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Wednesday, 23 January 2013 00:00

Contenders line up to be next Haywood Sheriff

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Three men, all with impressive law enforcement backgrounds, are vying to be Haywood County’s next sheriff.

The current Sheriff, Bobby Suttles, is retiring next month, but with two years to go until the next sheriff election, a replacement must be named in the meantime. Since Suttles is a Democrat, leaders in the Haywood County Democratic Party will pick his successor.

Three contenders had applied by last week’s deadline: Lt. Greg Christopher with the N.C. Highway Patrol, Chief Deputy Larry Bryson of the Haywood Sheriffs Office and Lt. Bill Wilke with the Asheville Police Department. All live in Haywood County.

Party leaders will hear from the contenders in a forum on Saturday, Feb. 23, and then vote on a replacement March 2.

All may not get an invitation to appear in the forum, however. Party leaders will decide next week which of the three men meet their preliminary qualifications to even be considered.

“If one does not meet those qualifications, then only the ones that do will be part of that forum,” said Janie Benson, chairwoman of the Haywood Democratic Executive Committee.

It’s possible that Wilke, a Republican, could be weeded out early. In his application, Wilke noted the “political obstacles” he may face in being considered for the job but hoped that the party would judge him on his professional qualifications and merits.

However, an internal party document listing characteristics the next sheriff should display included a line about being a Democrat.

Wilke ran for sheriff in 2010 against Suttles. While it’s likely a longshot for Wilke to win the endorsement of Democratic Party leaders, putting his name in the hat sends a public message that his interest in serving as sheriff hasn’t waned, and that could be important should he decide to run for the post again in 2014.

Picking a new sheriff specifically rests with the Democratic Executive Committee, approximately 100 people consisting of the chair and vice chair of all 31 voting precincts in the county and any elected officials who are Democrats, from town boards to school board to county commissioners to state legislators. The party went through a similar process four years ago when then-sheriff Tom Alexander retired, and Suttles was named as his replacement.

Answering the call

• Lt. Greg Christopher, 51, has worked in the N.C. Highway Patrol for 27 years and served in the National Guard for 21 years. Christopher is a native of Haywood County and has three children in high school and college. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. In his application to the party, Christopher emphasized the importance of building relationships and trust with the public and other law enforcement agencies in the county, training and support for deputies, and a high standard of personal integrity.

• Chief Deputy Larry Bryson, 57, has worked in the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office for more than years, mostly in the detective division, including as the chief of criminal investigations. For the past four years, he has been second-in-command under Suttles. His law enforcement career also includes 10 years as a Waynesville police officer and seven years as a company police officer for what was then the Champion Paper Mill in Canton. He is originally from Jackson County and got his basic law enforcement training at Southwestern Community College and Haywood Community College.

In his application to the party, he emphasized his experience running the daily operations of the sheriff’s office, the importance of training for deputies, creating a citizen-advisory board and more community involvement.

• Lt. Bill Wilke, 43, is a district commander with the Asheville Police Department. Wilke has lived in Haywood County since 2000 and has three children in high school. He has served in the National Guard and as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves, including a tour in Iraq. He has a degree in Public Affairs and Human Resource Management. In his application, Wilke emphasized common-sense leadership, community policing, innovative problem solving and professionalism.

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