(Above) More than 150 people attended the political forum at the 4-H Fairgrounds Wednesday. Seated, facing crowd, are Democratic Party candidates for sheriff, Rob Gambill and Steve Bell. Frank Phillips, editor of The Brazil Times (standing), served as moderator.
(Bottom) Frank Phillips of The Brazil Times, Marvin Schopmeyer of Clay County Farm Bureau, Mitch Chalos of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce and Marshall Nuckols of Clay County Farm Bureau planned Wednesday's political forum at the 4-H Fairgrounds.
With primary elections less than a week away, the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for Clay County Sheriff have found very few major issues to disagree over.
When they took the floor at the candidates forum at the Clay County 4-H Fairgrounds Wednesday, both men cited the methamphetamine epidemic as their primary concern. They also agreed on the potential benefits of a work release program for select county inmates and seconded each other on the importance of cooperating with volunteer fire departments.
But when it came to a discussion of the brand of leadership the sheriff's department needs, Steve Bell and Rob Gambill finally found something they could argue about.
Bell, a former corrections officer who also logged several years as a Clay County Sheriff's Deputy, said the department would benefit from a leader with fresh perspectives and administrative experience -- not a veteran deputy ready for promotion.
Bell said his varied resume would be better suited to the office than that of Gambill, whose experience is largely restricted to duties within the sheriff's department.
"I can see beyond that box. I don't have that tunnel vision," Bell said.
Gambill shot back, arguing that the county's escalating drug problem demands a hands-on leader. "We need a sheriff who can lead on the front lines of the war on drugs and the fight against crime, not from behind a desk," he said.
The discussion also revealed minor differences between the two candidates regarding high-speed pursuits -- Gambill said they should only be carried out with extreme caution and by highly-trained officers, while Bell pledged to eliminate them altogether -- and the use of reserve deputies.
Bell acknowledged the vital role the county's reservists play in certain areas of law enforcement but questioned whether they are qualified to fulfill the full spectrum of an academy-trained deputy's duties.
"I think you deserve to have a professional deputy answer your call," he told audience members.
"These are highly-trained professionals," countered Gambill, who said reserve deputies often respond to calls when no academy-certified officers are available.
"(A) deputy can't be everywhere at once," he said. "You may want your call answered by an academy-trained officer, but you want an officer to arrive (in a) timely (manner) also."
Despite their contention on a few key points, Bell and Gambill made it clear that the race for the Democratic nod for sheriff is a friendly one. The opponents affirmed their friendship with a handshake near the end of the forum.
"I think Rob is a good officer, a good opponent and a good man, and I appreciate him," Bell said.
The winner in the May 2 primary will square off against Republican incumbent Mike Heaton and Independent candidate Larry Pierce in the Nov. 7 general election.
Pierce is the only current candidate with a victory in a Clay County Sheriff's race under his belt (he was elected to the office in 1990 and re-elected in 1994). Heaton was appointed to the post by a Republican caucus in March 2005 after the departure of then-Sheriff Rob Carter.
The forum Wednesday night at the 4-H Fairgrounds was attended by more than 150 people and sponsored by The Brazil Times, Clay County Farm Bureau and the Clay County Chamber of Commerce.