Democratic candidates for the job of Gila County Sheriff Ray Van Buskirk and Craig Jones have taken nearly opposite policy viewpoints over their Republican challengers Darrell Stubbs and Adam Shepherd – but disagree with one another about very little.
Both Democrats cite morale as the biggest issue facing the sheriff’s office. The Republican candidates cite the budget.
Van Buskirk and Jones say they want to swap out the jail’s commander Major Jim Eskew. Shepherd said he would “absolutely” keep Eskew.
Moreover, Van Buskirk and Jones say they do not believe resources are split evenly between and northern and southern county communities – while the Republican candidates have not directly addressed that question.
Not all of the Democratic candidate’s beliefs run parallel.
Van Buskirk says he plans to clean house once he is sheriff, replacing all exempted command staff and vacating the administrative assistants position. He also has decisive plans on what needs to change to run the office more smoothly.
Jones, on the other hand, has taken a more wait-and-see approach.
Voters have until Aug. 28 to cast ballots for the primary election. The general election follows on Nov. 4.
Morale, morale, morale
Both Van Buskirk and Jones say employee morale is lagging in the sheriff’s office.
Van Buskirk also believes the public has a low opinion of the office.
“I feel that both of these go hand in hand,” he said. “In order to improve the public perception of the sheriff’s office, we must simultaneously improve employee morale. Once morale improves, employees will feel good about themselves and the job they do, which translates into better service for the taxpayer and improves the public’s perception of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.”
Jones mirrored this sentiment.
“I believe the biggest issue at the office is morale,” he said. “I will address this by giving the deputies and civil personnel the training that they need to do the job well. I will also reward for a job well done when an employee deserves a pat on the back.”
The budget can have a big impact on morale.
Both Democrats admit they do not have experience managing an $11 million budget, yet neither plans to hire someone from the outside to help.
Both plan to utilize staff, such as the undersheriff and finance officer.
“I won’t run outside for help, but rather work closely with experienced personnel I have in the office and work hard with the county finance officer to get a budget that will allow the sheriff’s office to run efficiently,” Jones said.
Once an assistant fire chief, Van Buskirk has more experience with large budgets
“ I will not need to hire outside the agency because I expect my under-sheriff to assist in the performance of those duties,” he said.
While they might lack large budget experience, both men plan to restructure finances –Van Buskirk more vocally than any other candidate.
“I have plans to make sweeping changes across the board in the Gila County jails, criminal investigation units, narcotics task force, K-9 program, lake operations, rural area coverage and patrol deputies traveling great distances from their residence to their patrol area,” he said. “I do not anticipate any budget cuts, unless I can eliminate positions in the administration division that are redundant.”
Jones said he would like to make cuts in the number of contracted employees, but beyond that, “I will have to be elected to determine what we can and cannot cut.”
North vs. South
Neither Republican candidate would say resources are not split evenly around the county; instead, they stressed putting resources where they are needed most, regardless of geographic location.
Van Buskirk was more direct.
“No, I do not currently feel that the finances are split evenly between Payson and Globe,” he said. “My opinion on this may change once further information is obtained.”
Jones said he did not know enough to say resources are split equally.
“As far as personnel, I believe the budget is used where the personnel are needed most,” he said.
A large part of the sheriff’s $11 million budget goes toward jail operations.
Van Buskirk said he would like to replace Jail Commander Jim Eskew with a person that has more than 20 years experience in the Arizona Department of Corrections.
“I would task the new jail commander to improve morale of detention staff,” he said. “I would encourage my jail commander to implement programs to reduce recidivism and to educate inmates and prisoners. I would also like to see programs that allow the inmates to serve our county and communities by participating in work crews throughout Gila County supervised by detention officers.”
Programs include forming a brush abatement/wildfire crew to help rural communities with fire suppression.
Again, Jones said he would decide if the jail is running efficiently once elected.
Jones, however, said he would also do away with Eskew.
“I feel he has done a job to the best of his ability,” he said. “This is one change I feel is due.”
Neither Democrat would say who they plan to bring in as their second in command or chief deputy, but Van Buskirk said he would eliminate the administrative secretary position to save taxpayer dollars.
He also plans to replace almost all of the current exempted command staff.