GOP sheriff’s hopefuls outline ideas
BY BEN MUNRO
The three Republican candidates for county sheriff answered questions in front of county party members Friday night during a 36-minute forum at the Madison County High School theater.
Kip Thomas, Larry Smith and John Dove are all seeking the Republican nomination.
More harmonious than the congressional forum it followed, the sheriff’s forum covered topics ranging from school resources officers to drugs to illegal aliens.
Thomas, a former Marine, has worked most of his career in law enforcement with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, leaving a year ago “in good standing,” he said, with the rank of sergeant.
Thomas said it’s been his goal to become sheriff and he plans to surround himself with experts in their field and delegate powers.
“If any man says he can do this job by himself, he is wrong,” Thomas said. “My sheriff’s office will run smoothly and successfully due to those working with me to take our sheriff’s office in a positive direction in the future.”
Smith, who currently works for the Athens-Clarke County police, is a native of Madison County who has 35 years of law enforcement experience, serving in all divisions.
He’s seeking the sheriff’s office “to attack crime in all ways very aggressively.”
Smith wants to implement community meetings and neighborhood watches, while adding that “I have several major advanced schools to help improve y’all’s department,” Smith said.
By contrast, Dove’s opening remarks were more emotionally charged, saying that the sheriff’s race was divisive and that people have turned their back on him.
“Just a few weeks ago, I met a man that’s sitting here that I’ve known for 20 years,” Dove said. “Our department now is fortunate to have him. But because I’m running for his boss, he don’t want to shake my hand.”
Dove said he seeks to bring change to Madison County and said the county needs to come together as one.
“We’re all here for one reason, we’re here for change,” Dove said. “That’s what everybody preaches.”
Candidates were asked 10 questions, though Dove replied “no comment” to two of them.
School resource officer
All agreed that a school resource officer (SRO) was needed.
Smith said “it was a shame” that an armed police officers were needed in schools, but said there are federal and state funds available for the position.
Dove, who said that he’d turn to the BOE for the funds for an SRO, warned that kids are growing more petulant and need discipline.
“I’ve got an 11-year-old that I just about want to smack in the mouth sometimes,” Dove said. “We’ve got to stay focused with our school system.”
Thomas, who said the BOE shouldn’t have to pay for a school resource office, said the sheriff’s office could be reshuffled to make room for the position. Later on, money from the state and federal levels can be explored. “I’ve looked and … the problems are cut down at the schools where there’s somebody there everyday,” he said of a school resource officer.
County’s drug problem
The candidates were in accord over the severity of the drug problem.
Dove, who vows to “work dope everyday,” wants to establish MANS unit in the county, which would start small with two or three officers, he said. “And I will be one of those two or three,” Dove said. “I want to be in the woods.”
Thomas said a sheriff must use what he already has effectively and pull from outside resources initially. Later, the sheriff’s office can look at adding its own drug task forces.
“The county can’t financially do it right now,” he said. “Later on down the road, once you get it going, you can do it. You can pull in grants and other stuff and get your own set up.”
Smith said funding and personnel must be sought to combat the drug problem. He also stressed prosecuting beyond the state level, noting that he’s familiar with federal prosecutors. “If they fit the criteria, prosecute in the federal court,” Smith said.
Thomas favored expansion of the jail, noting that with more space, Madison County which is currently housing out male and female inmates could house inmates for other counties and create revenue to help pay for the project.
“What we have now is not enough,” Thomas said, noting there’s only a holding cell for females.
He also pointed that construction costs aren’t getting any cheaper.
Smith agreed with Thomas, saying the county “should have looked for future growth when it was first built.”
He said the jail expansion should happen soon with building costs being low enough now “that we can possibly afford it.”
However, Dove was mum on the expansion of the county jail.
“No comment,” he said, stepping away from microphone.
Smith said finding funding is essential to the sheriff’s office coping with the county’s growth. The office would need increased manpower, equipment and training as the county’s population grows.
Through his various contacts, Smith said he could arrange for in-county training of officers rather than officers having to travel to Forsyth for it.
