FAIRFIELD – Jefferson County Farm Bureau hosted its first of two candidate forums Tuesday, this one on the race for Jefferson County sheriff between Democrat Tracy Vance and Republican Bart Richmond.
The event occurred at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center and was livestreamed on farm bureau’s and the convention center’s Facebook pages so the public could watch from home.
Joe Ledger moderated the event and asked questions submitted from the public to the two candidates.
One of the questions Ledger asked the candidates was how they would improve public safety without adding burdens to taxpayers.
Richmond said he and current Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton began a program eight years ago to encourage community policing, to stop and talk to people to build trust and rapport.
“It’s surprising that when you can stop and meet someone at Logli’s, they’ll give you information,” Richmond said, referring to a gas station in Fairfield. “We drive trucks and SUVs, and those are billboards. They deter crime when we’re out there.”
Vance said he would improve public safety by adding a deputy to focus on combating drugs in the county. He said he could do that without raising taxes by reducing what he called a “bloated jail administration.”
He said he wouldn’t eliminate any positions right away, but he does believe the county can reduce the number of jail administrators from three to one when someone retires or leaves. He said that would save about $110,000, and that a new deputy plus all their equipment would cost about $100,000, so the plan would not cost the taxpayers any more money.
A member of the audience asked the candidates if they would support Iowa’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Both men answered the question simply and briefly that they would abide by the state’s law.
One question was about what the sheriff’s spending priority should be. Richmond said technology such as cameras on officers, in the car and in the jail are the priority. He said the cameras provide safety to deputies and staff.
He said communications will be the next biggest investment since the county is working to upgrade the tower for local fire departments.
“One of the things we’re looking at is how to afford communications in the future,” Richmond said.
Vance said the office’s employees should be its first priority, since they account for about half of its budget. He agreed with Richmond that technology is another important part of the safety and efficiency of the office.
Ledger asked the candidates what they felt was the most pressing law enforcement issue in the county. Vance said he thinks it’s drugs, and that there have been a few drug-related incidents in his career that have really stuck with him.
One was having to notify a father that his teenage daughter died of a drug overdose. Another was doing CPR on a 17-year-old boy who also died of an overdose.
Richmond said he somewhat agrees with Vance on drugs being the biggest issue. He mentioned that drugs have changed over the years such that the county now faces more methamphetamine coming in from outside as opposed to being manufactured locally.
“We have more of a handle on drugs than a lot of places in Iowa,” Richmond said.
Ledger asked the candidates what they thought of recent calls to “defund the police.” Richmond said such a thing would bring total chaos.
“I disagree with defunding any part of our job,” he said.
Vance said he wants to add a deputy, so he’s not interested in “defunding the police,” either.