By Will McClure
Last Thursday evening, Stamford residents got the chance to gain a better understanding of the candidates for Jones County Sheriff as the candidates were each faced with tough questions as election day draws closer. Sponsored by both the Stamford American and Stamford Star, residents were treated to refreshments, were able to meet with the candidates and write their questions on note cards which would be drawn, at random, by the candidates as they approached the podium and attempted to answer the tough questions posed by the public at large. Moderated by Stamford American owner and publisher Callie Metler-Smith, the candidates were informed that they would have a maximum of one and half minutes to answer the question that they drew and no questions would be taken directly from the audience throughout the event. Faced with questions ranging from what duties they will perform, to the interaction with other county agencies such as the commissioner's court and district attorney's office, to issues revolving around budget and even the reasons why they want to become Jones County Sheriff, the candidates would have to react quickly, but would be able to provide valuable information to Stamford residents who are faced with a tough decision for sheriff.
Through five passes, each candidate, with the exception of Matthew Duran who could not attend that evening, took a turn pulling a question, reading it and using their time to give a thoroughly explained answer. After five rounds of questioning, the candidates were given a short break before giving a short, three-minute speech on why they should be elected as sheriff. For simplicity, each candidate will be presented along with their own questions and final speech.
Greg Arnwine faced questions on his expectations on his main duties and how he will help improve the training of the departments and how the deputies will conduct themselves. Arnwine noted that he has served in law enforcement for the past 30 years and stated that, especially when he was a DPS trooper, that a level of professionalism is always important, whether the officer is on duty or off duty. He stated that they must always conduct themselves accordingly and hopes that he can bring a level of professionalism to the department, stating that he believes that his main duty is to make sure that all employees are doing their duty as they represent the sheriff's office. When posed a question about the jail staff, Arnwine said that training is important in order for the jail staff to be up to date in policies and maintaining the jail. He stated that he "would like to see outside people brought in to do training for the jailers, possibly get with the larger sheriffs' offices and see if we can borrow their jail administrator." This, along with possible online training to help save the county money, would help educate the jail staff as well as receive suggestions from other counties on improvements. He noted in later questions that the number one problem facing the sheriff is the growing theft and drug problems facing the county, but, if elected, would like to see every deputy possible out on patrol and be seen as much as possible in an effort to help reduce these crimes.
David George engaged in a first difficult question with regards to the recently passed open carry law, being asked what procedures his deputies would follow when encountering an armed citizen. George said that while there have been no major incidents regarding the new laws as of yet, he did say that it "depends on the attitude of the subject at the time. If we come up and they're agitated at all, we may consider disarming them. If they're calm, we deal with them as long as they're not reaching for [the gun], we leave them be. It just depends on the situation." George stressed the safety of the officers and that they will react according to the situation at hand, noting later that the office has well-trained employees, but would need to up their professionalism when dealing with the public. George also mentioned that, as sheriff, he would have no reason not to be able to step into any category when needed. Instead of always sitting behind a desk, he expressed that he wants to be out or in public, making himself known while also stepping in where needed, whether it is backing up deputies or taking calls. He stated that he wants the public to be able to get to know their sheriff and open that line of communication. George stated that neighbors need to be able to help each other and report suspicious behavior to the sheriff's office and a deputy will always be available to arrive. He also noted that the office does not need to spend a lot of money and can maintain the budget, even stressing his desire to push for as much free training as possible to free up the budget for other expenses.
Danny Jimenez, firmly behind his foundation based on God, family and treating others how they want to be treated in order to earn respect, fielded many questions based around the spending of the office along with creating a budget with the Commissioner's Court. Jimenez said that, if the budget is able to allow it, every vehicle will be equipped with everything a deputy will need to help enforce traffic laws. Jimenez, when asked how he would help propose a budget, said that he "had been helping the sheriff for the last five years running the day-to-day operations. We've cut the budget about all we can cut. We've cut just about all the unnecessary things that needed to be cut, but still stay within the budget and maintain the safety of the public." Jimenez would note later that there would be no extra money in the budget to play with and pay scales would be evaluated when looking at the salaries for the deputies. He also stated that it was the Commissioner’s Court who sets the deputies’ salaries. Jimenez also noted his desire to increase patrol and get more people aware of the sheriff's office in an effort to help reduce the amount of thefts in Jones County, saying that everyone needs to come together and work together to help combat these issues.
