Candidates for Gila County sheriff duked it out last week at a Tea Party debate about stopping illegal immigration and using contract workers.
The competition among four former sheriff’s office employees remains one of the most hotly contested races in the county. On Thursday, the debate included Democrat Craig Jones and Republicans Darrell Stubbs and Adam Shepherd. Democrat Ray Van Buskirk pulled out at the last minute, said Tea Party organizers.
In a packed, two-hour debate at Tiny’s Restaurant, the candidates politely took turns outlining how they would run the office.
While the men share similar policy ideas, they differ significantly in their approaches and experience.
All agreed they would take a conservative line when managing the department’s $11 million budget, the largest expenditure in the county’s $37 million general fund.
As the Gila County Sheriff’s Office undersheriff for seven years, Shepherd said he has the most experience managing a budget that size. Shepherd said he managed the patrol budget, applied for grants and negotiated a contract with the Town of Star Valley for police coverage.
Therefore, Shepherd said he would not need to hire someone to help him with the budget.
Jones and Stubbs, who admitted they had never handled that much money, said they would hire someone to oversee the budget, freeing them up to work with the public and deputies.
“I am going be busy being the sheriff and I have to know about the budget, what is going on, but I am going to have someone who knows how to do that, that is their job and they are going to work on it full time to make sure we get the most bang for our buck,” Stubbs said, “because I am not going to have time to work on the budget every day.”
Jones said he would use his experience running a small business and the help of a financial adviser to wrangle every drop out of the budget.
Going after grants and eliminating unnecessary spending would top Jones’ list.
Stubbs said he could save money by cutting down on the miles officers drive needlessly. For example, if a deputy lives in Payson, they should not drive to work in Globe every day. And the office could use smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, especially when serving civil papers.
With all the money Stubbs plans to save, he says he would hire more officers.
Shepherd said he doesn’t believe the budget is out of control and cuts are likely not necessary.
“I will work with what I got,” he said. “There are things we have to fund, but I am conservative and understand you are paying for it, so I will keep my eye on it.”
Stubbs ran and lost for sheriff four years ago and is now up against Shepherd for the Republican nomination.
Should the county use contractors?
When asked if the county should use contract employees, the men took opposite stances.
Shepherd said the department benefits from the use of contractors, who are often retired sheriff personnel.
“The expertise that you have with someone who has worked a job for all of their life, you can’t let that sail down the road,” he said. “If they want to come back and work for you under a contract situation, you can’t hardly not do it because you save so much money.”
Shepherd said since contractors don’t get benefits and get paid at a lower rate, it makes them a bargain. The issue arose, in part, because a top sheriff’s official recently retired and came back on contract, collecting both the contract fee and her retirement pay.
Stubbs on the other hand said the department doesn’t need contractors. The office should train new employees rather than hiring back retirees.
“That does not save us money when we hire two people to do their job and paying salary and benefits and bring another person on to help. We should have trained the person right the first time,” Stubbs said.
Jones said he would also examine the number of contractors. If possible, he would have more people cross-trained so the office does not need their services.
Crackdown on illegal immigration
All the candidates agreed illegal immigration poses a serious problem in the county. The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned most of the controversial SB 1070, although it left intact a provision that authorized local police to check on the immigration status of people detained for other reasons. However, the court’s ruling suggested the local police couldn’t hold the detainees longer than necessary to resolve the other charges while waiting for federal immigration officials to respond.
Stubbs and Shepherd said they would have liked to see more of SB 1070 survive Supreme Court scrutiny, but will work to enforce the parts of the law still standing.
Currently, the sheriff’s office does not look for illegal immigrants. When a deputy comes across an illegal immigrant during a traffic stop, for example, he works with immigration officials to get him identified and deported.
If immigration officials refuse to pick up the detainees, all of the candidates agreed the sheriff’s office should still find a way to get the detainees deported.
Stubbs said he would buy an old school bus and truck illegal immigrants down to the federal immigration enforcement office in Florence and drop them off on the federal doorstep.
“If it was cost-efficient, I would take them to Washington to Obama’s house and drop them at his house,” Stubbs said.
Shepherd said being in the country illegally is already a crime.
“By being here illegally, they are breaking the law right there and we don’t have to wait for them to break no more laws,” he said. “It is criminal activity like anything else and I think it needs to be treated that way.”
Shepherd said he would not tolerate racial profiling, however, and has a zero tolerance policy for such actions.
Jones took the softest approach to illegal immigration among the candidates.
“I know there are those who are really trying to make a living and do better for themselves, but if they can’t do it legally, they will have to go back until they can,” he said.
Stubbs said while he is all for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s approach to illegal immigration, including running unannounced roundups at businesses, he said Gila County doesn’t have the money to support such initiatives.
“We need to take care of it, we need to go after it, but we need to do it within our budget,” he said. “I would like to have his money.”
All of the men have dealt with illegal immigration at some point as patrol officers.
They all also worked their way up the ranks.
Stubbs said when he worked for the office he saw officials get pay raises and new patrol vehicles while lower-level employees received nothing.
“I have been there, I have seen it, I have been a part of it,” he said.
Bringing equality to the office and giving deputies a voice is critical, he said.
Jones agreed, saying he would praise officers more for their hard work and would be more accessible to the public. If someone has a concern, they can call my cell, Jones said.
“I want this job from my heart,” he said. “ I know I am the best candidate.”
Shepherd said he has also worked at the bottom and near the top and knows morale has its highs and lows. He says he plans to give employees equal opportunities for advancement.
“I have been at the bottom, I have been at the middle, I have been near the top, I know all of those views,” he said. “The employees have a need to have access to opportunities in that office for advancement and the need to have meaningful input.”