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After six felons in North Carolina ran for sheriff during the May primaries, legislators decided it was time to close that particular legal loophole.

This November, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would put a stop to convicted felons being able to hold a county’s top law enforcement post. State representatives this summer unanimously signed on to that amendment, forged in the state Senate. A majority of voters must now vote “yes” Nov. 2 for the constitution to actually be changed.

“I don’t believe any sheriff should have any criminal record — whether felony or misdemeanor,” Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland said this week. “No criminal background, at all.”

Currently, once they’ve served their court-ordered punishments and their citizenship rights have been returned, convicted felons can legally run for office, though they cannot carry a firearm. None of the primary candidates who ran for office were actually elected sheriff.

Still, the situation served to underscore the issue’s importance, said Eddie Caldwell of the N.C. Sheriff’s Association.

“It became a little less academic and a little more practical,” Caldwell said.

A bill pushed last year by the association did not pass because of procedural problems. Namely, there was concern that legislators would try to piggyback pet projects on the bill.

This time, however, state leaders agreed not to do that, which facilitated passage of the proposed constitutional change, Caldwell said.

Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.

Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.

“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, the first Democrat to announce his intentions to run, more than a year before the primary.

Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would be challenging. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.

Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.

“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”

Jenkins, a self-employed logger, locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.

Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May. Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.

About 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, much less than the 28 percent who voted in the primary election in May.

Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.

Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty and a certified North Carolina law enforcement officer, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.

“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, who plans on taking a vacation in Alaska before getting back into full swing campaigning before the November election.

There were initially eight Democrats on the ticket vying for the chance to challenge Cochran. Of the crowded field, Ensley had been the first to announce his intentions to run, throwing his name in the ring more than a year before the primary.

Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would undoubtedly be a challenge. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.

Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.

“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “...I started my campaign four years ago. The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”

Jenkins, a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, fared better in the runoff than he did in the May primary, when he faced seven other candidates. Jenkins locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.

Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May.

Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.

Jenkins was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday morning.

Voter turnout

Only a dismal 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, compared to the impressive 28 percent who took to the polls during the May primary.

Still, it was far better than the typical voter turn-out witnessed in runoff elections. The local runoff boosted Swain’s voter turnout when compared to the rest of the state and surrounding counties, where the only race on the ballot was a Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Senate.

Only 3 to 4 percent of voters in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties cast their ballots Tuesday, choosing between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham. All four counties went for Marshall, who won the primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote statewide.

On Tuesday (June 22), Swain County voters will decide which Democrat will face Republican Curtis Cochran in the hotly contested sheriff’s race this fall.

Though candidate John Ensley won the primary with an impressive 28 percent of the vote — despite competing with seven other candidates — it was not the 40 percent he needed to avoid a runoff election

Runner-up Mitchell Jenkins, who won 285 votes compared to Ensley’s 513, called for a second round.

Whoever wins the second primary will face Sheriff Cochran, who has held the seat for four years. In the Republican primary this year, Cochran won in a landslide with 525 votes, compared to his lone competitor Wayne Dover’s 156 votes.

With the sheriff’s race the most heated election in the county, candidates were lining up and campaigning more than a year before the actual primary.

In his campaign, Ensley emphasizes community involvement with the sheriff’s office, more education for officers, outreach programs in the school system and better networking with surrounding counties.

Ensley, 42, is the owner of Yellow Rose Realty but also a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer. He has worked as a jailer in Florida and worked for the Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years.

Jenkins, 52, is a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, including eight years as chief deputy in Swain County and one year in the Bryson City Police Department.

Jenkins is running because he’d like to establish a better working relationship between the sheriff’s office and the public. Jenkins said he’d also respect the confidentiality of those who phone in tips to the sheriff’s office.

Early voting will take place until Saturday, June 19. To find out more, contact the Board of Elections.

Despite widespread criticism of the job he’s done, Swain Sheriff Curtis Cochran proved unstoppable in this year’s Republican primary. Cochran buried opponent Wayne Dover in a landslide with more than 77 percent of the vote.

In November, Cochran will go head-to-head with Democrat primary winner John Ensley, who had an impressive run with nearly 29 percent of the vote despite competing with a whopping seven other candidates.

If the primary is any indication, the November race will be close. At the end of Tuesday’s primary, Ensley walked away with 513 votes, while Cochran received 525.

“I’m just in awe of how may people came out and supported me,” said Ensley. “There were a lot of great candidates.”

