Trio of sheriff hopefuls debate

EASLEY — The three men who will face off in the November election for the chance to become Pickens County’s first new sheriff in more than 40 years debated the issues last Tuesday at First Wesleyan Church in Easley.
The debate was sponsored by, a public forum designed to encourage participation in the political process, First up to speak was Rick Clark, who carries with him the Republican nomination for the office. Clark defeated longtime incumbent sheriff David Stone in the Republican primary.
Stan Whitten, the second candidate to speak, is a former military policeman and current Greenville County master deputy.
Assistant Sheriff Tim Morgan, the third candidate, decided to seek the sheriff’s position after Stone was eliminated in the primary. Morgan had promised not to seek the office as long as Stone, the man who had trained and promoted him to his current position, held office.
Cliff Austin of ABATE served on the panel for the debate and opened the questions with “How do you feel about accepting federal grants?”
Morgan said the sheriff’s office already accepts federal funding for certain projects, such as an auto tag reader recently purchased using federal funds. Morgan noted that federal funds will be necessary in the coming months as the county will soon need a new prison.
Clark said he is a fiscal conservative but sometimes it comes to a decision between seeking funds from the local government, which is struggling to make ends meet, or the federal government. Clark said that in either case, he would make sure that the money was spent wisely and benefitted taxpayers.
Dr. Kelly Pew, superintendent of the School District of Pickens County, was also on the debate’s panel. She asked the candidates their views on the county’s resource officer programs in the schools.
Clark, noting that he is the only candidate who is also an firearms training instructor, said he would like to see the resource officers receive better firearms instruction.
“We do not have the training for shootings in schools,” Clark said.
Whiten said the sheriff’s department should have a very visual role in school. Whiten would like to see the camp for troubled children at Rocky Bottom revived.
Whitten said he applauds the district for offering “Alive at 25 Classes” and requiring a student passes the class before receiving a on-campus parking pass.
“We have great resource officers,” Morgan said.
Morgan noted that the resource officers did more than simply assure safety at schools. If a student seems to be going in the wrong direction, a resource officer will likely set up a “Knock and Talk” meeting with the parents and work together with them to prevent problems from growing.
As far as changes needed in the county, Morgan said the county needs tougher laws and regulations on pawn shops and scrap metal dealers. Morgan also said he would like to see laws pertaining to the commercial drug Sudafed, which is misused by addicts.
“I think that 90 percent of the people who use it would not mind getting a prescription for it,” Morgan said.
Clark said he wished the department would use more “intelligence-select” policing.
“Six percent of our population accounts for 60 percent of our crimes,” Clark said.
Clark said that at monthly meetings, what happened the previous month is discussed, but nothing is said about the kind of crimes most likely to occur in the coming months.
Whitten said he would like to see the size of the patrol areas reduced. Currently the county is divided into three patrol areas, he said. Whitten’s plan calls for eight smaller patrol areas.
Janelle Raines of the Pickens County Taxpayers Association asked what could be done to make the sheriff’s department budget more cost effective.
Whitten noted that the department’s proposed budget for this year is $9.2 million. Whitten said he would have to look at the budget to see where it could be trimmed.
“We need to make every effort to let people know how their money is spent,” Whitten said. “Perhaps the department is too top-heavy with too many Lieutenants.”
Morgan said he has been involved with the budget for many years and has learned that common sense often provides help.
Morgan noted that years ago, NASA spent a quarter of a million dollars to develop an ink pen that would write in space. The lack of gravity was keeping the ink inside the pen. Russia, on the other hand, simply started using pencils, Morgan noted.
Morgan said he examines each budget to make sure all tax money was being used properly, and county council had yet to send a proposed budget back for revisions.
Clark said his main concern was that the deputies are equipped for their fight against crime. But he felt the proper resources were already available.
“Let’s not fall into the hype of spending $100,000 when we have it right in front of us.,” Clark said.
In closing, Morgan shared his love for the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve done everything except fly the helicopter there,” Morgan said. “That’s my passion.”
Morgan said he’s been the number two man at the sheriff’s office, and hopes to break the “shackles” of being assistant sheriff.
Clark said he has had plenty of problems in seeking the sheriff’s office, including a legal challenge attempting to get him knocked off the ballot. However he had prevailed over that legal challenge.
“It is time officers had a sheriff who is leading the guys while standing right beside them,” Clark said. “The voters screamed for change in the primary.”
“I think and believe that the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office needs to be the primary office others can turn to,” Whitten said.