Voters in the Democratic Primary in Jackson County must choose which of the four candidates profiled below should advance to the November election. Two other candidates, Mary Rock and Tim O’Brien, plan to run in November as unaffiliated candidates, but won’t be on the ballot for the primary.
Jimmy Ashe, 50 • Sylva resident, Jackson County Sheriff
Jimmy Ashe has been the sheriff of Jackson County for eight years, but has worked in the office since 1981 when he started his career as a jailer. Ashe served in a range of positions and worked his way up to Chief Deputy in 1997. He was elected to the office of Sheriff in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.
Ashe said his goals for the coming term include opening a new south central district substation to better serve the Caney Fork, Little Canada and Tuckasegee communities. He also wants to create a sheriff’s advisory committee with representation from each community in the county.
“Being from here and educated here, I know the community,” Ashe said. “This is my home. I know the needs then, now, and in the future.”
Ashe said he chose to run again because he is young and has more to offer the county.
“To settle for anything less than experience, education, background, and commitment would be going back in time in an ever-advancing society,” said Ashe.
For more information: www.asheforsheriff.com
Robin Gunnels, 45 • Cullowhee resident, business owner/WCU police officer
Robin Gunnels is a small business owner with 15 years of law enforcement experience. Gunnels worked in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for seven years, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He left after Ashe made him a jailer and reduced his pay.
For the past eight years, he has run his own business, Custom Truck Covers in Sylva, and worked part-time as a police officer at Western Carolina University.
Gunnels said he is running for sheriff because he wants to incorporate his experience as a businessman with his experience as a law enforcement officer to provide better service to the citizens of Jackson County.
“The experience I’ve gotten in retail sales and service has given me a different view of the public,” Gunnels said. “That combined with what I learned in law enforcement gives me a good foundation for the work as sheriff.”
Gunnels said he would like to re-focus the existing personnel at the sheriff’s office in areas of special expertise –– like elder abuse, cyber crime, and drug enforcement –– to optimize service. He also said he was committed to changing the impression that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is unfriendly.
“None of the officers look happy,” Gunnels said. “When you’re out dealing with the public, you have to go out there with that attitude that you’re helping people.”
For more information: www.vote4gunnels.com
Marty Rhinehart, 49 • Sylva resident, excavator/floor tech
Marty Rhinehart is the owner of an excavating business and also works as a floor technician for Westcare at Harris Regional Hospital. Rhinehart has worked for both the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
Rhinehart said he is running for sheriff because he wants to establish closer ties with the community.
“I believe if you dig deep into your community and serve the people of your county, the people will help you any way they can,” Rhinehart said.
Rhinehart likened Jackson County’s problem with drug dealers to a berry patch attracting bears.
“Drug dealers are like an old bear. They will hang around a berry patch, but if you take away that berry patch, that bear will leave,” Rhinehart said. “Jackson County has been a hub for drug dealers for years.”
Rhinehart said he intends to lead the sheriff’s office by example if he is elected.
Radford Franks, 55 • Savannah resident, bail bondsman
Radford Franks has spent the last 10 years working as a bail bondsman and bounty hunter in Jackson County. Prior to that he spent 20 years working as a builder in the southern part of the county.
Franks said he is running for sheriff to make the office more accessible to the people of the county. He intends to implement a system that will redistribute sheriff’s deputies more equitably throughout the county, particularly to the Cashiers/Glenville area. Franks also said he intends to meet regularly with community groups throughout the county.
“I am not saying I can solve all your problems. I can’t,” Franks said. “But I am saying I will meet with the residents of each community, in their respective community centers, to discuss the problems or concerns they have for their community.”
Franks also said he would not tolerate preferential treatment in his administration.
“I believe everyone deserves fair and equal treatment regardless of race, political views, or social level in the county. I will strictly enforce this policy and hold my deputies accountable for their actions.”
Mary Rock 42 • Sylva resident, bail bondsman
Born in Macon County to parents from Jackson County, Rock has spent her professional career between the two counties. After serving with the Military Police from 1986 to 1988, Rock attended Western Carolina University and received her basic law enforcement certification. The 42-year-old Sylva native has worked as a bail bondsman in Jackson County for the past 12 years.
Rock said she wants to bring professionalism and equity to the sheriff’s office.
“Since I was a child I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t think was the best way to run that office and I waited a long time to see if anyone would change that,” Rock said. “I decided this year that I wanted to do it myself.”
Rock said running unaffiliated was a way of de-emphasizing the political nature of the sheriff’s office. She said her experience has shown her that political influence can affect prosecution in Jackson County.
“It seems to be a highly political position and it should be a service position,” Rock said.
Tim O’Brien 40 • Cashiers resident, private investigator
O’Brien has worked as a private investigator for the past two years. After growing up in Franklin, O’Brien got a degree in criminal justice administration from Western Carolina University and then spent eight years as platoon leader of a military police unit. He was honorably discharged in 1999 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. O’Brien later served as a patrol officer in the Highlands Police Department, a detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, and a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation assigned to Western North Carolina. He has 17 years of law enforcement experience.
O’Brien said he wants to bring a new level of professionalism to the sheriff’s office that will take politics out of it.
“I have no political ambitions beyond being the Sheriff of Jackson County. I do not intend to serve on numerous political boards; my intention is to spend my time serving and protecting the citizens of Jackson County,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said his experience as a business owner and law enforcement officer make him particularly qualified for the office of sheriff.
“I feel my seventeen years of law enforcement experience in patrol, investigation, and administration, combined with my business experience, makes me uniquely qualified for the office of Sheriff.