Cochran said he had been hoping for a landslide, and characterized the win as evidence of success during his first term.

“I think the support shows that the people are pleased with the job we’ve done,” said Cochran.

Ensley said his emphasis on community involvement in the sheriff’s office, more education for officers, outreach programs in the school system and better networking with surrounding counties all contributed to his win.

During the primary, almost all candidates emphasized their experience in law enforcement, drawing a sharp contrast between them and Cochran, who had no prior law enforcement training before being elected sheriff.

But Cochran has retorted that he is the lone candidate with on-the-job experience as sheriff. He has undergone training and participated in seminars since taking office as well.

Cochran said despite many candidates touting their experience, no one could ever say they’ve had enough training. “It’s a learning process every day,” said Cochran. “We run across something new just about on a daily basis.”

Ensley is the owner of Yellow Rose Realty but is also a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer. He has worked as a jailer in Florida and worked for Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years as well.

Controversial issues were not few or far between during Cochran’s first term as sheriff: a suspected murderer escaped from Swain County’s jail last year; Cochran sued Swain’s Democratic county commissioners for discriminating against him by essentially reducing his salary; a Swain detention officer purchased a big-screen TV using the county’s credit card; and a newly built $10 million jail continued to sit half-empty.

Candidates were lining up and campaigning more than a year before the actual primary. Now, the focus will be on the upcoming general election.

Ensley plans to emphasize his 18 years of business experience, in addition to his law enforcement training. “You need to know the law, but also be an administrative and PR guy [to be sheriff],” said Ensley, adding that he knows how to run an organization and build working relationships.

Ensley says he will also cooperate with county commissioners if elected as sheriff. “It is imperative that we do that,” said Ensley.

Cochran said he hopes both Republicans and Democrats will come together to support him in November.

Similar to his last election campaign, Cochran will focus on eradicating drugs in Swain County.

“We have taken a stand against drugs from day one, and we’re going to continue that,” said Cochran.

Swain County sheriff

Democrat – one winner advances

John Ensley: 513

Mitchell B. Jenkins: 285

David Thomas: 236

Julius F. Taylor: 218

Steve Buchanan: 197

Steve Ford: 150

David Franklin: 119

Chuck Clifton: 53

Republican - one winner advances

Curtis Cochran: 525

Wayne Dover: 156

Other sheriff races:

Haywood County sheriff

Democratic primary

Bobby Suttles*: 3,720

Dean Henline: 966

*The winner will face a Republican challenger in the fall.

Macon County sheriff

Democrat – one advances

George Lynch: 965

Richard Davis: 776

Ricky Dehart: 114

Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe proved he could survive a tough race during the Democratic primary, defeating challenger Robin Gunnels by nearly 700 votes on the unofficial count.

Ashe may have another tough race in November, but on Tuesday night he could celebrate holding off a crowded field and a strong challenge from Gunnels, a former employee. Ashe also had to stave off the efforts of a third-party political action committee en route to winning his third consecutive Democratic primary nomination for Jackson County Sheriff.

In the end Ashe’s popularity in Jackson County and his firm resolve not to enter into dialogue with his critics proved decisive in the hotly contested race.

Ted Coyle, a Caney Fork resident, said the ugly tactics employed by a third-party political action committee from the Cashiers area prompted him to vote for Ashe.

“I was kind of disgusted by the politics of that race coming out of Sapphire and I’m not for private law enforcement on public roads by any stretch,” Coyle said.

The sheriff’s primary was far from typical this year. After Gunnels emerged as an early challenger in the race, his business was burned in a case still under investigation as arson. Gunnels did not blame Ashe or his supporters for the fire, but he insisted it was politically motivated.

On Tuesday night, after the votes were totaled, Gunnels still rued the incident.

“With the whole fire business it took a couple of weeks to get that cleaned up and get back out there,” Gunnels said. “I don’t want to blame the result on anything, but it was a real issue for us.”

Ashe looked vulnerable because he received a controversial pay raise during the recession and had to withstand allegations of questionable financial transactions involving an account from narcotics seizure money.

The contest heated up considerably when a group of Cashiers residents, led by Blue Ridge Public Safety owner David Finn, formed a political action committee aimed at unseating Ashe.

Ashe refused to enter into a back and forth with his critics, instead electing to run advertisements that included personal testimonies of supporters. The tactic seemed to pay off in Jackson County, where Ashe has been one of the most popular and widely recognizable political figures in recent years.

