Following is a summary of questions posed and answers given at a debate between Blount County Sheriff runoff candidates James Chapman and Mark Moon. The event was held at Smoke Rise United Methodist Church and sponsored by the Smoke Rise Homeowners’ Association on June 21. About 80 people attended. The runoff election is July 17. A final sheriff’s runoff debate is scheduled for Thursday, July 12, at 6 p.m. at Hayden Community Center.
Both questions and points made by candidates in response are condensed for brevity below. Candidates’ answers are not verbatim except in a few rare instances denoted by quotation marks. In a few instances, a candidate’s rebuttal point or points are included with his initial response. Questions were contributed by the homeowners’ association, from Facebook posts, and by the community.
1. Budget issues and management style: How has your education/experience prepared you for those aspects of the sheriff’s job? What qualifies you to manage the budget? What is the largest staff you have been in charge of?
James Chapman: Has 38 years experience in law enforcement, 19 as police chief at Oneonta Police Department. Personnel totaled 20 full-time officers, plus up to five part time. Budget last several years was more than $1 million annually. Never went over budget in 19 years. Force was generally considered best paid, best equipped, best trained in county.
Mark Moon: 12 years experience at Blount County Sheriff’s Department. Worked at Eckerd Pharmacy in high school days. Showed leadership and became assistant manager of store. Led 16- man fast reaction teams during military tour in Afghanistan. Took care of their needs and got all of them home safely.
2. What is the most significant issue facing the incoming sheriff of Blount County and how will you resolve?
Moon: Training and money for training. It’s a tough job. Need more bodies. Need qualified people, need enough people, must get them trained. Will create street crimes units and assign drug and crime investigators to work together, adding traffic control to jobs to gain more information/tips on drug matters.
Chapman: Training is one of biggest issues. No state requirement for continuation training in sheriff’s department, so it becomes a management issue for sheriff to assure training is carried out and is adequate. Has done it before, can do it again. Drugs is another major issue. All investigators will be assigned to work drug cases as well as other crimes. Have to get desk workers back out in the county.
3. How would it impact the sheriff’s department if Hayden creates its own police force?
Chapman: Departments would work fine together if Hayden has own police force. He plans to create sheriff’s department substation at the Hayden Annex. Absurd to have only one deputy on duty for western part of county, he said. Will have more than one certified officer assigned to Hayden Annex and supplement with reserve officers.
Moon: Doesn’t have a problem contracting with Hayden to provide designated sheriff’s deputies for the town. Will provide extra personnel in any case. Dangerous for both public and officer when officers have to respond to calls without backup.
4. Conviction rate for drug offenders is low in Blount County. What will you do as sheriff to improve it?
Moon: Must work traffic control to develop leads/informants for drug cases. Street crimes unit makes all deputies work together, including traffic stops, to develop evidence for drug cases.
Chapman: Have to set up dope and criminal systems specifically to improve conviction rate. Investigators must get back to crime victims to report progress on case, also be better trained in evidence collection techniques. I’ve set those systems up before at Oneonta and can do it again.
5. SRO issues: Address directing traffic, comp time off during summer months, how you will evaluate, whether you will work to acquire additional SRO for Hayden schools.
Moon: Has experience as SRO at both Susan Moore and Appalachian. They have worst equipment on force and demanding job. They work many extra hours at school games and other events and earn comp time they take in summer while school is out. Adding additional SRO will take more money, which citizens will have to provide through taxes.
Chapman: Oneonta had first SRO in county. SROs need to be present at all school functions. Need continuation training. Regular deputies also need SRO-type training since they will respond in the event of an emergency at the school. Would assign other deputies to traffic control, since SRO needs to be monitoring entry to school. Would use grants to supplement tobacco tax, maybe to add SRO, but public needs to understand that tobacco tax that supports all SROs is a shrinking revenue source as tobacco use declines, and sooner or later, another revenue source will have to be found to replace it.
6. How much time will you devote to job, if elected? Public concern has been expressed about both candidates.
Chapman: (The fact that his sheriff’s pay will be reduced because of his retirement pay from previous job) – “won’t affect my time on the job at all.” The people deserve a full-time sheriff. They deserve better than they’ve been getting in the way of services from the sheriff’s department. Will be on the job full time.
Moon: How will his being a church pastor and member of the National Guard affect the time he spends as sheriff? “We can serve Jesus Christ too at the Blount County Sheriff’s Department. “ (Aside: “Y’all come to church on Sunday!”) His National Guard time amounts to one weekend per month. His unit is an MP training unit and would not normally deploy in case of a call up, and if it did, his job as a county sheriff would probably exempt him from call up as a hardship case.
7. What will you do to improve response time in West Blount? Will you use the Hayden Annex as a sheriff’s station and will you be available to citizens there?
Chapman: Yes. We’ve got to get more deputies in West Blount because of the size of the population here. We’ll use more reserve officers to supplement the certified officers. John Hallman, who will be my chief deputy if I am elected, is from over here. I’ve already looked at man hours, pay scales, and the budget for getting more people over here.
Moon: I have family over here on the west side, so I‘ve got a vested interest in covering it well. I’ll always have at least two deputies on the west side, answering calls from their patrol cars.
8. Do you intend to retain the chief operating officer position currently held by Tim Kent?
Moon: No. Tim will go to patrol.
Chapman: No. We will do away with that job, and assign Tim to the work regular deputies are paid to do.
9. Will you implement and enforce a written SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for employees along with a yearly employee review process to assure compliance?
Chapman: Has done that twice – written policies and procedures for a law enforcement department. Deputies must have a separate and more detailed manual than general employees because of more stringent requirements. Jobs will be posted for all to see when they become available, and anyone can apply for a job they’re qualified for.
Moon: The sheriff’s department has no standards now, leading to inconsistency in the application of rules, rewards, and discipline. All jobs will be posted. Every person applying will go before a review committee who will make the final hiring recommendation to the sheriff. Good ol’ boy network will be eliminated. (Mentioned his chief deputy, if elected, will be Brian Whitt.)
10. Morale in the sheriff’s department is low. What will you do to improve?
Both candidates and the debate moderator considered the question to have been covered adequately in previous answers.
11. Some citizens say Blount County sheriff’s investigators don’t collect finger prints at crime scenes. Will you change that?
Chapman: Yes, but we must have qualified evidence technicians to collect evidence. They must have training to be qualified. I’m a trained evidence tech. We trained them at Oneonta Police Department. I know how to do it. I know how to get training done, and I’ve got the contacts to do it.
Moon: We need training, training, training – in both evidence collection and crime scene protection. Can use sheriff department’s website to let victims access their case status using their case number.
12. Do you support the Second Amendment?
Moon: Yes. Has been endorsed by BamaCarry (a Second Amendment advocacy group). Citizens shouldn’t have to pay a high permit fee to bear arms. Will work to get permit fee reduced legislatively to a bare minimum.
Chapman: Yes. Not endorsed by BamaCarry because he doesn’t want to be obligated to any organized group, but is a strong Second Amendment supporter. Said U. S. Constitution allows citizens to bear arms and does not imply any restrictions, such as a fee, to do so. Said he believes fees can be reduced to a nominal amount in the range of the $7.50 fee he believes Jefferson County charges.