Wednesday, May 09, 2012

TOP STORY >> Q&A: Sheriff candidates give views

Six candidates are vying to become Lonoke County sheriff: Republicans Steve Finch, Jim Kulesa, John Staley and Jason Wilkinson and Democrats Steve Rich and Dean White.

The Leader asked the sheriff hopefuls to share their views and explain why they want to become the county’s top lawman to succeed Jim Roberson, who is retiring. Early voting has already begun for the May 22 primaries.

Steve Finch and his wife, Linda, have one daughter, Stephanie Finch of Lonoke. He has one stepdaughter, Deborah Oglesby of Cabot, three stepsons and three step-grandchildren. Finch, 56, is a captain in the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Jim Kulesa and his wife, Michele, have a daughter, Sierra, and a son, Logan. Kulesa, 54, is a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office, where he also serves as public information officer.

Steve Rich and his wife, Jeri Pennington Rich, have three children, Steven Rich, Simone Rich Starks and Bridgette Rich Eason. Rich, 53, is a former sheriff’s deputy in Lonoke and Pulaski counties and now owns a wrecker service.

John W. Staley and his wife, Mandy, have two daughters, Brianna and Aleigha, and they are expecting another child soon. Staley, 32, is the police chief of Austin and a Ward alderman.

Dean White and his wife, Misty C. White, have four children and six grandchildren. White, 47, is the chief deputy of the sheriff’s office.

Jason Wilkinson and his wife, Liani, have been married 15 years. They have two children, ages 6 and 9. Wilkinson, 38, is a businessman and a part-time sheriff’s deputy.

How long have you lived in the area?

Finch: I have lived in Lonoke County all my life. I currently live in the Furlow community.

Kulesa: I came back to Arkansas in 1992 after serving 15 years, three months in the Air Force. I was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base from 1986 to 1989 and then went overseas. I left the Air Force to pursue a civilian law enforcement career.

Rich: Forty years.

Staley: I am a lifelong resident of the Ward and Austin area.

White: Twenty-three years.

Wilkinson: I was raised in Jacksonville and am a graduate of Jacksonville High School. After college in Fayetteville, my wife and I moved back to Jacksonville while I worked in Little Rock. In 2005, we moved to Lonoke County, and I started my involvement in Lonoke County organizations, including the sheriff’s office.

What past jobs or positions qualify you to be sheriff?

Finch: I have been a certified deputy sheriff for over 30 years with the sheriff’s department. I started out as dispatcher/jailer and from there moved to patrol, then to criminal investigations, where I was promoted through the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and then to my current position of captain over the Criminal Investigations Division and Patrol Unit. I also served as juvenile probation officer for a time. I also kept the budget for the sheriff’s department and worked in civil process.

Having worked for five sheriffs and for the people of Lonoke County over the past 30 years, I feel I have gained the experience needed to lead the sheriff’s department the way the people of Lonoke County want.

I believe I have earned the respect of each and every employee at the sheriff’s department as a leader they can depend on. I also think that I have earned the respect of the people of the county.

Kulesa: I was in military police for 15 years, security side, law enforcement side, law enforcement supervisor, investigations, fraud and financial crimes, and then served in the (narcotics division of the) Office of Special Investigations.

I worked at the Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center, the Lonoke Police Department as a patrolman then an investigator. I have been with the sheriff’s office 16 years as a patrol deputy, a sex crimes/child abuse investigator, a narcotics supervisor, community relations/public information officer and hostage/crisis negotiator.

I have served in the law- enforcement field over 30 years — 18 and a half of them in Lonoke County.

Rich: I was a military police officer and Ranger in the Army. (I have also worked for the) Lonoke Police Department, sheriff’s department and the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department. I am a business owner/operator in Lonoke, and have managed large fleet assets for a wrecker service in Little Rock. And (I) have countless hours of training and experience in drug enforcement, management and department liabilities.

Staley: I have experience in private security, from security officer to management. I started in 1998 as a security guard and became a supervisor when I was 19. This led me to becoming director of security operations for a company out of Little Rock. In 2000, I turned 21 and became a part-time police officer for the Austin Police Department. I worked in this capacity while managing the security company.

In 2003, I started work at the Jacksonville Police Department. I worked as a patrolman, school-resource officer, field-training officer, chief crisis negotiator for the special response team and sergeant.

In March 2009, I was hired as chief of the Austin Police Department and currently work in this position. I have more than 1,500 law enforcement training hours and 45 college credit hours. I am a law enforcement training instructor, police radar instructor, police firearms instructor and a concealed carry instructor. Currently, I am (an)elected city councilman in Ward.

White: I have over 26 years of law enforcement experience, over 22 of those years for the citizens of Lonoke County. I have worked my way through the ranks and have an understanding of all the responsibilities of the office of sheriff.

Wilkinson: Since the position of sheriff is one of executive leadership, the past positions that have prepared me the best include being chairman of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce for two consecutive terms. I am one of only a handful of individuals asked to serve consecutive terms. I have also been in key leadership roles in business organizations, including the chief financial officer and chief executive officer.

From the law enforcement side, I am a certified fraud examiner, a firearms instructor and have been the part-time coordinator for the sheriff’s office for four years.

Why do you want to be sheriff?

Finch: I want to be the sheriff because I love what I do. I care about the people who work for the department, and I care about the people of the county. I want to provide them with a department that they will be proud to claim as their sheriff’s department: A department that is manned by professional, well-trained people, who will go the extra mile to serve and protect this community.

