CHARLES TOWN — Two Republicans will square off Tuesday to see which one will face Democrat Pete Dougherty to fill the two-year unexpired term of Jefferson County sheriff.
Doughtery, who was appointed to the position last year by the County Commission following the resignation of then-Sheriff Robert Shirley, is unopposed. Republicans Steven Sowers and Brian Parrish Sr. are vying for that party’s nomination.
Sowers, a lifelong resident of Jefferson County, said he’d give the job all of his effort and then some, if elected.
“I don’t think most people know what the sheriff does, like collecting taxes,” Sowers said. “He can be the most hated man in the county. He has multiple hats. Doesn’t matter. I’ll give the job 110 percent.”
The sheriff’s responsibilities include tax collection, serving as bailiff of a magistrate court, overseeing courthouse security and animal control. The sheriff’s department has 26 deputies with 27 volunteer reserve deputies. The department covers 212 square miles.
Sowers said he wants to find ways to generate more revenue for the county. He said he will meet with county commissioners regularly so they know how much money is available.
One way to save money would be to have a satellite academy to train law enforcement personnel in Jefferson County, Sowers said.
“It costs about $8,000 to send someone to the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute,” he said. “People are away from their families and there is wear and tear on getting back and forth to the academy. With the satellite academy, we could have pre-employment hiring. We would have certified, better qualified people.”
Sowers said he is passionate about training. He works at the Regional Jail in Frederick County, Va. He is a certified instructor with the Department of Criminal Justice Services, a field training coordinator and was Assistant Training Coordinator for the Rappahannock Criminal Justice Academy. He will be working with the Department of Natural Resources on a hunter safety project so he can train young people to prevent hunting accidents.
“I believe those in the sheriff’s department are civil servants of the county,” he said. “I’d like our deputies and reserves to check on the elderly to make sure they’re protected and doing okay.
Sowers said, if elected, he would not spend much time in the office. “If I become sheriff, you’ll always see me on the road. I want to be out there talking to people. If you have a question, I’ll find out the answer,” he said.
Parrish, who has been a Ranson resident for 38 years, said that drugs are a serious problem in the county.
“I have so many friends who have lost children to drugs,” he said. “It takes too long to get drug pushers off the street. People know where drug houses are. Jefferson County needs its own drug task force,” he said.
He said he is also concerned that response time in the county is much too slow.
“There was a domestic dispute in our neighborhood, and it took 45 minutes for law enforcement to respond,” he said, adding more information on calls the department responds to should also be available.
“When the sheriff reports on calls and responses, he just gives bits and pieces of information,” Parrish said. “The public has the right to know what crimes are actually happening. Lay it out for the public and give details on the calls. You can’t ask for more help — personnel or funding — if you don’t know what you’re responding to.”
Parrish spent 19 years in the military, serving in Desert Storm, Bosnia and Kosovo. He was wounded in Afghanistan and retired.
“I believe my military training gives me a leg up,” he said. “I have leadership skills I can use to help guide those around me. And, no phone call will go on deaf ears. No problem is too small.”
Dougherty of Charles Town said his background “of broad and proven experience” has helped him handle the many tasks the department entails.
“I have been responsible for budgets in a variety of organizations,” he said. “I was president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., I’ve been a probation and parole officer, I’ve been a magistrate, am past president of the West Virginia Magistrates Association and have worked with politicians like Harley Staggers, Jr., and Jay Rockefeller.”
He said people have the right to demand more of their public servants.
“People want someone capable,” Dougherty said. “Someone willing to make the right decisions. I didn’t come in here to clean house. I want to make the office run the most effective way possible.”
Dougherty said he worked to change shift schedules to get more manpower out on the road. He restructured the investigations office, re-instituted a formal evaluation process for law enforcement staff and increased training.
Dougherty is also responsible for overseeing a comprehensive training program for reserve deputies, who are volunteers. The volunteers completed more than 7,000 hours of training so they can assist law enforcement deputies at accident scenes and community events.
“We are reorganizing, dividing the county into three sectors so the deputies are more familiar with areas and can respond more quickly,” he said.
Dougherty said he hopes to have a Computer Aided Dispatch system in the fall. He said budget cuts have been a major problem.
“We lost $300,000,” he said. “We have not been able to get new vehicles, and the laptop computers we have need to be replaced.”