Edgar County voters have only one contested race on the local ballot for the Nov. 6 election.
Incumbent Democrat Sheriff Jeff Wood and Republican challenger Tom Dolan met in a forum to answer questions Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Tingley Event Center. The Prairie Press sponsored the event.
During opening comments, Wood recounted he knows the county well after working as a full-time officer for 29 years.
“It’s been a career for me,” said Wood. “I’ve seen a lot of good and bad.”
Dolan explained growing up across from the sheriff’s department in his hometown always inspired him to be a police officer. He followed a different track as an adult and started working in law enforcement part-time within the last 10 years. He is currently employed by Ridge Farm and Georgetown in Vermilion County, and told the audience he can bring his business management experience to the role of sheriff.
Because of space constraints not every question posed to the candidates is included here.
The candidates were asked what the department can do about fighting the increasing number of burglaries.
Dolan said burglaries are often associated with drug addicts stealing to obtain money to finance their habit. He also suspects a coordinated effort exists on a bigger scale.
“I’d like to create an Edgar County Drug Task Force and a Burglary Task force,” said Dolan. “We could use part-time deputies to cover areas that have the most activity.”
Wood agreed drug use and theft are frequently hand-in-hand crimes. He noted with 730 square miles to cover, it is difficult to be in the right place and the right time to foil a burglary in progress.
“Burglars and thieves don’t work on a schedule,” said Wood, adding rural residents installing trail cameras or other security devices are a great asset for obtaining the evidence needed to make arrests.
Another question noted Edgar County has limited financial resources so what is the balance between what the public thinks the department should do and what is feasible?
Wood said the department does the best it can to stay within the budget and during his four years as sheriff he has pursued grants and donations to help augment the funds.
Dolan said staying within budget is important and doing so is a management and administrative issue.
The Paris Police Department occasionally backs up a deputy needing assistance but deputies cannot always respond timely if the police department needs help. What can be done to improve staffing?
Both candidates noted the Paris Police Department has several officers and patrols a much smaller area.
Dolan said to address the manpower issues he will patrol and provide backup. He also called for more use of part-time deputies as a cost effective way to get put people on the road, and he advocated creating an auxiliary force with limited power to help with traffic control at accidents.
Wood already patrols and said while the use of part-time deputies sounds good, the reality is the union contract limits their use when full-time deputies are available.
The candidates were asked if they support conceal carry of firearms by citizens and if Edgar County should declare itself a sanctuary county against any laws passed that are perceived to limit citizens access to guns.
Both support the right for citizens to participate in conceal carry. Dolan said such people do not worry him because they have been vetted to get the permit. Wood added even with a carry permit people need to prepare for the legal and civil repercussion if that weapon is used against another person. He would like to see local sheriffs have more say in Illinois about who can obtain a permit.
They agreed the declaration of a sanctuary county is a symbolic gesture that has no legal authority and will not protect locals if the legislature passes a law some consider a firearms restriction. They also said as sworn officers they are bound to enforce all state statutes.
Does the department need a full-time detective?
Dolan said yes, noting the position was abandoned after the last full-time detective Greg Metcalf passed away. He claimed making deputies responsible for the own investigations has increased overtime costs.
Wood said the decision not to replace Metcalf was in response to the public asking the department to devote more resources for road patrol. While deputies do investigations, there is also specialization with one handling drug investigations and another sex crimes. He doubted a dedicated detective will do much to reduce overtime since the detective is subject to getting called out at all times when a crime occurs.
The county jail does not pass the state inspections. Do the candidates support building a new jail and will the community support that effort?
Both favor a new jail. Dolan said the effort will need a major community education component and will require the county board to look at ways to fund the project. He additionally claimed the administrative experience needed to shepherd such a massive project from beginning to end.
Wood said one of the first things he did as sheriff was attend a federally sponsored workshop on financing and building a new jail. He prefers a county 1 percent sales tax to fund a new jail’s construction and maintenance. According to Wood, Clark County passed such a tax and it generates approximately $1 million each year.
During closing comments, each candidate thanked the audience for attending and asked for support in the election.
“I’ve enjoyed the job of being sheriff, and I’d like to do it for another four years,” said Wood. “My experience is going to mean a lot.”
“I love patrol and working with other officers,” said Dolan. “I can be a good cop, and I have the experience to run things.”