This is where I tell you what I think (my opinions).
This is what I saw and heard in the “non-debates” this past Saturday.
Regarding the debates, I am really disappointed that the other candidates did not appear, whether because of some prior commitment or through choice. I would have expected that either the debate organizers or a representative from the missing candidates had read or made a brief statement as to why these candidates did not participate.
I have discussed this with others, since I do not really know much about the other candidates, and what I heard was: “I hope there was a good reason but I suspect that the other two candidates consider themselves ‘front runners’ and felt they could gain nothing from it.”
If that is true, it says something about how those candidates feel about the voters. They are more concerned about “what is in it for them” than what we might have learned about them during the debate. Or they were not confident they could stand up to the scrutiny of voters in a debate situation. I don’t know about you, but that makes me uncomfortable.
I appreciate the fact that Mr. Harper and Mr. Baker had the courage to present themselves to the people. I suppose if they are not the front runners, they may think they have “nothing to lose” by participating in the debate. The fact is, however, they showed up and answered questions. For me, those are points for integrity, responsibility, and professionalism.
I am also disappointed by the public turnout at the debate. We have been running our little store in Pelham for nearly three years. Folks come in and have breakfast or lunch and we talk. I hear folks complaining about one aspect or another of county government. Here was the opportunity to listen to (well it was supposed to be four) candidates and make an informed decision on who might best serve the interests of the whole county.
Here is another way of looking at it. How many of you have had to go for an interview to get a job? You were a candidate for that job. You answered questions, and—hopefully—a hiring manager made a decision to hire you.
We, the people of Grundy County are looking for someone to manage the business of county government, or lead our law enforcement agency. What qualities are we looking for in the individuals we “hire”?
First of all, for any public office, we certainly should be looking for honesty and integrity. These are people who should handle the money we hand them in the best interests of the people of the county (not to “special interests”). We expect them to listen to us, but we also expect them to make informed decisions based on all of the information they have available and be guided by principle and integrity.
After this, we are looking for people who have the skills and experience to actually do the job for which they are “interviewing.” Based on the gossip I hear in the store, we have had county officers who did not always possess the required character, integrity and/or skills.
4A -Aubrey Lee Harper – Candidate for County Mayor
He is certainly focused on the county budget, and based on what he said, seems confident that his business background provides him with experience and professional skills to manage the county budget.
I like the fact that he promised visibility into the county budget and finances. He also seemed prepared to work with other department heads to make sure each agency had access to its fair share of the budget.
Having to deal with animals that are dropped off on our road all too frequently, I can appreciate the question about homeless animals. The county either needs an animal control officer and facility, or a working agreement with a neighboring county to handle stray animals. Several years ago, when dealing with two adult female cats that had just been dropped off and then had kittens, we called the Grundy County government offices, only to find out that there is no animal control in Grundy County. We were offered the suggestion to “just shoot them.” I was not impressed.
Several of the questions that were presented to him really are topics that must be delegated, or in some cases belong to agencies outside of the county government.
For example, providing things for the young people in Grundy County to do; I hope this is low on any candidate’s priority list. County Government is not charged with entertaining our children. There are, as Harper pointed out, many outdoor activities for young people. This is an opportunity for parents and maybe entrepreneurs to develop activities.
Based on his direct experience in the manufacturing business world, he may very well be a good ambassador for the county to recruit similar businesses to the county. I like the fact that he presumably has connections outside of the county—this should give him broader credibility when he approaches new businesses.
I am not sure he has immediate answers to all of the issues that face Grundy County, but then, apparently neither did the previous county managers. His education and experience could be the key to effectively resolving less familiar challenges.
Based on his “interview,” I would find him a qualified and desirable candidate for Mayor of Grundy County.
4B – Russell Baker, Candidate for Sheriff
Baker has an impressive background for sheriff. First, he apparently has significant and varied law enforcement experience, which I feel could be valuable to the citizens of Grundy County.
Specific items that he proposed that are positives are a Community Justice Plan and a formal, documented set of Legislative Approach guidelines. This should help department members better focus on critical issues for law enforcement. This should also help manage the budget, and help the Sheriff work with the Mayor on budget issues and law enforcement performance issues.
I also like the idea of using a CPA firm to monitor the budget. This means that financial professionals will be able to advise the sheriff’s department regarding the allocation of the budget. This would be an advisory role only, and the sheriff would have final authority for the department’s budget and financial management. He will have to demonstrate than any expenses for the CPA services are offset by savings in the budget.
Other things Baker said suggest that he would take a logical, analytical approach to problem solving and interacting with other county agencies. For example, the use of a systems approach to working with other county departments and agencies, working with economic development initiatives to ensure adequate law enforcement resources, and offering a Law Enforcement Explorers program.
The fact that he has a plan to train deputies for crisis management situations is also positive.
I will be interested to see what the “tent city” temporary jail will look like. However, assuming that the current prison is in such dismal and inhumane conditions, it may be the only option—certainly the only one that I have heard.
I certainly would not envy any Sheriff that has to send out deputies to handle dangerous, even life threatening situations at such low salaries and no insurance.
Based on his responses to the roles of law enforcement, it appears his priorities are certainly appropriate. It also appears that he is prepared to be a team player with the Mayor and other departments in county government, and to lead the sheriff’s department.
Based on what I heard at this “debate,” I find him eminently qualified to be Grundy County’s next sheriff.