Note: This is my account of the debate, and is written primarily for the the citizens of Grundy County, Tennessee. The information contained here in is accurate to the best of my knowledge, based on taking notes during the debate. I will post any corrections to anything that appears in Parts 1, 2, and 3 which are supposed to be strict reporting of the event. Part 4 is my assessment of the debate and the candidates.
Event: Grundy County Mayoral and Sheriff Candidate Debates
When: July 12, 2014, at 3:00 pm
Where: Grundy County High School Auditorium
Welcome Message: Marilyn Campbell Rodman, Mayor, Monteagle, TN
Moderator: Randy Smith
Candidates for Sheriff:
Clint Shrum (No Show) – Won Democratic primary for sheriff over incumbent Brent Myers
Russell Baker – Independent candidate
Candidates for Mayor:
Michael Brady (No Show) – Won Democratic primary for mayor over incumbent Lonnie Cleek
Aubrey Lee Harper – Won Republican primary for mayor
Note: There was no statement presented on the part of the absent candidates as to why they had chosen to, or were unable to, attend and participate.
By 3:00 pm, approximately 60 to 70 folks (including all of the participants and television crew) had gathered to witness the debates between candidates for the offices of Grundy County Mayor and Sheriff.
I am relatively new to Grundy County politics, I know very few people who attended, saw only one other person I know from Pelham Valley, know none of the candidates, and was looking forward to actually meeting the candidates and hearing some meaningful discussion of the issues.
I, for one, was disappointed that only once candidate for each office chose to participate. On the other hand, we were able to spend an hour with each candidate, listen to their ideas and positions on a variety of issues.
This review of the “debates” (there were no actual debates) is organized in four parts. This introduction, the Sheriff’s “debate,” and the Mayor’s “debate,” and the final part—my personal impressions and thoughts (read that as opinions) on the “debates” and the candidates.
Parts 2 and 3 are based on statements made by the candidates. I have not confirmed nor fact checked either claims of experience or education, but, at this time, I have no reason to doubt them.
Part 2. Sheriff’s Debate
The sheriff’s debate was the first debate.
Clint Shrum – Winner of Democratic Primary (No Show)
Russell Baker – Independent
Baker: Chattanooga will double in size in the next 20 years, “knocking on the door” of Grundy County. Sheriff’s department must be prepared for the future demands of Grundy County law enforcement.
The Questions and Answers (in order that questions were presented to candidate).
1. Question Subject: Methamphetamine Issue in the county
Baker: We are not likely to totally eradicate the manufacture or use of meth in the county. It can be reduced, Baker says, through a County Justice Plan he will develop and implement that will classify meth offenders. He also says the county needs a “legislative approach” to identify those meth offenders who “may” be treated versus those who “must” be treated.
Baker also views meth as one of the costliest problems in the county, both from the viewpoint of enforcement and from the cost to users and their families, and to the community due to drug-related crimes.
2. Question Subject: How does he see the Sheriff’s Department interacting with the youth of the county:
Baker: Would like to see the establishment of a Law Enforcement (LE) Explorers Program to increase the communication between youth and Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), and possibly recruit future deputies from this program.
He also suggest a summer youth police academy program in which participants spend a week working through a training crime, from investigating the initial crime scene through, identifying a suspect, work with the county prosecutors to build a case, and see the how sentencing is determined and the incarceration process.
He would also like to see a teen driving school program established and offered in the county.
3. Question Subject: How should the Sheriff’s Department interact with social agencies in the county?
Baker: Proposes a “Systems Approach” so that the Sherriff’s department can work with service agencies most efficiently.
Baker sites his background in law enforcement-related psychology and counseling as a personal strength and understanding of the challenges social agencies face in dealing with individuals who are also facing legal issues.
4. Question Subject: Would he hire a relative in the Grundy County Sheriff’s office.
Baker: “No.” He added that hiring relatives (not even distant relatives) and even close personal friends can cloud judgment and objectivity regarding the performance of those individuals.
5. Question Subject: How does he view the economic development of the sheriff’s department in the county.
Baker: The sheriff must look to the vision and leadership of the mayor for overall fiscal guidance. He sees the mayor and the sheriff working as a team to achieve a consensus on budget issues.
This also involves the sheriff in working with the mayor’s business development initiatives to assist in selecting locations for business development so that the sheriff’s department can provide the best possible service.
The final statement in response to the question is that the “Sheriff must work with the Mayor.”
6. Question Subject: How should the sheriff’s department respond to a school shooting.
Baker: Baker described a two-phase program, saying that the timing of the event would, in part, determine how the situation would be handled.
The department currently does not have any specific training to respond to a situation like a school shooting. Law enforcement would have to respond with the goal of protecting children and teachers in the best manner available. Baker said that he has hostage negotiating training and skills.