Ashe did not immediately return a request for comment before the news deadline.

Jackson County sheriff

Democrat – one advances

Jimmy Ashe: 2,290

Robin Gunnels: 1,572

Marty Rhinehart: 140

Radford Franks: 116

*The winner will face competition from two unaffiliated candidates in the fall.

Other sheriff races:

Haywood County sheriff

Democratic primary

Bobby Suttles*: 3,720

Dean Henline: 966

*The winner will face a Republican challenger in the fall.

Macon County sheriff

Democrat – one advances

George Lynch: 965

Richard Davis: 776

Ricky Dehart: 114

The Jackson County Sheriff’s race is hot and getting hotter. While a controversial pay raise and allegations of questionable financial transactions are dogging incumbent Sheriff Jimmy Ashe, the possibility of a politically-motivated arson at challenger Robin Gunnels’ business has provided a sinister sub-plot to the campaign. Now the contest has taken a new turn with a group of Cashiers residents forming a political action committee aimed at unseating Ashe.

Taxpayers Against Ashe for Sheriff has spent more than $2,000 on an ad campaign that reiterates allegations against Ashe that originally surfaced in newspaper accounts in recent months.

A primary organizer behind the political action committee is David Finn, the owner of Blue Ridge Public Safety, a private security business that patrols housing developments in the southern part of the county around Cashiers.

Finn sued Ashe in 2007, but he says the still unsettled lawsuit isn’t the motivation for the ad campaign the committee has launched.

“It’s no secret that I don’t like Jimmy Ashe,” Finn said. “It hasn’t always been that way. I’ve known him for 20 years, and I supported him in two elections.”

Finn said he could not comment on the lawsuit except to say he feels the trial will justify his stance against Ashe in the election.

“I’m looking forward to the trial, so the public can understand my change of heart,” Finn said.

Ashe has repeatedly said he will not engage in mudslinging with his challengers, and he said he could not comment on the lawsuit, either.

The suit itself provides a compelling backdrop to the election, because it sets up the rift between Ashe and Finn in the context of an up-county, down-county divide. In it, Finn alleges that Ashe used his office as sheriff to sabotage the $1.5 million sale of Sapphire Valley Public Safety as an act of political retribution.

The issue began innocently enough with Finn and Ashe on opposing sides of a policy debate playing out in Raleigh.

In 2006, as president of the North Carolina Company Police Association, Finn was advocating for a bill in the General Assembly that would have given private security forces like his jurisdiction on state and county roads adjacent to the properties they patrolled.

Ashe and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association “vigorously opposed” the measure, which Ashe’s legal counsel concedes in the case file.

But Finn’s complaint goes on to allege that Ashe used his office and his deputies to harass Finn and the personnel of Blue Ridge Public Safety, then later sabotaged the sale of Sapphire Valley Public Safety. Finn had lined up a buyer for the subsidiary company, receiving a formal offer in May 2007.

In July, the buyers rescinded the offer.

The lawsuit alleges that Ashe used his influence to get the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate Blue Ridge Public Safety for wrongdoing — even though none had occurred — and that the investigation scuttled the sale.

“The investigations instigated by defendant James M. Ashe were based upon groundless and false accusation and were the specific reason the prospective purchasers did not perform under the contract,” the complaint alleges.

The case is scheduled for a trial in May.

From the beginning, Finn’s counsel has pushed for a jury trial while Ashe’s lawyers have asked that the case be dismissed on a lack of merit. In February, a judge declined to dismiss the case and ruled that it could proceed to trial.

 

Why form a PAC?

While political action committees are common in national politics, they are rare locally. People who spend money in local races usually donate to the candidate of their choice rather than form their own PAC with their own agenda.

In creating a political action committee, Finn said he is attempting to shed light on a pattern of abuse that has characterized Ashe’s leadership.

“I think the revelations in print media show Ashe’s misuse of tax money and raise some unanswered questions,” Finn said. “Without that attention, I think it would still be business as usual at the sheriff’s office.”

Ashe has come under fire for misappropriating revenue from drug seizures and for using a Harley Davidson seized from a drug dealer for personal use.

“The purpose of the PAC is to throw these things out there to get some answers,” Finn said. “We’re not supporting any candidate. I have my personal preference, but the PAC is not supporting anyone.”

