Sheriff's candidates visit Coalition

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Election hopefuls discuss issues

By Jim Clark
The three Republican candidates for sheriff appeared Monday at the State Road 200 Coalition meeting, and incumbent Chris Blair had to defend his operation of the office after attacks by challengers Billy Woods and Kerry Crawford.
Democratic candidate Dennis McFatten attended, but did not take part in the forum. Once the Republican nominee is selected, the Coalition will hold another forum with the finalists.
Woods, a 26-year veteran of the Ocala Police Department, led off, as each candidate had 10 minutes to speak.
“I do believe it’s time for a change,” he told the audience at the Collins Center in TimberRidge.
He started by criticizing Blair for bringing back some longtime administrators. “Each $100,000 would fund three deputies.”
He also criticized the $160,000 paid for a Homeland Security deputy, saying the position wasn’t needed.
Woods urged the implementation of body cameras, but said they are only needed on about 128 officers, not the 450 that were proposed.
He criticized the dismantling of several units, including traffic. He said it was time to “bring back the basics.”
He questioned the effectiveness of the kiosks which the sheriff is placing throughout the county, and also criticized the elimination of the DARE (drug abuse resistance education) program in the schools.
In light of recent events involving a deputy whose alleged misconduct forced the dropping of several cases, Woods said the office needed “to build trust with the state attorney’s office.”
“I do not support privatization of the jail. You lose your control.”
Next came Kerry Crawford, a retired law officer with 31 years with the Sheriff’s Office and five with OPD.
“My experience is at the administrative level. I understand the community dynamics.
We don’t need on the job training,” an apparent dig at Woods, who has never worked for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re dealing with a failed administration. We need trust and integrity,” he said.
He said statistics show the department performed below average the first half of last year, the latest figures available.
He said there needed to be a “Reorganization of supervisors. We need teamwork and a return to quality, not quantity.”
He said the theme of the Sheriff’s Office should be “Service not politics.”
Blair came next, saying there were a “lot of things we had to do to make things work.”
He said there were “20 less supervisors than when I arrived.”
He defended the use of specialty teams, citing a recent arrest that took heroin off the streets. “If you don’t have specialty teams, then crime is going to climb.”
He also explained that the kiosks were installed at “no cost to taxpayers.” He said the program is “going national.”
Answering the abolition of the DARE program, he said the two DARE officers came to him “and said it’s not working.” He added there is a new program involving students making their own videos that has been introduced into the schools.
He referred to accounts of beatings, including a public one that ended last week with the acquittal of a deputy. “I will not tolerate illegal activities.”
In speaking about his opponents, he commented, “Both these gentlemen have not been in the position I’m in.”
Blair said that he believed “people should be armed.”
He referred to his rocky start with the County Commission, especially on budget items, saying, “I believe our relationship with the commission is better.”
A question and answer period produced questions about the traffic, with the expected answers.
One lady caused a stir when she asked, “If Bernie Sanders becomes president, would you come to take our guns?” All three candidates assured her that they supported the Second Amendment and would defend it.
A major candidate forum for all offices is being planned for Wednesday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at the Reilly Arts Center, the former city auditorium at the north end of Tuscawilla Park. It is put on by the Marion Coalition for Effective Government.
The Coalition, which meets the second Monday of the month, will have school candidates, both for the board and for superintendent