All six Republican candidates for Blount County Sheriff met at the Blount County-Oneonta Agri-Business Center last week (there are no Democratic candidates) to present themselves and answer questions concerning the office they will contest at the polls in the primary election June 5.
All candidates made opening and closing remarks and all answered the same series of six questions. The questions dealt with (1) adding deputies to the department in light of serious budget problems, (2) keeping citizens informed about sheriff’s department operations, (3) priorities for their first 100 days in office, (4) fighting the prescription drug and opioid epidemic in Blount County, (5) budget management in a politicized context, and (6) unique qualifications or experience each would bring to the office.
Answers were largely predictable in light of previous public comments and appearances. Candidates are in substantial agreement on many issues, especially the universal vow to “put more deputies on the road”, but several comments emerged in this forum that were more salient – more ‘arresting’– than most, some more so than others.
Some of these comments are represented below, not as complete quotes, but as paraphrases as a listener in the audience might remember them.
Ron Chastain: The Sheriff’s Department was “not a good steward” of its money in the past (unspoken reference to conflict with the county commission). Commissioners are not “bad guys;” new sheriff will have to work with them effectively. Use Neighborhood Watch groups for tips and direct information on the drug scene at the local level.
Kevin Price: Says he will be “leader who leads, not a boss who pushes.” Big problem is deputies are not paid enough, and there are not enough of them. Way to solve problem of low pay in the short run is to introduce hazardous duty pay to supplement regular compensation. Says he “spent his life,” referring to education and law degree, preparing for this job.
Charlie Turner: The county commission holds the budget purse strings. Accept that no more money is going to be available and “trim fat” in sheriff department operations “right to the bone”. Reassign staff officers to patrol duty. Will create policy and procedures manual to eliminate favoritism and inequities.
Mark Moon: Would introduce a faith-based rehabilitation program at jail; treat drug problem as a “sin problem”. Managing money is sacred for both a pastor and sheriff, because “that’s God’s money”. “Real conversation” is needed with county commission to get them to authorize more money for deputies and pay raises. Loves Blount County: “when someone loves you, they’ll do whatever it takes to protect you.”
Chase Ramsey: Would institute quarterly community meetings in each district to re-establish trust and serve as a source of local crime tips and information. Would “personally assist” investigators in making drug cases. Major emphasis on transparency in budget and policy matters. Will mandate working traffic control and vehicular homicides, to reduce delay waiting for state troopers in such cases.
James Chapman: Stressed management, training, and budget experience, saying “I’ve already done that”. Oneonta police officers best trained and best paid in Blount County. Sheriff’s Department deputies are“grossly underpaid”. Said that in 19 years as Oneonta police chief, he ”never went over budget”. Accept budget constraints this fiscal year and work with commission to restore trust; remedy budget problems in 2019 and after. Sheriff needs to be leader who can “start making right decisions the first day on job. “