Candidates for the office of Harlan County sheriff touted their qualifications to serve in the office during a local candidates’ forum Tuesday evening while also answering questions submitted from area residents.
Held at the Harlan Center and moderated by WYMT-TV Vice President for News and General Manager Neil Middleton, the Democrat candidates participating included incumbent Marvin J. Lipfird of Evarts; Clair Stines of Loyall; Mike Lunsford of Evarts; Leslie E. “Smitty” Smith of Cumberland and Lupe Blas of Evarts. Candidate Arlis Frank Pennington did not participate.
The lone Republican candidate for sheriff participating was John Teagle of Evarts. Candidate Jayson Howard of Grays Knob did not attend.
In opening and closing remarks, as well as questioning during the forum, each candidate cited their experiences which qualify them to serve. All those participating cited their extensive law enforcement experience with the exception of Stines who touted among other items her experience in health care working with drug patients and rehabilitation efforts.
While the candidate’s responses varied at times, some often agreed with their challengers on issues confronting law enforcement, qualifications for the office and other areas, but there also appeared to be disagreement over the significance of the drug problem in the county compared to others in the region and across the state.
A considerable amount of time was spent on discussing the drug problems and ways to combat the ramifications from the problem.
“We cannot arrest ourselves out of the problem,” said Lipfird. “We don’t have enough handcuffs and the jails don’t have enough beds.”
Teagle said the drug problem won’t get better unless it is addressed and rapport is developed with residents through community oriented programs such as a Neighborhood Watch. “The problem is not just here. It is all across the state. You can’t compare drug problems from one county to drug problems in another county.
Lunsford agreed the county’s problem is not as bad as it is in others, citing as an example news reports of almost daily meth and other drug busts in nearby counties. He said it will take a “team effort” to combat the problem.
Blas said involvement with youth and the community is vital because “we are outnumbered. We are small departments… fear is your worst enemy. Instead of being afraid, be angry… to take back your own community.”
Stines said it is critical that an addiction center be opened here for anyone who want to go there to get off drugs without a fear of retaliation or retribution. She said the problem must be combated through education.
“I know we can beat the drug problem…,” she said.
The candidates were asked what they believed to be the second most critical crime to address in the county.
Lipfird said “anything involving children,” including drugs, domestic violence and abuse. Teagle said the abuse of the elderly, burglaries and thefts were other areas. Lunsford said there is no “second best” crime to address because most are drug related.
Blas agreed crimes involving children are important to him. “that is the worst thing where a child is being abused or mistreated,” he said, citing programs he and Teagle had implemented through the Evarts Police Department.
Stines said “Harlan County has been hemorrhaging” by white collar crimes and those must be investigated, adding she would develop a special program to address this type of crime.
Smith said he would make it a priority to investigate those who are “pushing drugs” and keeping people addicted.
On several occasions some of the candidates said they would target increased patrols throughout the county. However, Lipfird said the size of the county, budget restrictions and constitutional duties often hamper the best of efforts.
In what could possibly have been the most controversial remark of the evening, Smith commented during his closing remarks that “we don’t have time to make movies in Harlan County…”
Lipfird had already spoken and was not able to respond to the remark during the forum, but earlier had noted that the sheriff’s office is responsible for much more than “just the law enforcement. He said tax collections, protecting the courts, servicing the courts’ subpoenas and other orders take a lot of time.
A question was posted to each candidate about what should happen with the $500,000 set aside as a result of a drug investigation of two Nashville, Tenn., doctors.
Teagle noted that it should be put toward crime prevention and drug prevention programs and education efforts for kids. Lunsford said “that is dirty money.”
Blas said “it is amazing we don’t always have the answers… The answer would have to come from you (the citizens).”
Stines said she had pondered that question for months, saying a center called “The Hearts of Harlan” should be established to allow for health care, exercise, swimming and others venues to meet community needs.
Smith cautioned the money is not a large pot so it can’t be split to make a difference. He said it should be allocated for efforts to educate youth on the dangers of drugs and addiction. He said the message must be presented to area youth.
Lipfird said he believes the money should be used as it was earmarked by the court for efforts to alleviate the drug problem through the education of children from a young age up.