PICKENS COUNTY—Candidates for Pickens County Sheriff engaged in a fiery debate Tuesday night on a range of issues from gun control to budgets, technology and even how the sheriff’s office could help with school dropout rates.
But, the hottest topics included criticism of the current sheriff’s office with Republican Rick Clark saying too many employees of the sheriff’s department are drawing from their retirement accounts while working in the sheriff’s office, and petition candidate Stan Whitten said a change in leadership is needed after 43 years of Sheriff David Stone. Current Pickens County Assistant Sheriff Tim Morgan, also a petition candidate, responded throughout the night questioning the validity of several of the other two candidates’ statements.
“I’ve done every function at that office over time except fly the helicopter and be an ID officer,” Morgan said during Tuesday’s debate at Easley First Wesleyan Church. “I’ve been involved with the hiring, firing, and internal investigations. I’ve been in a police shooting. I’ve investigated police shootings. I’ve been in a pursuit, and I’ve investigated pursuits. When it’s all said and done I’ve been at that office because it’s my passion.”
Whitten said the new sheriff needs to be a better leader than Pickens County has had in the past. Current Sheriff David Stone is leaving office next year after he was defeated by Clark in the Republican Primary.
“The difference between a supervisor and a leader is that a supervisor is going to sit behind a desk and they’re going to leave their sleeves rolled down, tell you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it,” said Whitten. “A leader is going to roll their sleeves up, get out there with you and inspire you.”
Clark agreed that changes need to be made in the sheriff’s office.
“I do know that this retired sheriff’s office system is not working for us,” said Clark. “We’ve had crime increases since 2000. Violent crime (has gone up) 62 percent, aggravated assault 68 percent, property crime is up 77 percent, burglary is up 80 percent. I do know that that is not working for us.”
Morgan said the other candidates “don’t know what they don’t know” several times.
“It’s easy to say what you can do, what you will do, or what you’re going to do, but you don’t know the information that you don’t know,” said Morgan.
Clark said the current sheriff’s administration does know the retirement system.
“That’s where we’re at in this county,” said Clark. “People have been retired for over a decade in this area, so they know what they know, and that is the retirement system. I get very excited about the sheriff’s office and what we can do.”
Morgan fired back, saying he is currently drawing from his retirement account, but is not retired. Morgan stated that his experience should speak for itself.
“If you wanted to work at the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, why didn’t you work there?” asked Morgan. “How can somebody come in from the outside and manage when they don’t know what they don’t know?”
Whitten also said that other police agencies in the county should be turning to the sheriff’s office for resources.
“I believe the Pickens County Sheriff’s office needs to be the premiere agency in this county, (and the one that) all other agencies turned to for resources,” said Whitten. “We need somebody up there that can lead these deputies from the front.”
Clark agreed with Whitten’s philosophy of being more involved with the community.
“The new sheriff needs to be on the ground with his deputies, telling them where to go and what to do,” said Clark. “I do know that we have great people at the sheriff’s office, and what they can do if we give them the tools, the opportunities, and the motivation. We need to give them the ability to move forward, clear out some retirees, and give them a chance to earn their own promotion.”
Morgan, who has worked in the sheriff’s office for 35 years, said he would give the people something different if he was elected.
“I’ve been in the office for a long time,” said Morgan. “I’ve been the number two guy since 1990. I’ve been bound by the shackles of operating within the parameters of being the number two guy. Only (the voters) can promote me to the number one guy.”
The candidates shared a passion for gun rights, and increasing technology. All three discussed citizens’ rights to bear arms, and how they would encourage local residents to be proactive in their own safety. Both Whitten and Clark said the sheriff’s office was in need of several technological updates, and Whitten also discussed dropout rates in Pickens County schools.
“School administrators need to let the sheriff’s office know who the at-risk students are,” said Whitten. “It lets the sheriff’s office get involved in intervention with the parents. We need to understand that our children are the future in this county, and we have to do everything we can to make sure they get to that point nicely.”
To view the debate on video, visit www.pcvotes.com.