Tuesday, June 05, 2012

TOP STORY >> Candidates for sheriff square off in a runoff

The Republican runoff for Lonoke County sheriff between Austin Police Chief John Staley and Jason Wilkinson is Tuesday with early voting already under way until Friday at the city annex at 208 N. First St. in Cabot and the Election Commission office at 220 Depot St. in Lonoke.

The winner of the runoff will take on Chief Deputy Dean White, a Democrat, in November.

The Leader asked Staley and Wilkinson to describe how their careers have helped prepare them to be the county’s top lawman.

Staley, 32, has worked in law enforcement for more than a decade, serving as a police officer in Jacksonville and Austin.

Wilkinson, 38, is an accountant and a part-time Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy.

How will your career in law enforcement make you a good sheriff?

Staley: My career in law enforcement has been diverse and is continuing.

I have had the opportunity to work with kids as a school resource DARE officer. I have worked as a patrolman, sergeant, crisis negotiator, criminal investigator and chief of police.

Running the sheriff’s office is more than just running a business; the sheriff is responsible for much more.

The sheriff is responsible to the citizens of Lonoke County — primarily by maintaining the public peace, protecting the lives and property of each citizen, and running the county jail.

I am currently a chief administrator of a law-enforcement agency and an elected city councilman. As chief of police, I am fiscally responsible and work within the budgetary confines, which the city council sets.

As a councilman in Ward, I have experience with building and providing a working budget for every department in the city, including the police department. The sheriff must be fiscally responsible, and to achieve this goal one must start from the bottom and work their way through the ranks.

I believe one must experience the stresses of what each officer or deputy experiences prior to becoming an effective leader.

The steps I have taken I believe have provided me with the knowledge and skills to be an effective leader as sheriff.

Although you have been a part-time deputy in Lonoke County for five years most of your work experience is in accounting. Describe how each will help you as sheriff, and will you keep your business open if elected?

Wilkinson: To answer your second question first, the position of sheriff is full-time plus, and I will be solely dedicated to that position.

My experience in accounting and administration is the greatest asset I can bring to the position of sheriff. The sheriff’s main role is to administer a multi-million dollar budget and 60-plus employees. I have been that executive for several years.

In addition, yes, I have been not only a part-time deputy for more than five years, but the part-time coordinator for the sheriff’s office and a firearms instructor, so I have great working relationships with all of the deputies.

Much of my “accounting” experience has actually been fraud examinations and financial crimes, an area that needs bolstering in the sheriff’s office.

What staffing changes do you plan? Dean White, the current chief deputy, will be your opponent after the runoff. Will he be demoted if you win in November and if so, who do you have in mind as your chief deputy?

Staley: In November, if elected sheriff, I will then sit down with Dean White and each employee to discuss our goals and responsibilities.

Each person will have the opportunity to become a productive employee and continue their employment.

Wilkinson: I am not currently discussing staffing changes. I will interview any candidate interested in serving as chief deputy and will offer the position to the best candidate.

Chief White is welcome to discuss the position as well, if I win in November.

The current sheriff takes in federal prisoners to help cover the costs of running the new jail because the county budget can’t support it. Will you continue the practice or do you have other plans to help support the jail?

Staley: Yes, we will continue this practice as long as it is fiscally responsible. I will tirelessly search for innovative ways to provide new funding for our jail.

Wilkinson: In the current economic times, it is essential to continue to “rent beds” for federal prisoners.

The sheriff and the quorum court must brainstorm as many funding sources as possible, to prepare for the future growth of Lonoke County.

I have discussed several ideas with quorum court members but am not prepared to yet release them publicly.

The relationship bet-ween the sheriff’s office and many city police chiefs has been strained in recent years. Do you intend to improve those relationships and if so how?

Staley: As sheriff, I will build better working relationships with all law-enforcement agencies.

I will personally be accessible to the chief of each department. The chiefs have meetings with the prosecutor, and I will attend each meeting.

As sheriff, I will provide assistance to each department as needed. To effectively and efficiently solve the crimes of our county; we must work together and become united. It is imperative that we work together.

The citizens of each city are citizens of Lonoke County. Do not get me wrong, the unincorporated areas need the sheriff’s department more than the cities, and we will not let these areas suffer.

Wilkinson: As sheriff, I will make it a point of emphasis to have better relationships among the different law enforcement agencies.

During this campaign, I have already sat down and discussed future relationships with every police chief in Lonoke County, and they have all agreed to work with me as sheriff.

What is the most pressing need at the sheriff’s department, and how will you address that need?

Staley: The most pressing need is more effective communication with the citizens.

We get our authority from the citizens, and we must be respectful and responsive to the citizens’ needs.

As chief in Austin, I have proven that an involved community has the strength and ability to work together and grow.

We must get out and know our citizens and their needs. Better relationships with the people means more crimes solved. The people must trust the sheriff’s department.

Wilkinson: When the new sheriff takes office, the most pressing need will actually be employee morale issues.

The deputies are working in a very unstable environment during an election cycle like this one. I have the management experience and expertise necessary to provide stable leadership during the transition and to lead the future of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Republicans have an advantage over Democrats in Lonoke County elections. In the Republican primary, 4,180 votes were cast for sheriff compared to 1,939 in the Democratic primary.
But both of you are younger with less experience than White, the Democratic candidate for sheriff. If the sheriff’s office were nonpartisan, what would you tell voters to get their support?

Staley: I agree that I am younger than Chief White. However, I will put my experience, training and education to bat anytime.

I have received a plethora of training and hands-on experience while working at the Jacksonville Police Department and while being the chief of police in Austin.

In the last 12 years, I have received over 1,500 certified law-enforcement training hours. I have 45 college credits from Arkansas State University-Beebe and will be continuing this at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro to obtain a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

I have worked with children, the elderly and every age in between. I truly believe in community oriented policing, and I know it works.

Wilkinson: To say that I have less experience than Chief White is debatable.

While he has been in law enforcement for 20-plus years, I have more administrative experience and education.

That is the primary role of the sheriff. The chief deputy is usually the more experienced in actual law enforcement and is relied on heavily by the sheriff.

I would run the exact same campaign regardless of whether it was partisan or not.