Sheriff's candidates discuss finances, issues

OSCEOLA COUNTY – Incumbent Sheriff Jim Crawford and his former undersheriff David Fowler will vie for a place on the November General Election ballot as the Republican candidate for Osceola County Sheriff.

Crawford seeks his fourth term as sheriff, and said his experience and success making fiscally sound decisions while running the department proves his right to continue in his position.

Fowler, who has over 33 years of law enforcement experience, said the department needs a change and he is the man to make that change.

Results of the Aug. 7 primary election will decide whether Crawford or Fowler will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Democrat Richard Argue is also running for the position but did not respond for this question and answer article.

To help keep voters informed on the candidates’ views and opinions, the Herald Review posed several questions about issues facing Osceola County, how the next sheriff plans to make fiscal decisions for the department and why they believe they are the best candidate for office.

The responses to the Herald Review’s questions from candidates for sheriff, prosecutor, and county commissioner will be published in the days leading up to the election.

For fairness, questions were identical and all answers were limited to 150 words.

HERALD REVIEW: Why are you running for the office of sheriff for the 2013-16 term?

JIM CRAWFORD: I like my job and the work is never done. I have a highly trained, professional staff that shares the same goals I do - being a public servant. Being a native of Osceola County, I have a deep appreciation for the citizens who live and work here. Hard times are not over yet and the sheriff needs to be even more vigilant with the budget for the next four years. There’s a fine line between having the only 24-hour road patrol and having to road patrol because of layoffs. I’m running for sheriff because the leadership I have put together from undersheriff, jail Administrator, sergeants, deputies and corrections need to stay in place to continue the excellent job they do daily and not be let go because of new management.

DAVE FOWLER: I want to bring integrity, leadership, strength, and honesty back to the office of Sheriff in Osceola County. The current administration lacks the experience and knowledge to make the kind of decisions that unfortunately have to be made from time to time.

What makes you the best candidate for the office?

CRAWFORD: I have the ability to manage and stay within a $2.7 million budget and not keep going back to the county commissioners after the budget is set to ask for extra money through the year. I have put together a proven and tested staff of employees that our citizens can be proud of. We maintain the only 24-hour road patrol, our jail has passed state inspection for the last 10 years at 100 percent, is one of the best with the latest technology in surveillance along with audio and phone we are able to lease jail space to other counties and the State of Michigan for extra revenue. The initiative and foresight has proven to be a great revenue for the county.

FOWLER: I have over 33 years of actual law enforcement experience that will allow me to make decisions based on experience and not on emotions or guess work.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department today and how do you plan to face those issues?

CRAWFORD: Liability in the jail is going to be one of the biggest issues facing all sheriff’s offices this coming term because of how the Supreme Court has ruled on strip searches and religious rights. Inmates will be testing the First, Fourth, and Eighth amendments to the constitution, because of PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act); use of force, inmate communication (postcards and publications). As the laws change on key issues, so must our policy and procedures. All staff has had the latest training and continues to receive training as the courts rule on issues. I know the issues; I read the court ruling and have the experience to keep our county from frivolous lawsuits. Our correction officers and deputies are 100 percent up to date on all training.

FOWLER: Due to extremely low morale within the department, I will work very hard to boost the morale by eliminating the secrets, lies, and bullying. I will work everyday to restore and build strong relationships between the sheriff's office and outside agencies including the prosecutor's office, other police agencies, fire departments and the Osceola County Commissioners. I will emphasize more patrol time and less office time.

How do you plan to make fiscally sound decisions for the department?

CRAWFORD: Sound decisions need to be made on a daily basis, just as fuel prices change daily we need to assess how these changes affect our budget prior to the end of the year. Managing a large budget, I am financially able to provide traffic enforcement, investigations, and top-notch jail facilities and keeping employees so our services do not falter and the citizens have the protection they deserve. We actively search for other funding sources, grants, out of county housing income and budget responsibility by consolidating resources and positions to maintain service without additional personnel. Meth and its related crimes lead to assaults, robberies, B&Es, larcenies and violent crimes. By maintaining an officer in TNT (Traverse Narcotics Team) and actively and aggressively confronting this issue through enforcement, investigation and education in DARE, we are making a difference.

FOWLER: I will surround myself with the very best people I can. Decisions will be based on predictable trends and experience and not on inexperience and raw emotions. I am also very experienced with line-item budgets and have never had a problem staying within them.