Finn claims that he and his PAC are speaking out on behalf of a broader group of people who are reluctant to go on record for fear of incurring Ashe’s ire. The rules of PACs require any donors of more than $50 to be named in campaign finance reports. The PAC’s treasurer, John Bayley, said he preferred to let Finn speak for the group. The other two named contributors, Gary Ramey of Cashiers and Jeff Scott of Glenville, could not be reached for comment.

“A lot of people want to contribute under $50, because there is a real concern if the sheriff finds out,” Finn said.

The PAC has run ads in the Smoky Mountain News, The Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle and The Sylva Herald.

Ashe’s supporters have seen the ads as a smear campaign in what has become a dirty race for the sheriff’s office.

John Burgess of Sylva said seeing the negative ads in the newspaper have reinforced his support of Ashe.

“He really is the only candidate that is qualified to do the job,” Burgess said. “He has run a clean, no-slander campaign and is a leader in the community. I’ve never even heard of any of these other guys, but I do hear how nasty a campaign they run.”

The person who may have the most to gain from Finn’s ad campaign is Democratic candidate Robin Gunnels, who has emerged with Ashe as the frontrunner in the May primary.

Gunnels said the ads don’t have any new information, and he doesn’t think they’ll help his campaign.

“Those are things that came out last year and they’re just getting brought back up,” Gunnels said. “It’s just giving people the opportunity to see it and reflect on what’s right and what’s wrong in the county.”

Gunnels said the bigger issue in the election is how the Jackson County Sheriff will deal with the southern part of the county, where private security firms patrol expensive developments that are unoccupied for large portions of the year in the greater Cashiers and Glenville area.

Gunnels and Ashe clashed during a candidate’s debate in Cashiers last Tuesday over that subject.

Ashe has said one of his top priorities is to create a new substation in the south central part of the county that would help bolster security and enhance cooperation in those communities.

But Gunnels said Ashe had a policy of not responding to alarm calls in that area, something he routinely did when he was at the sheriff’s department.

Both Gunnels and Ashe have their power bases in the northern part of the county. Gunnels lives in Cullowhee and runs a business in Sylva, while Ashe is a highly visible political figure also in the north. Between now and May, both men will be trying to convince every voter they can that they have what it takes to keep the whole county safe.

The primary winner won’t be out of the woods, however, as two unaffiliated candidates are planning to get on the ballot through a petition process. One of them, Tim O’Brien, has worked for Finn at Blue Ridge Public Safety and lives in Cashiers.

Voters in the Democratic Primary in Haywood County must choose which of the two candidates profiled here will advance to the November election. Republican candidate Bill Wilke is running unopposed in the primary and will automatically advance.

 

Bobby Suttles, 65, Haywood County Sheriff

Suttles was appointed sheriff by the Democratic party in early 2009 after former Sheriff Tom Alexander retired mid-term. Before that, Suttles served as chief deputy — second in command of the 100-person Sheriff’s office — since 2003. Suttles has more than 35 years of experience as a law enforcement officer, including with the state highway patrol, Waynesville police department, and 15 years with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.

Suttles emphasizes his ability to work under a tight budget.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished probably the same amount of service, with less...I know my opponents, they may say they’re going to do this and do that, but ultimately you have to deal with the budget.”

Suttles said he’s also accomplished better cooperation among different departments within the Sheriff’s Office.

“New equipment is always on my mind,” said Suttles, who would like to see computers in deputy’s cars as well as tasers. He would also like to have more officers and new cars. Suttles is working to bring video arraignment to the county to save time spent on transporting prisoners to the courthouse.

He would also like to deputize police officers from town departments to increase cooperation on drug cases and pool together resources, like drug dogs. Another goal is to have an annex in the Canton area. Suttles is also in the process of securing more inmate labor.

For more information: www.suttlesforsheriff.com.

 

Dean Henline, 52, part-time police officer with town of Clyde

Henline served at the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years before retiring in 2008. Henline has worked as a jailer, sergeant, and lieutenant over patrol, as well as a part-time policeman in Hazelwood.

Henline emphasizes that he’s had more experience in Haywood County’s Sheriff’s Office than the other two candidates running. Henline said if elected, the transition would be comfortable since he’s worked with deputies at the office his entire career. Henline added that he is very active during his shifts. “Neither candidate has the arrest record that I have,” Henline said.