Dove said “we can’t control growth,” but his plan for preparing for it is finding ways to cut back on expenses.
“You look at the jail,” he said. “Instead of running the jail like a Hilton, let’s run it like a jail. Turn the lights out. Turn the AC off.”
Dove added, “we need to save, save, save.”
Thomas said growth is inevitable and can’t be handled cheaply.
“It’s going to cost money and we’re not going to stop it,” he said.
Thomas said handling growth requires training and looking to state and federal grant money to take the burden off taxpayers.
“The more training the people get, the better off we’ll be,” Thomas said.
Dealing with the community
Dove said “we’re all family” and would want his officers to treat citizens accordingly.
“If you open your mouth to a citizen of this county, you’d better speak to them like they’re your grandparents,” said Dove of what he’d tell his officers. “Nothing less because I won’t tolerate it.”
Thomas said the sheriff and the deputies have to be a presence in the community. “That’s the only way you can do it.”
Thomas added that he wants to be a sheriff that’s approachable.
“Make them feel like they can come talk to you when your out in public and get your get your people working on the same thing,” he said.
Smith said it’s important for the sheriff and everyone under him to talk face-to-face with the public.
“Get out into the neighborhood,” he said. “Park the cars. Save gas. Talk to the people.”
Smith added that if sheriff, “I’ll pull in your yard and talk to you. That’s the person I am.”
Handling the budget
Thomas said he had no experience handling a sheriff’s office budget, “but I can get people to help me with that.”
He noted that the first year’s budget would be set by the previous administration.
“That gives you a year to sit down and figure out what you need and where you’re going,” Thomas said.
Smith also said he’s had minimal experience with law enforcement budgets.
“We’ll have to wait and see what the budget is here before we know where to go from there on,” he said.
Dove said he has business experience working with budgets and said he was up to the task of handling a sheriff office’s budget.
He said the key is “doing without sometimes.”
“Our budget don’t scare me,’ he said. “I’ve worked with it before. It’s something we all do with our personal finances.”
Illegal aliens in the county
Smith said he wasn’t familiar with the number of illegal aliens in the county, saying he’d have to look at the statistics before he’d know how to approach it.
Dove again offered no comment.
Thomas said there are illegal aliens in the county. If one is arrested in the county, he said that the federal government wouldn’t deport them unless the illegal has committed a heinous crime.
Bringing change to Madison County
Dove said his campaign is based on narcotics, and talked about working the drug beat for three years as an officer.
“When I was at home, I was John Dove,” he said. “When I left for work I was somebody else … I’m not going to get into that. What I’m getting at is it’s something I can do everyday.”
Thomas agreed that the drug problem was the major issue facing Madison County law enforcement. He, too, vowed to tackle narcotics everyday, utilizing resources within and outside the county.
“Working it everyday, I think we can do something about it,” Thomas said.
Smith said drugs, burglaries and murders are all linked together.
He said working with the community and sharing information can be a major agent for results. “We can slow it down all areas of crime,” he said.
Improving function of MSCO
Thomas said he wants to offer a more open office for the people of the county.
“If people feel comfortable coming in, they’ll come talk to you,” Thomas said.
He added that he wanted to establish permanent shifts to get everyone on the same schedule and also get investigators out of the office more to talk to the public.
Smith said he’d talk more with the community and treat the citizens with respect.
“That’s the best way to improve relationships with anything,” he said.
Dove said “attitude is everything.”
“You’ll never have to have an appointment to see me,” he said. “My number will be readily available 24-7.”
WHO’S THE MOST QUALIFIED?
Smith noted his 35 years of experience, which he said qualifies him “to lead this department the way it should be led.”
Dove pointed to his desire to work in his home and to be involved.
“I want to serve. I want to help. I want to care,” he said.
Thomas pointed to his character, integrity and high moral standard. He also said he possesses leadership skills.
“Leadership starts at the top and filters down,” he said. “If you have a good leader, the rest will follow suit.”