Baker points out that he has had extensive experience in response to/and managing similar crisis situations, and he plans to establish a crisis response training program that would qualify officers to effectively respond to a school emergency. He expects this capability to be in place and ready to respond within one year from taking office.
7. Question Subject: He was asked about how he would manage the Sheriff’s Department budget.
Baker: “I am not familiar with the details of the current sheriff’s budget.” He feels that “we” (suggesting that “we” is anyone in the county), do not know where we stand on the budget and on the broad issues of funding.
Baker proposes a firm of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) who will monitor the sheriff’s budget, and that he will publicly publish details of the budget either monthly or quarterly, and announce publicly when it is released so that citizens can see how their tax dollars are being used.
He also suggested that he had identified candidate CPAs that are willing to work with him and that would not be a financial burden on the county.
8. Question Subject: Qualifying Experience to be Sheriff
Baker: More than 30 years of law enforcement experience, both military and civilian LE at all levels. He is a certified LEO and certified to serve as a chief/sheriff. Was the administrator of a police Academy in Georgia and developed a recognized training academy that attracted applicants from many areas. He also has Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team training and experience.
9. Question Subject: The “New Jail.”
Baker: First, the current jail conditions are deplorable—extremely wrong—and need to be improved immediately. Even criminals should not be held in these conditions.
However, a new jail is two to three years away.
Baker says he know a way to provide adequate, affordable, temporary prisoner housing as a short term option while the new jail is being built—he proposes a “tent city” jail. He assured the audience that it would be dry, warm, and much better than the current conditions. He suggested he was familiar with the concept and how it might be obtained.
10. Question Subject: “What keeps you up at night?”
Baker: “Lack of patrol coverage.” We need a better approach for scheduling patrols.
Also, the quality of training for our deputies.
Better conditions for our deputies. They do not have health and life insurance coverage. We ask deputies to put their lives on the line, yet do not provide any insurance coverage. He also pointed out later that some of their deputies are making only $7.50 per hour.
11. Question Subject: His position on gun control.
Baker: Baker describes himself as a “Constitutional Rights” candidate. He says we “do not even have the right to discuss gun control.” It is a Constitutionally protected right.
12. Question Subject: There were questions about his meeting residency requirements for office in Grundy County.
Baker: He has been paying taxes and owns property in Grundy County since 2009. His residency status has been reviewed by the State Commission and determined that he meets the required residency requirements to qualify as the Sheriff in Grundy County.
13. Question Subject: “Constitutional Shift”—asked about his thoughts on apparent constitutional shift on the part of some judges, legislators, and legal scholars away from the Constitution as an outdated document.
Baker: Again, describes himself as one who would follow the Constitution as it is written. He noted that the sheriff must be familiar with the Federal Constitution and Tennessee’s constitution, since there are minor, but significant differences that may affect law enforcement.
14. Question Subject: “How do you view the role of law enforcement?”
Baker: “It has to be Constitutional.”
“It has to be fair.”
“Do we have the budget for it?”
Baker continued: Functionally, law enforcement must:
“Protect the public.”
“Protect and support our staff.”
“Support applicable social service programs.”
15. Question Subject: How should the sheriff’s department work with EMS and Fire companies.
Baker: First, Grundy County EMS provides good service. The Sheriff’s department must work with and support EMS and Firefighters. He would institute cross training between firefighters and sheriff’s deputies to achieve effective coordination with firefighters.
16. Question Subject: Where do you stand on the subject of salaries?
Baker: First we must baseline our budget and know exactly what is available financially. Once there is a budget, he will seek input of CPAs to document and monitor the budget.
It concerns Baker that some deputies are making only $7.50 an hour with no real benefits.
The Sheriff must work with the Mayor on the budget.
We need to be able to provide services to Pelham “the forgotten” valley.
Baker knows of and expects to apply for grants to law enforcement that, if awarded, would allow the department to improve conditions for LEOs.
17. Question Subject: What are your core beliefs?
Baker: He said, in order, “God, Service, Family, and Self.” He also suggested that he would seek guidance through prayer.
He is dedicated to his family and to service to the department.
He also said, “Arrogance is dangerous.”
18. Question Subject: Where do you stand politically?
Baker: My focus is “protection, not politics.”
19. Question Subject: What would it look like if you were described as “The best sheriff we ever had.”
Baker: We would have well trained people for the future.
There would be public hearings on law enforcement matters and the department’s budget.
The budget would be published and available to the public.
The challenges over the jail would be resolved.
Baker: After more than 30 years, since age 26, in LE/military, “I still enjoy working in LE.”
Has been named a Law Enforcement Officer of the Year seven times.
“Grundy County will be the hardest job I have ever had.”
“Decisions based on relationships will have ended.”