Henline would like to increase the number of deputies working on the drug problem in Haywood County. “Haywood County needs this because we’re not the old Haywood County anymore that we grew up in. We’ve got some of the same problems they got in the big city.” Henline plans to apply for drug interdiction grants that can help purchase cars, equipment and pay salaries.

Henline would also like to fully equip deputy cars with computers so officers can file reports on the road and stay out on the field longer. Computers can also help deputies pull up files of those who have been arrested before on the spot.

When the budget situation improves, Henline would like to raise deputies’ salaries to stay competitive with surrounding counties. Henline would also like to see more officers working night shifts.

For more information: www.deanhenlineforsheriffcampaign.com

There is only one Republican candidate running for Haywood County Sheriff in the primary, which means he will automatically advance to the November election.

 

Bill Wilke, 40, Sgt. with Asheville City Police Department

Wilke has worked in law enforcement for 14 years, serves as major in the Army Reserves, is being promtoed to lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and was a full-time training officer with the Army National Guard from 1997 to 2000. He currently is night sergeant for the Asheville police department and supervises nine to 12 officers.

Wilke recently returned from Iraq, where he served as a Major with the US Army in civil affairs.

Wilke said he came back from Iraq with a greater appreciation for the American way of life and resolved to contribute as much as he could to his home of Haywood County. He says the management and leadership skills he has developed over the years will benefit the Sheriff’s Office, especially in a budget-restrained environment.

Wilke’s first priority is to establish a joint drug task force in the county, which will help stop ancillary crimes. Since agencies can take 75 percent of the tax value of whatever drugs are seized, Wilke said clamping down on drugs will reduce crime as well as produce revenue.

Wilke sees a clear need to modernize, and says bringing computers and software will help use deputies more efficiently.

“I work with those cutting edge tools right now,” said Wilke. “I have a plan to implement then if I’m elected.”

Wilke says there is a need for additional deputies, but the Sheriff’s Office should first look at being more efficient with the dollars it does get from the county. As part of that effort, Wilke would like to see more usage of inmate labor.

For more information: www.wilkeforsheriff.com

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.

Candidate profiles

Democrat candidates

Steve Buchanan, 50, Bryson City resident, owner of a construction company

“Most of the thefts relate back to drug use, people stealing to pay for their drug habit, and I feel that it’s at a point now where it has to be stopped in its tracks.”

Buchanan has more than 16 years of law enforcement experience, including six years as an undercover narcotics agent and five years in supervisory positions. Buchanan has also served as a Swain County jailer for about seven months.

Buchanan is running because he believes he has the law enforcement experience, especially in narcotics, to help reduce crime in Swain County.

“I think we’re at a crossroads now in our county...If we don’t elect somebody with experience in law enforcement, then our quality of life in Swain County is going to be affected.”

For more information: www.stevebuchananforsheriff.com.

 

Chuck Clifton, 60, Bryson City resident, security officer at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

“There is no substitute for education, and experience brings education. When you have experienced leadership, that education can funnel all the way down to the lowest man.”

Clifton retired from more than 27 years of law enforcement experience in 2003. Clifton served as interim chief of police in Florida, and he has supervised as many as 48 officers. Clifton has worked in everything from narcotics to investigations to agricultural crimes to patrolling.

Clifton has also taught at a police academy in Florida and would like to bring more education to deputies. “I would like to see the residents of Swain County be able to say I’m proud of our Sheriff’s Office. They are well-educated, they know how to handle things.”

John Ensley, 42, Bryson City resident, owner of Yellow Rose Realty

“Not only am I going to ask the people to be involved in our community, I’m going to expect it.”

Ensley has 17 years of experience as a business owner in Swain County, has been a Sunday school teacher and coached youth sports.

Ensley is also certified with the Florida Department of Corrections, a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer and president of his B law enforcement training class. He worked as a jailer in Florida and for Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years.

He would like to bring a businessman’s approach to the Sheriff’s Office, especially when it comes to the $10 million jail that’s now sitting half-empty. “We need some entrepreneurship in there to grow that.”

Ensley’s first priority is to eliminate the drug flow into Swain County and into the school system. His second priority is to rebuild a relationship between law enforcement and the community and restart a community watch program.

For more information: www.ensley4sheriff.com

 

Steve Ford, 51, Bryson City resident, retired law enforcement officer

“If you’re going to put a badge on them, which in reality is a target for a criminal, you’ve got to pay them.”

