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Wednesday, 01 November 2006 00:00

Macon sheriff's race

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Robert Holland, 39, has been Macon County Sheriff for four years and with the sheriff's department since 1991. He is married. He graduated from high school in Florida, and attended Southwestern Community College and the N.C. Justice Academy.

He decided to run for re-election because he feels he had ideas to implement, particularly in terms of getting the community involved with policing criminal activity.

C.D. Jenkins, 62, retired from the N.C. Highway Patrol in 1998. Prior to that he was Chief Deputy for Graham County and a Vietnam Veteran. He worked for the Highlands Police Department up until recently, but is now on a leave of absence. He is married, with three grown sons.

Robert Holland is banking on his record as a law enforcement officer and incumbent Macon County Sheriff to win re-election against challenger and retired N.C. Highway Patrol officer C.D. Jenkins.

Holland, a Republican, has been with the Macon County Sheriff's Department for 15 years, four of which have been spent in office. During his administration crime has gone down 16 percent overall, according to the N.C. Attorney General's State Crime Report.

In response to the overall decrease, Jenkins said that he would work to keep it that way.

"Certainly I'd be fighting you know crime as aggressively as I could you know to keep a low crime rate," he said.

And low crime rates are an indication of good people in a community, said Jenkins, a Democrat.

However, Holland credits the decrease to his officers who have been instrumental in Holland's Substance Abuse Task Force, which educates the public about drugs, and Drug Unit, which focused local resources being used for a larger multi-jurisdictional task force on Macon County. The Task Force helps officers connect with the community, the Drug Unit achieved a 40 percent increase in drug arrests within its first year, Holland said.

Drugs and drug related crimes remain the number one problem the department faces. And Jenkins says that if elected drugs would still be the department's top focus under his administration.

"One thing that I'll target is the dealers, the suppliers," Jenkins said.

By cracking down on the county's smaller crimes such as breaking and entering, law enforcement can stem the flow of cash that's being stolen and used to purchase drugs. Without clientele to afford the drugs, the dealers will move on, Jenkins said.

Holland said that a new law pulling medicines that contain ephedrine such as Sudafed behind pharmacy counters has helped curtail local methamphetamine production. However, meth and other drugs are still coming in from Hendersonville, Charlotte, Atlanta and across the border.

And while there may be an increase in arrests, there has not been a significant increase in the resources deal with criminals, Holland said - be it addiction recovery centers or prisons. A new prison is something Holland desperately wants.

"I don't care if it's in Raleigh or Haywood County," he said. "If they'll build prisons, we'll transport them."

The county's jail is crowded. In 1999 the daily average was 22 inmates. Last year it was 70. The increased number of inmates bought Holland two additional detention officer positions.

However, the number of officers on the road has remained the same.

"I have said my entire term that I need help on the road," Holland said. "I haven't been able to get that yet."

Holland said that he foresees change in the future, if for no other reason than the county's growing population. The county comprises 525 square miles. Ten years ago there were 1.4 officers per 1,000 residents. Today, that has only increased to 1.5 officers per 1,000, despite the fact that Macon County is the fastest growing county in the west.

"These guys are absolutely spread thin," Holland said.

Holland has received criticism for officers leaving the department. Upon taking office four years ago he decided not to do what new sheriff's typically do - clean house.

"I gave every single person an opportunity to continue working," he said. "I told them that all I expected was them to accept change and to accept the changes that were going to be made in the way of doing things."

One officer automatically left, even filing a discrimination complaint against Holland, which was investigated and dismissed. Others had planned to retire. Still others were lured away by higher salaries. Holland pushed for more money to keep the officers that were trained in the county working in the county, raising beginning salaries to $28,500 - more than he was making when he became sheriff. A second budget round raised administrative staff salaries as well. Now, of the seven officers with 10 years experience or less, three have returned, Holland said.

Jenkins said that if there were other reasons for turnover at the department, he felt that he could address them through mature leadership and being a man that people would want to work for. He supported making officers' salaries competitive.

"The best way in the world to motivate people like that is trying to get their salaries up to where you know they can live comfortably," he said.

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