Five candidates vying to be the next Haywood County Sheriff appeared at a question and answer forum Saturday, Jan. 24 before a crowd of almost 100, the majority of which were members of the Haywood County Democratic Party executive committee.
The written questions posed by the audience were varied, from how each candidate would handle a crisis to methods for combating the local drug problem to why they are the best choice to succeed outgoing Sheriff Tom Alexander.
Alexander will retire from the post he’s held for 22 years on Feb. 2. Sheriffs are usually elected to office, but since Alexander still has two years left in his term, the county’s Democratic executive committee — composed of all Democratic elected officials, plus party chairs and vice chairs from each of the 31 Haywood precincts — must appoint a replacement. The committee will vote Feb. 7 for a new sheriff, and county commissioners must approve the choice.
Here’s a sampling of the questions asked, along with the candidates’ answers:
Q: What do you think the personality of the sheriff should reflect?
Hollifield: A sheriff must be approachable. “Make yourself available and always carry yourself in a professional way.”
Suttles: A sheriff should be honest and fair, and someone that people know they can always come in and talk to.
Allen: “First of all, the sheriff needs to have a very positive attitude.”
Ezell: Integrity is the most important trait. “That is paramount.” The sheriff also needs to be an effective communicator who can easily talk to people.
Gilliland: “You have to have a heart for service, and you have to have a heart for the people of Haywood County.” Dedication and approachability are also important. “I’m dedicated to this county — I have never wanted to leave and go somewhere else.”
Q: What makes you the best candidate?
Hollifield: “Even though I’ve been out of law enforcement for quite some time, I have not forgotten the professionalism. The law applies to every person, and I will make sure that the laws are enforced.” He also promises to crack down on underage drinking in particular.
Suttles: Experience — he’s had 35 years of law enforcement experience, including 15 years in the sheriff’s department. He’s most familiar with the inner workings of the sheriff’s office. “I’ve trained under Sheriff Tom, and he’s run a good ship.”
Allen: Law enforcement experience in different areas — he’s worked across various judicial districts, and worked with officers to prepare cases for trial.
Ezell: His experience as a polygraph examiner and inspector for the U.S. Postal Service has given him “broad perspective dealing not only with state agencies, but federal agencies and law enforcement; also makes me appreciate the conditions we have to operate within and gives me an appreciation of what citizens expect from the sheriff’s department.”
Gilliland: He has diversified work experience, from law enforcement to business, which is critical for a sheriff, who must “wear many hats.”
Q: How would you handle budget concerns with the county commissioners?
Hollifield: “What I would attempt to do is cut out excess spending.” He’ll also request the State Bureau of Investigation conduct an audit to make sure everything is in place.
Suttles: Said the current sheriff’s department budget is $3.7 million, more than half of which goes toward running the county’s jail. “We’ve already cut back some, but I know they’re going to ask for another cut. We don’t want to lay off anybody. We’ll take a look at it, and I’m sure we’ll find a way to cut it back somewhere.”
Allen: Would maintain an open dialogue with the county manager.
Ezell: Would break the budget down item by item. “Then, identify those areas that are completely critical. Those are the things that can’t be cut. Then you look at what’s left, and you try to make it as cost effective as you possibly can.”
Gilliland: Would seek out federal and state grants to ease budget constraints.
• Raymond Ezell — Retired polygraph examiner for U.S. Postal Service; former criminal investigator for postal service, B.S. in Criminology
• Ken Hollifield — Former highway patrolman and sheriff’s deputy; currently a truck driver
• Bobby Suttles — Current chief deputy and 14-year employee of sheriff’s department; former Waynesville police officer
• Albert Allen — Former highway patrolman; currently chief of security at Haywood Regional Medical Center
• Russell Gilliland — Current Maggie Valley police officer; formerly owner/operator of HVAC Electrical Company