Ford has 24 years of experience as a law enforcement officer in Florida, including as a deputy, investigator, sergeant and lieutenant.

Ford said he’s running because he sees a lack of trust between the citizens and the current sheriff’s office.

“I want to make sure that citizens know when they call in a complaint, no matter whether it’s a barking dog or a burglary, we’re going to respond.”

Ford would also like to set up a volunteer community watch team, and has already assembled a team of retired law enforcement officers in Swain County with more than 100 years of combined experience. With their expertise, Ford will pursue grants to work on the drug problem.

“You gotta know where to tap into the assets. Unfortunately, our taxpaying dollars in Swain County is not the right place for all of it.”

For more information: www.fordforsheriff.com

 

Mitchell Jenkins, 52, Whittier resident, self-employed logger

“I’d like to make Swain County be appreciative and proud of their Sheriff’s Department. I don’t feel like it is right now.”

Jenkins has nine years of law enforcement experience, including eight years as chief deputy in Swain County and one year in the Bryson City Police Department. Jenkins is running because he’d like to establish a better working relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the public.

“The politeness of your officers when they’re addressing people goes a long way in getting people to confide and trust the department.”

Jenkins said he’d also respect the confidentiality of those who phone in tips to the Sheriff’s Office.

“You gotta earn that confidence...or you won’t get no information to operate on.”

 

Julius Taylor, 37, resident of Big Cove community, Cherokee Police officer

“To make sure occupants are in there, always have the vacancy sign out and not take reservations.”

— On Swain County’s oversized jail.

Taylor has worked for the Cherokee Police Department for almost 16 years and has also worked for the Swain County Sheriff’s Office. His experience includes being a supervisor for 12 years and an administrator for three years. Taylor has had training from the U.S. Interior Department, the FBI, the SBI, and the North Carolina Justice Academy, where he has trained officers.

Taylor’s goal is to work together with surrounding communities to jointly combat the drug problem.

“When you enforce so hard in one jurisdiction, you push it from your yard into somebody else’s...It’s such a deep-seated problem, but all you hear are surface solutions...I’m not the surface solution type of person.”

 

David Thomas, 56, Bryson City resident, general contractor

“If somebody sued me, I’m not going to sit down and have lunch with them.”

— On the commissioners’ testy relationship with Sheriff Cochran after he filed a lawsuit against them.

Thomas has worked in law enforcement in Swain County under three different sheriffs for almost two decades.

“My priorities are to see if I can’t do something with the drug problem with our kids around here.”

Thomas would also like to work closely with local people as well as those from surrounding counties.

“You gotta get along with everybody...You gotta go out and talk to the people, talk to our other counties, get along with their sheriffs...You can only do what the people let you.”

*Democratic candidate David Franklin was unable to participate in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News for this article.

 

Republican candidates

Curtis Cochran, 57, Bryson City resident, current sheriff

“We hear criticism every day. When it comes down to the final vote, we’ll see how the voters of Swain County act, if they think I’ve done a good job or a bad job.”

Cochran has worked in heavy construction for 22 years then served as the county facilities manager for 12 years until he was elected sheriff in 2006, narrowly ousting the sitting sheriff at the time. Since being elected, Cochran has attended a sheriff leadership institute, is a member of the North Carolina Jail Administrators’ Association, and has received certificates from a North Carolina Justice Academy identity theft seminar.

“My number one priority is to continue the fight on drugs that we’ve been very aggressive with.” Cochran said his office has a zero tolerance policy on drugs and has made 728 drug arrests since December 2006.

Cochran emphasizes that he’s the only candidate who has experience as Swain County Sheriff.

“I’m local, I know the people, they know me. They know they can come see me.”

 

Wayne Dover, 36, graphics designer, Bryson City resident

“The sheriff is a political figurehead. If he surrounds himself with good officers, then his job is simple.”

Dover served as a Swain County deputy for four years, and has experience being a detention officer, a patrol officer, a dispatcher and part of courtroom security with the U.S. Marshal Service.

Dover would like to see stiffer penalties for drugs, including more jail time rather than probation periods. “If they’re found guilty of a drug offense, then we need to take their money, their cars, their homes — give them a reason to leave. If you take enough of their toys, enough of their money, they’re going to go somewhere else.”

Dover says he’d also like to set up an explorer program for young adults to ride with officers and learn about a career in law enforcement.

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