Kulesa: I always said I would not run against the sheriff I worked for. I feel I have the experience, knowledge and dedicated motivation to be sheriff of Lonoke County. Serving the community in a law enforcement capacity is not something you can buy, be given, learn from a textbook or try out. It is something that has to come from inside someone. I have that desire and commitment.

Rich: I want to make positive changes for the sheriff’s department. I strongly feel the focus at this department should be crimes against persons (theft, burglary and drug enforcement/narcotics). I will build a better working relationship between law enforcement and emergency response teams in Lonoke County.

Staley: I want to be your sheriff. I want to serve the people of our communities. I believe in service first. We need to be tough on crime, but as sheriff we also need to listen and understand the people we are protecting and serving. Just because someone has made a mistake doesn’t mean they are a criminal. I believe community-oriented policing works, and the people of the community need to be heard. The people will provide much needed support if we all work together and give them a sense of trust.

White: I want the opportunity to better serve the citizens of this county, to progressively keep the momentum moving forward for the betterment of all. I’ve spent almost half my life preparing for this duty. I have matured in my ability and experience as a dedicated officer to the citizens of this county. I feel a duty to the people to put the experience and knowledge that I have gained over the years to its best use for the people.

Wilkinson: A person must have a passion for people and for serving those people in order to enter a career in law enforcement. I have that passion and have been performing those duties as a volunteer part-time deputy for several years. I want to provide the citizens of Lonoke County a law enforcement agency that is the envy of Arkansas.

From a law-enforcement view, what do you see as the county’s great strength?

Finch: The people, especially the young people, of the county are its greatest strength.

Kulesa: The county’s strength is the people’s concern and conviction toward battling crime. I have seen individuals, who have served on juries render strong sentences to individuals who have committed serious offenses. It reflects devotion toward civic duty and a strong concern for the safety of their neighbors.

Rich: The people. They are hardworking and family oriented.

Staley: The greatest strength of the county is the citizens. We have great people in our county.

White: Its people and their willingness to get involved to help. We are a county that has not stalled in growth and we’re making advances in growth, not only in population but in business and infrastructure.

Wilkinson: The greatest strength of Lonoke County is the people. We still live in a community where neighbors sincerely care about each other and want to do what is best for each other.

What is the county’s biggest problem?

Finch: There are many law enforcement related problems in the county, but one of the biggest concerns for me is drugs, including prescription drugs and their availability to our youth.

Kulesa: The problems that not only Lonoke County face are communication, waste and slacking in the area of public service. However, I strongly believe these are problems that can be and need to be improved upon.

Rich: Illegal drug possession and manufacturing and theft of property.

Staley: Our major problem in the county is drug addiction, which leads to a plethora of other issues; such as theft, domestic abuse, child abuse, and many other social problems.

White: Substance abuse and social problems. The social problems lead to domestic abuse, child abuse, broken homes or families with lack of support. The substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, medication or combination of) leads to social problems and is the window to other issues.

Around 70 percent of all crimes are tied to substance abuse in some way. Thefts, assaults and several others are directly related to supplying a habit. If we reduce the one, the others automatically will reduce.

Wilkinson: The biggest problem of Lonoke County is the minority of the population that needs to be in prison instead of in our neighborhoods. This small population commits most of the crime in the county, including drug crimes. They need to be incarcerated where they can hopefully rehab and defeat their addictions and again become beneficial members of society.

What sets you apart from the other candidates in the race?

Finch: My experience sets me apart from the others. None of the others can claim that they have worked for the public for 30 years, nor can any of the others claim the experience in the office they are seeking.

I think it’s important to know the job, to be able to do the job and not ask your employees to do anything you haven’t or wouldn’t do.

Kulesa: I can only speak for myself when I say I find nothing more rewarding then serving within the law enforcement profession. I feel I have a wider aspect of experience and have learned strong values and practices. I am motivated, dedicated and have no problem or hesitation taking responsibility for my words, actions or decisions.

I will be the sheriff only. I have no other outside interests or business, which would interfere with having my full attention to the duties at hand.

Rich: I am a born leader with the confidence and experience to provide the citizens of Lonoke County with a positive sheriff with which they can feel secure and be proud to have in their county.

Staley: What sets me apart from the other candidates is the fact that I am a law enforcement administrator and I run a police department. I am a city councilman and have assisted in building a budget for a police department. I have been the rookie officer, a senior officer, training officer, investigator, sergeant and chief of police.

The biggest difference is the fact that I am the only candidate, who is not a part or has been a part of the sheriff’s department.

We need a change, and I believe we can build upon the positives and provide the leadership from the sheriff’s office that the citizens deserve.

White: My dedication to the citizens and to the office of sheriff.

My experience in having a total understanding of the job of the sheriff — enforcement, investigations, administration, detention and budgetary controls.

My ability to communicate with other elected officials and the people.

My integrity, I’ve always been honest and fair and treat everyone with respect and dignity.

I want to be the sheriff who is out talking to the people and staying in touch with the needs of our communities as they change and making the changes that are necessary to meet the needs.

Wilkinson: I have a completely different background than the other candidates in the race. The voters of Lonoke County have to decide whether they want a candidate with years and years of law enforcement experience and less administrative and leadership experience or a candidate with education, administrative and leadership experience, but less actual law enforcement job experience in the traditional sense.