Friday, October 19, 2012

Sheriff candidates tackle integrity issue

Contenders discuss their attributes at Pizza and Politics


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

From the top, Bellevue Marshal Larry Clark, Hailey police Lt. Steve England and Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey discuss the issues of the sheriff’s race at Wednesday evening’s Pizza and Politics candidates forum. Photo by David N. Seelig

Sheriff’s candidate Steve England finally made it clear Wednesday night what he means in his campaign slogan of “restore integrity to the Sheriff’s Office.”

“I would be there to be fair to any citizen in our community,” England said, further explaining that he knows of instances in the past when “juveniles related to the Sheriff’s Office” have gotten away with breaking the law and not being prosecuted.

England, a lieutenant with the Hailey Police Department who is running for the Blaine County sheriff’s post as an independent, was speaking to about 100 people at Wednesday’s Pizza and Politics candidates forum, sponsored by the Idaho Mountain Express and held at Wood River High School. He was responding to a question, “Is there a lack of integrity in the Sheriff’s Office and if so, where did it go?”

Incumbent Sheriff Gene Ramsey, running as a Republican, also addressed the issue, saying that “there is integrity in the Sheriff’s Office” and that “ethics in the Sheriff’s Office is an integral part of our training.”

The question was also posed to Bellevue Marshal Larry Clark, who is running as a write-in candidate.

“I don’t see that there is an integrity issue in the Sheriff’s Office,” Clark said. “When I saw the campaign sign, I asked Steve England what he meant by it and he said, ‘My campaign manager told me to do it.’ This is the first time I’ve heard him answer it.”

The candidates were also asked “what, if anything, is broken or not working at the Sheriff’s Office?”

“I wouldn’t say that anything is broken in the office, but I would say there are areas for improvement,” England said, further explaining that law enforcement coverage needs to be improved in the more remote areas of the county.

“There’s nothing broken, but there’s always room for improvement,” Ramsey said.

“The only issue I would see is a communications issue,” said Clark, who earlier explained during opening remarks that communications between other police and emergency agencies in the valley needs to been improved “so we can get a better conviction rate.”

The candidates were then asked what effect they thought Clark’s candidacy as a write-in candidate would have on the election outcome. Clark ran in the May primary as a Republican but was defeated by Ramsey by more than a 2-1 margin and then filed as a write-candidate for the post in August.

“Absolutely no effect,” England said. “I plan on winning this election. Larry Clark is my friend but Larry Clark is just that—a write-in candidate. My chief opponent is Sheriff Ramsey.”

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Ramsey said in response to the question. “I’ve made some people mad in the community, but I think the same people who voted for me before are going to vote for me again.”

He did not elaborate on why some people are mad at him.

“I was hoping that would come up,” said Clark about his candidacy.

He explained that only about 800 people voted in the primary election, when only registered Republican were allowed to vote, but that the county has about 14,000 registered voters. Clark said that after the primary election, he was told by people that they would have voted for him if they had been allowed to vote in the primary.

“The whole county has a right to vote for the sheriff,” Clark said.

In explaining his platform, England, a 15-year police veteran, said he would improve community trust in the Sheriff’s Office by hiring a full-time victims advocate and a full-time community police representative.

Stressing the need for more community involvement, England said, “I’m in our community—I’m a visible leader out there.”

Ramsey, who was appointed sheriff when former Sheriff Walt Femling retired in 2010, said being sheriff is a complicated position and he is the only candidate with the right experience.

“I’m going to stand on my record,” he said. “I’ve got 34 years in the Sheriff’s Office. I’ve held every position in the Sheriff’s Office. There is no learning curve.”

Clark stressed that he also has management and leadership service with his 20 years in the U.S. Navy and 10 years of law enforcement experience. He further said the sheriff’s position should not be politicized.

“I’m a cop, not a politician,” Clark said. “Don’t count me out—write me in.”


Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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