By Pete Zamplas-Both Republican challengers to the incumbent Henderson County sheriff call for redeploying the force for less central administration and more people patrolling roads and neighborhoods and securing more schools.
State Highway Patrol trooper Michael Brown and Fletcher Police Chief Erik Summey, both about age 45, challenge 58-year-old Sheriff Charlie McDonald in the May 6 GOP primary.
Brown, a trooper for 19 years, is making his third run for sheriff. He got 41 percent of the vote the first time, in 2002. Summey and McDonald are in their first election. McDonald was appointed two years ago.
Summey has served as Fletcher police chief since 2008. A gentlemanly exchange evolved in the GOP-sponsored candidate forum April 3 over comparing his level of experience with the sheriff’s. The base budget is $1.3 million for Fletcher Police, about $13.5 million for the sheriff. McDonald hinted at a smaller scope, saying Summey was “close” in degree of responsibility such as in affecting careers.
Summey countered that “we’re pretty even. It’s not whether you’re a smaller or big department. I’ve also had to make those tough decisions.” He has been a supervisor for 18 years, much while with the sheriff’s department in 1989-2007. He headed drug enforcement, as a lieutenant. He has supervised school resource officers, evidence, and canines/K-9.
Both challengers said sheriff’s management is top-heavy, such as with a command staff and new paid consultant. McDonald noted the eight in his Professional Standards Division also work in other areas.
More on Patrol
The challengers questioned focus of administrative and manpower deployment, and spending priorities. Summey said McDonald’s spending below budgeted levels does not “mean you’ve been fiscally sane,” or best use resources. He said “I will restructure the department,” putting more people on patrol and contacting business owners and others for greater “community policing.”
Brown also wants to “reallocate personnel,” to return patrol closer to a dozen per shift it had. He calls the current eight or nine per shift “inadequate.” He patrols highways as a state trooper. Traffic enforcement on major routes is “the job of the Highway Patrol.” He suggested sheriff’s deputies overlap less, focusing on secondary roads.
Sheriff McDonald said it is more cost-efficient to staff patrol less, and bolster it during extra-busy times by switching people from such main duties as domestic violence or (the five in) serving warrants.
Brown urged sheriff agents rejoin the area highway drug busting unit that has brought in much “asset forfeiture,” mostly from Buncombe County. “We need to interdict the flow of drugs on major highways, and on secondary roads,” Brown said. He wants physicians to ease up on prescription writing, what he calls “overmedicating.”
McDonald prefers in-county drug “interdiction.” He said drug abuse is triggering domestic violence. Summey said rising pain pill, crack cocaine and other addiction sparks nearly 85 percent of property crime, and “over the edge” urgency to “murder to get the drugs.”
Armed School Officers
The candidates differed on what type of armed school resource officers (SRO) to use, and where. There is one SRO deputy in each of the four local high schools, in most but no longer all middle schools, and in some elementaries. Brown pointed shootings in schools lacking SROs as a deterrent and initial response. McDonald said there are more common risks here to staff security for, and quick response is the key in schools. Summey calls for “security assessments” at schools and other public facilities. He wants more SROs.
Brown said to afford to protect every school, the county should take advantage of a state law last year. It enables sheriffs to start a volunteer SRO force, of those with at least two years of military or law enforcement experience. They must get trained in firearm proficiency, and in “cognitive and behavioral” tactics for dealing with youth. Brown added that grants diffuse SRO costs.
Summey cautioned federal SRO match grants require the county pay one-fourth right away, and to “absorb that cost eventually.” He wants commissioners and the school board to authorize affordably phasing in more SROs, using deputies. McDonald questioned SRO training costs and liability of armed volunteers; all current volunteers are unarmed. Brown said state law protects SROs and overseers from legal liability. But Summey said that other case histories show that, in practice, still “you’ll get sued.”
On illegal immigrants, the three GOP sheriff candidates each expressed those laborers’ pivotal role in doing thankless farming and landscaping chores and in restraining labor and thus retail food costs. Brown sounded off the most against federal leniency. “The people in Washington don’t want to stop it (illegal immigration) at the border.” He believes in continuing to “get the worst of the worst off the streets,” including violent drug offenders.
Summey agreed a priority is to snare aliens “committing crimes, to hold them accountable” such as with jail time before deportation. He said more aliens stay year-round, and some illegals bring in drugs from Mexico (i.e. via Texas) and/or deal them here. He said the state is becoming the “meth capital of the Southeast.”
There was notable disagreement about level of morale among sheriff’s employees. The sheriff said morale has improved, along with more objective hiring instead of tenure-based promotion. But both challengers see the legal at-will firing a thorn to morale. Brown said several sheriff’s employees complain to him about it and hiring of a consultant on personnel, fearing more for their jobs.
Brown said he would require documented cause for firings and demotions, such as Highway Patrol steps for repeat offenses: Issuing verbal then written warnings, suspension then dismissal.
Summey said he would not wield at-will clout, after feeling its hammer. He said he was among those “let go” within months after Rick Davis became sheriff in late 2006, in traditional sweeping out of hierarchy and those who backed other candidates for sheriff. Summey said he has helped stabilize Fletcher police personnel and morale, as chief. He also wants to create a victim’s advocate liaison, and review animal enforcement codes.
Brown sees a “need for change and a new direction.” He said his campaign idea in 2002 for leasing rather than buying vehicles was soon adopted. He said he would add “stability. We’ve had five sheriffs in the last 10 years” including Greg Cochran as an interim after Davis went on medical (for manic bipolar) leave until McDonald was chosen.
The GOP trio is pro-gun rights, for self-protection at home and in public with proper training. Summey said law-abiding citizens too often “can’t get the guns they want” for best defense. McDonald wants a more “streamlined process, for pistol purchases.” Brown is a state-certified conceal-carry handgun instructor. He believes crime data shows the more people that are armed, the better deterrent it is to violent crime. He said “gun sales have skyrocketed” to beat out tighter Obama gun control, limits he opposes. Brown vowed that, if sheriff, “I would not uphold those unconstitutional gun laws.”
Brown’s grandfather was a sheriff’s chief investigator, his father a deputy. He has a criminal justice degree. He is a pilot. He and his wife, Lynn, have three daughters including a newborn. Summey is married to Julie Varnadore Summey. He has FBI training.
For websites on the challengers’ campaigns, check ElectBrownSheriff.com and ElectSummeySheriff.com.