Candidate profilesWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
Steve Buchanan, 50, Bryson City resident, owner of a construction company
“Most of the thefts relate back to drug use, people stealing to pay for their drug habit, and I feel that it’s at a point now where it has to be stopped in its tracks.”
Buchanan has more than 16 years of law enforcement experience, including six years as an undercover narcotics agent and five years in supervisory positions. Buchanan has also served as a Swain County jailer for about seven months.
Buchanan is running because he believes he has the law enforcement experience, especially in narcotics, to help reduce crime in Swain County.
“I think we’re at a crossroads now in our county...If we don’t elect somebody with experience in law enforcement, then our quality of life in Swain County is going to be affected.”
For more information: www.stevebuchananforsheriff.com.
Chuck Clifton, 60, Bryson City resident, security officer at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino
“There is no substitute for education, and experience brings education. When you have experienced leadership, that education can funnel all the way down to the lowest man.”
Clifton retired from more than 27 years of law enforcement experience in 2003. Clifton served as interim chief of police in Florida, and he has supervised as many as 48 officers. Clifton has worked in everything from narcotics to investigations to agricultural crimes to patrolling.
Clifton has also taught at a police academy in Florida and would like to bring more education to deputies. “I would like to see the residents of Swain County be able to say I’m proud of our Sheriff’s Office. They are well-educated, they know how to handle things.”
John Ensley, 42, Bryson City resident, owner of Yellow Rose Realty
“Not only am I going to ask the people to be involved in our community, I’m going to expect it.”
Ensley has 17 years of experience as a business owner in Swain County, has been a Sunday school teacher and coached youth sports.
Ensley is also certified with the Florida Department of Corrections, a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer and president of his B law enforcement training class. He worked as a jailer in Florida and for Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years.
He would like to bring a businessman’s approach to the Sheriff’s Office, especially when it comes to the $10 million jail that’s now sitting half-empty. “We need some entrepreneurship in there to grow that.”
Ensley’s first priority is to eliminate the drug flow into Swain County and into the school system. His second priority is to rebuild a relationship between law enforcement and the community and restart a community watch program.
For more information: www.ensley4sheriff.com
Steve Ford, 51, Bryson City resident, retired law enforcement officer
“If you’re going to put a badge on them, which in reality is a target for a criminal, you’ve got to pay them.”
Ford has 24 years of experience as a law enforcement officer in Florida, including as a deputy, investigator, sergeant and lieutenant.
Ford said he’s running because he sees a lack of trust between the citizens and the current sheriff’s office.
“I want to make sure that citizens know when they call in a complaint, no matter whether it’s a barking dog or a burglary, we’re going to respond.”
Ford would also like to set up a volunteer community watch team, and has already assembled a team of retired law enforcement officers in Swain County with more than 100 years of combined experience. With their expertise, Ford will pursue grants to work on the drug problem.
“You gotta know where to tap into the assets. Unfortunately, our taxpaying dollars in Swain County is not the right place for all of it.”
For more information: www.fordforsheriff.com
Mitchell Jenkins, 52, Whittier resident, self-employed logger
“I’d like to make Swain County be appreciative and proud of their Sheriff’s Department. I don’t feel like it is right now.”
Jenkins has nine years of law enforcement experience, including eight years as chief deputy in Swain County and one year in the Bryson City Police Department. Jenkins is running because he’d like to establish a better working relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the public.
“The politeness of your officers when they’re addressing people goes a long way in getting people to confide and trust the department.”
Jenkins said he’d also respect the confidentiality of those who phone in tips to the Sheriff’s Office.
“You gotta earn that confidence...or you won’t get no information to operate on.”
Julius Taylor, 37, resident of Big Cove community, Cherokee Police officer
“To make sure occupants are in there, always have the vacancy sign out and not take reservations.”
— On Swain County’s oversized jail.
Taylor has worked for the Cherokee Police Department for almost 16 years and has also worked for the Swain County Sheriff’s Office. His experience includes being a supervisor for 12 years and an administrator for three years. Taylor has had training from the U.S. Interior Department, the FBI, the SBI, and the North Carolina Justice Academy, where he has trained officers.
Taylor’s goal is to work together with surrounding communities to jointly combat the drug problem.
“When you enforce so hard in one jurisdiction, you push it from your yard into somebody else’s...It’s such a deep-seated problem, but all you hear are surface solutions...I’m not the surface solution type of person.”
David Thomas, 56, Bryson City resident, general contractor
“If somebody sued me, I’m not going to sit down and have lunch with them.”
— On the commissioners’ testy relationship with Sheriff Cochran after he filed a lawsuit against them.
Thomas has worked in law enforcement in Swain County under three different sheriffs for almost two decades.
“My priorities are to see if I can’t do something with the drug problem with our kids around here.”
Thomas would also like to work closely with local people as well as those from surrounding counties.
“You gotta get along with everybody...You gotta go out and talk to the people, talk to our other counties, get along with their sheriffs...You can only do what the people let you.”
*Democratic candidate David Franklin was unable to participate in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News for this article.
Curtis Cochran, 57, Bryson City resident, current sheriff
“We hear criticism every day. When it comes down to the final vote, we’ll see how the voters of Swain County act, if they think I’ve done a good job or a bad job.”
Cochran has worked in heavy construction for 22 years then served as the county facilities manager for 12 years until he was elected sheriff in 2006, narrowly ousting the sitting sheriff at the time. Since being elected, Cochran has attended a sheriff leadership institute, is a member of the North Carolina Jail Administrators’ Association, and has received certificates from a North Carolina Justice Academy identity theft seminar.
“My number one priority is to continue the fight on drugs that we’ve been very aggressive with.” Cochran said his office has a zero tolerance policy on drugs and has made 728 drug arrests since December 2006.
Cochran emphasizes that he’s the only candidate who has experience as Swain County Sheriff.
“I’m local, I know the people, they know me. They know they can come see me.”
Wayne Dover, 36, graphics designer, Bryson City resident
“The sheriff is a political figurehead. If he surrounds himself with good officers, then his job is simple.”
Dover served as a Swain County deputy for four years, and has experience being a detention officer, a patrol officer, a dispatcher and part of courtroom security with the U.S. Marshal Service.
Dover would like to see stiffer penalties for drugs, including more jail time rather than probation periods. “If they’re found guilty of a drug offense, then we need to take their money, their cars, their homes — give them a reason to leave. If you take enough of their toys, enough of their money, they’re going to go somewhere else.”
Dover says he’d also like to set up an explorer program for young adults to ride with officers and learn about a career in law enforcement.