales tax that funds jail operations and bond repayment for jail construction ends in 2017.

Jackson said the sales tax should be a “last option” and said other avenues first should be pursued to solve financial problems.

“Let’s see what we can do first before we turn to a tax,” he said.

Niles said funding would have to be secured for the jail when the sales tax expires.

“Garfield County is the only county jail not funded through a sales tax,” he said.

West said come 2017, there will be a need for a tax to continue to fund jail operations and maintenance costs.

Dillman said the tax was needed to operate and maintain the jail.

“I am going to ask for the (three-eights-cent) sales tax to continue,” he said. “I’m telling you up front.”

Each of the candidates said they would sign an Freedom of Information Oklahoma open-government pledge.

West said transparency was an issue of interest for his campaign.

“I believe it’s the responsibility of every government agency to be as open and forthright as possible,” he said.

Dillman said it was one of his goals while in Iraq to train police officers there to forgo fraud, waste and abuse of the government through transparency.

“I assure you, I am all about transparency in government,” he said.

Jackson said he was 100 percent for signing the pledge.

He said he feels the department is open with its records and should remain so for residents.

Niles said he’s had a copy of the Oklahoma Open Records and Meeting Acts in his desk for 14 years.

“We as a government agency are employees of the our citizens,” he said.

“Yes, I would sign the pledge.”

Replays of the candidate forum can be viewed on PEGASYS Channel 12 at 1 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday through June 25.

The forum also will be available online within the next few days.

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