|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
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Sheriff’s candidates face off at forum
Polk County Enterprise - February 2008
The board of the Indian Springs Property Owners Association played host to candidates for Precinct 4 Constable and Polk County Sheriff at their regular monthly meeting, Saturday, Feb. 9.
President Debbie Harlow acted as moderator during the open forum which had no time limits.
Bobby Key, who is running for Precinct 4 Constable, spoke briefly regarding his years of law enforcement service and qualifications for the position.
Precinct 4 Constable Marvin Taylor addressed the small crowd, recapping his job responsibilities and duties of the constable’s office.
Candidate Bubba Piper was unable to attend the forum.
Bobby Watson, Democratic candidate for sheriff, told the property owners that if you are “an elected official with a manpower problem you need to get up and do the work yourself.”
Watson said he has heard there are problems with loose animals and pedophiles in Polk County and he thinks we need someone who can take care of these things. He concluded with, “I can’t tell you how I’m going to get it done, you’ll just have to watch and trust me to get it done.”
Watson was asked by a member of the audience if he knew the annual budget of the sheriff’s office and he replied that he did but did not elaborate.
Another question posed to Watson was what he would do about sheriff’s deputies “hiding behind stop signs to catch speeders.” Watson’s reply was that deputies shouldn’t “stalk stop signs - it’s some form of entrapment.”
Sheriff candidate Gary McClendon approached the podium as the forum momentarily dissolved into a back-and-forth discussion between property owners about burglaries and whether or not sheriff’s deputies ever respond to calls from Indian Springs.
McClendon opened by saying he had heard subdivisions aren’t being patrolled regularly and he would find out why. He suggested using a reserve force of volunteer peace officers to patrol on an unpaid basis. McClendon would also “verify each call that came into the sheriff’s office to make sure they were being handled properly so that he can take full responsibility and blame.”
McClendon echoed a sentiment he expressed at the Escapee’s political forum; as sheriff, he would work closer with the parole office. “The parole office never has anyone asking for assistance to get criminals off the streets.” He also expressed some concern about deputies taking home patrol vehicles and said that practice may have to stop in order to implement a reserve patrol force.
McClendon said he has the same philosophy as fellow candidate Bobby Watson that if necessary the sheriff should “get out and do the work yourself.”
“The administration we’ve got should be working more than 40 hours a week,” said McClendon.
During the public question portion of McClendon’s time he was asked about calls to the sheriff’s office being prioritized. McClendon responded that every call is important. Then, speaking to concerns raised earlier in the forum regarding problems with stray animals in Indian Springs, McClendon suggested deputies carry collapsible cages and poles and be trained to catch stray dogs.
Moderator Debbie Harlow then told the crowd that McClendon has taken an active role on the I-Town Internet message board and asked if the animal shelter should be under the authority of the sheriff’s office. McClendon felt that it should be so that he “could monitor procedures and make sure policy is being carried out.”
Someone else in the audience then asked what would be the point of having two animal control officers if he (McClendon) wanted deputies to control the animal population. McClendon explained that the deputies respond to calls then forward the information to Animal Control who then has the animal picked up.
When asked if he is currently a peace officer, McClendon replied that he is not but will regain his license soon.
Sheriff Kenneth Hammack was the final candidate to speak and he began by countering the points of his competitors. Hammack reminded everyone that Polk County has nearly 250 subdivisions and while Indian Springs is one of the larger subdivisions, the problems its residents raise are not unique.
Hammack explained the procedure for logging calls to the sheriff’s office and told the crowd that he does not go over every single call because it would be impossible; however, he does do random checks.
Regarding the problem of sex offenders within the county, Hammack said that those who are registered in Polk County are listed on the sheriff’s office website and that any calls or complaints regarding sex offenders are handled by Elllen Tucker who passes them to CID for follow-up.
With wild dogs and feral cats among the primary concerns of the Indian Springs property owners in attendance at Saturday’s meeting, Sheriff Hammack addressed the issue of crowding at the county animal shelter. In 2005, the county was housing over 240 animals and the cost of euthanizing those animals jumped from $5 per animal to $12-$14 in a few months time and the shelter had to be closed because of the enormous expense. The Houston Human Society took all of the animals but Hammack’s office received lots of complaints and took a lot of heat over the issue, said Hammack. “But we were not going to reopen the shelter without a plan in place to operate and handle the animals effectively.” Hammack then said that he does not think the sheriff’s office should be responsible for running an animal shelter. Hammack also told the group that anyone can come to the animal shelter and request a trap. Once the stray animal has been caught, animal control will come out and pick it and the trap up.
The sheriff briefly spoke about the crowding issue at the county jail saying that once the new facility is completed inmates will be moved, the current jail will be renovated and brought up to code and then re-opened for use. Hammack also addressed McClendon’s call to work more closely with parole by saying he would love to do so. He then told of having to hold offenders at the county’s expense for an indefinite period of time after they are picked up on outstanding warrants from other counties.
In reponse to an earlier question posed to Bobby Watson regarding deputies “hiding behind stop signs,” Hammack explained that there are marked patrol units out working traffic as part of the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP), for which the county applied and received a grant of $77,000 from TxDOT. Hammack said that the mileage and salaries of the officers working STEP are paid by the state not the county and that it is a side job that deputies do on their own time apart from their regular work schedule at the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff then spoke about his current budget of $3.7 million and said that he fights the budget battle every year with Commissioners Court and he will continue to ask for what he needs. Currently, the sheriff’s office has a total of 20 deputies and sergeants and 15 reserve officers. The problem with McClendon’s plan to use reserve officers is that we “can’t get them to come to work,” said Hammack.
“They only get to work 16 hours a month and because they have other jobs, pursuits and interests, it’s just not worth it to them,” said Hammack.