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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Ongoing reform issue in sheriff debate

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Photo)
Sheriff candidates for Steve Fenwick (R), Garry Clark (D) and Joe Tesmer (I) discuss issues at Wednesday night's candidate forum. Banner Graphic/JARED JERNAGAN
GREENCASTLE -- When former sheriff Mark Frisbie left office facing charges of federal program theft in 2008, it was clear the department was in need of reform.

Later that year, sheriff's department veteran Steve Fenwick was appointed to replace Frisbie, and took on the task of reforming the department. As Fenwick (R) faces challenges in next month's election from Garry Clark (D) and Joe Tesmer (I), the reforms at the department remain an issue for the incumbent and the challengers.

Some of these issues were addressed at Wednesday night's candidate forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and WGRE.

Fenwick said in his time in office, the department has been able to add three new deputies as well as two animal control officers.

"I've been involved with every aspect of the Sheriff's Department on both sides, and I feel this makes me the only candidate qualified to fill the position," Fenwick said.

Clark said in his time in Putnam County he has viewed the sheriff's department from the outside and would like to see more transparency by making sure department records are open to the public.

"Trust has faded in this county," Clark said. "I believe the only way to regain trust is to open up."

For Tesmer, who has served as a deputy, the problems lie more in how money is spent by the department. He said, for example, the department should not have as many expensive vehicles that use excessive fuel.

"We need to cut away the SUVs. There's no reason to use the 3/4-ton trucks," Tesmer said.

Asked about issues facing the department, Tesmer and Fenwick were in agreement -- drugs remain a major problem.

"The biggest problem is the drugs and the prescription drug problem in the county," Fenwick said.

Tesmer said the big drug problems facing the county are those of marijuana, methamphetamine and prescription drugs. He said the key to stopping these is to make sure people are punished when caught with these drugs.

"To try to stop it is to try to get them in jail," Tesmer said.

For Clark, all drugs are a potential issue.

"Any drug is a big problem, even alcohol," he said, saying he had worked a number of DUI accidents that had killed people.

The issue of adequately patrolling our entire county was also a concern for all three candidates.

Fenwick said that the area around Interstate 70 is the biggest concern for his departments, but that the entire county gets equal coverage. He said that with extra officers added in the last two years, at least three officers are on duty nearly all the time, with one patrolling the north part of the county, one in the central and one in the south.

Clark countered that while I-70 may be the biggest problem, this matters little to people at the other end of the county facing problems of their own.

"If you're in Heritage Lake and have a developing gang problem, the interstate isn't a problem," Clark said.

Tesmer agreed with Fenwick that the interstate is the biggest problem area. However, he contended that in his experience, coverage and backup was not always adequate.

"I can't tell you how many times I was the only one on duty in the whole county," he said.

While enforcement will always be one of the top priorities for law enforcement, prevention is also a key. All three men spoke about the importance of getting into schools and working with our young people.

"I want to look at the future, and the future is our kids," Tesmer said. "I want to get a team together to get in every single school in the county."

Fenwick contended this is already happening, with officers in schools weekly, especially at Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam.

Clark said it is a matter of leading by example. He said in his time as a state trooper he brought the drinking and driving program North Putnam has each year before prom to the school.

WGRE station manager Tyler Archer introduced the candidates at the beginning of the discussion. The debate was moderated by WGRE's Stephen Kendrick.

Panelists for the discussion were Karen Martoglio of the League of Women voters, Meredith McGrady of WGRE News and Banner Graphic assistant editor Jared Jernagan.