Clifton Morrison, who stated that his reasons for running for sheriff were that he had a "servant's heart" and had a "calling" to help the citizens of Jones County in this role, stepped up and expressed his desire to have a better relationship with the District Attorney's office, building off of a question on the poor working relationship. He said he believed that better education on both sides can help improve the issues as well as find common ground or an understanding on both sides, suggesting that the sheriff's office can help the District Attorney with cases. Along with seeing minor changes in how the office is run, such as possibly housing inmates from other jails to help reduce a tax burden, and seeing that all resources are being utilized with the vehicles, using more of the used, paid-for vehicles and avoid spending money on new ones, Morrison stated his three main goals as sheriff. He would say that "one of the goals that I would like to improve is the relationship with the people...we need to develop a better relationship. Another goal would be to continue improving whether it be with equipment or just improving our jail standards...and the third one being to maintain the budget."
Zachariah Soliz, who faced the question of why he was a Republican and answered that he felt like his values lined up more with the Republican party on certain issues, answered questions based on what experience he will bring and how the office will interact with the public. Citing his Bachelor's in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology, Soliz mentioned starting his career with the jail staff, eventually working his way up to deputy within Jones County, citing his familiarity with the systems and knowledge of the procedures, saying that he educated himself and has been working towards becoming sheriff for a long time. He stated that he would not hold an outside job and would serve as a full-time sheriff if elected. When speaking about the relationship between the deputies and citizens, Soliz said that "a lot of the officers grew up here. We are part the county, part of our city. We live here, we're your neighbors. Our kids go to school here. That's something we really want to push." Soliz finished his point by stating that this would be the foundation in building trust between the officers and the citizens, even saying that he would encourage meet and greets with the public and students in order for the citizens to become more familiar with those that protect them.
James Torres then expressed his answers on leadership and the budget. He mentioned that the office, under his supervision, would avoid spending the budget on extravagant things, but would focus on the things that are needed to help stay within the budget. Torres also expressed his desire to have the deputies be seen a lot more often, particularly having more patrols at night to help deter would-be criminals. As sheriff, he said that he would always strive to lead by example, saying that "in the 27 years I've been doing this, leaders set by example. If you want something done right, show your people how to do it and help then...I want to be able to assist everybody, even the departments that work for the cities and get along with everybody and show them we can all get along. Fire, EMS, everybody. We're all here to help somebody." Torres concluded by saying that it would be great to be able to have a program that will connect dispatch, the jail and deputies to help improve calls if the budget will allow it.
Finally, Robby Wedeking, a patrol sergeant with Slaton Police Department, would promise to be available to the citizens as sheriff 24 hours a day if needed as well as answering that the salary of the deputies is up to the Commissioner's Court while also answering the question of "cleaning house" if elected. Wedeking stated that everyone has experience and tenure, but would "do like any sheriff would do. The ones that are employed would need to reapply if they want to work. If they want a job, they show that by applying. I'd have an interview board set up and go through the hiring process that way."
As the evening drew to a close, it was clear that Stamford residents, along with the rest of Jones County, will have a tough choice ahead of them as each candidate was able to answer each question to the best of their ability and provide valuable information to potential voters. Residents will have another opportunity to hear from the candidates during a “Meet the Candidates" dinner on February 11 at the Lawrence Hall Activity Center at 6:00 pm. As election day draws closer, the information gathered from last Thursday night and next Thursday night will help voters decide who will be their new Jones County Sheriff.