Lawmen Stump for Top Cop Spot

Candidates for Fairfield County Sheriff at a recent Chamber of Commerce forum: Will Montgomery, Ricky Gibson, Odell Glenn, Keith Lewis and John Seibles.

WINNSBORO – All five candidates running for Fairfield County Sheriff answered questions in a forum at the Winnsboro Woman’s Club on Sept. 18. Participating were Ricky Gibson, a Fairfield County school resource officer; Odell Glenn, a Richland County investigator; Keith Lewis, the Chief Deputy of Fairfield County; Will Montgomery, a Richland County deputy; and John Seibles, a Major in the Town of Winnsboro Department of Public Safety. Although a set of questions had been sent to the candidates in advance by the event’s sponsor, the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce, moderator Tyler Cup, after asking the candidates to introduce themselves, began with a question from a member of the audience.

What is the one thing that will change in the Sheriff’s office if you are elected Sheriff?

Seibles said the Sheriff’s office would better connect with the residents. “People need to trust us,” he said, and talked about ways to gain their trust, something he said he does in his job and in his neighborhood.

Lewis agreed that communication “is one of the biggest issues in every sheriff’s office in the country. If I do become Sheriff,” Lewis said, “I plan to meet at least every quarter with residents in one of the seven county districts and ask that district’s Council representative to go with me. We need to work together with the community.”

Glenn said he would fully invest in the community and families and put programs in place to assist families. He said that when kids get in trouble, families don’t always know what to look for or how to deal with their kids’ problems.

Gibson said resource allocation would change. “Management of our manpower is insufficient.” He suggested split shifts, “so there is a minimum of four people covering an area at all times.”

Montgomery said he would put more manpower on the roads by cutting the county into three areas (east, middle and west) and assign deputies to each of those districts and hold them accountable to each district.

Asked their thoughts on spousal abuse and what they could do about it, Lewis said his department currently works closely with Sistercare to give victims of domestic abuse a way out. “It often gets back to economics,” Lewis said. “They are locked in and don’t have any place to go. We need to open up the doors to help them.” Lewis also said that while his deputies make domestic violence arrests every day, about 75 percent of the cases are dropped to a simple assault charge or end up in a lower court where nothing is done.

Glenn agreed that victims of domestic abuse are often trapped and don’t have the financial ability to get out. He called for more victim services outlets and a better way to report domestic abuse.

Gibson, a pastor, called for better education for women and, “We need to tap into the church with this issue,” he said. He also said business and industry are sometimes reluctant to come in when the crime rate is high.

Montgomery said he would train deputies to know how to handle a domestic abuse case. “You must have the evidence to make a case.” He said it is also important to educate the public to report domestic abuse.

Seibles said South Carolina is No. 2 in domestic violence and that, if elected Sheriff, he would connect with pastors in the community. “That would make our job a lot easier. We need community leaders with a spiritual side.”

Fairfield County has been open and transparent with the public in the past. If you become Sheriff, will you continue this openness?

Glenn stressed the importance of transparency in the Sheriff’s office. “There is no reason for (the public) to not know what we’re doing. Transparency will be my Job No. 1,” Glenn said.

Gibson, too, said transparency would be the order of the day if he is elected Sheriff. “I believe there are times, such as an ongoing investigation, when we cannot be open about something,” Gibson said. “But after it’s over, we must open up. Transparency is better served when we realize we should be held to a higher level.”

Seibles agreed with Glenn and Gibson on the importance of transparency in the Sheriff’s office and said, “If the citizens trust you enough, I think they will know that we will let every bit of information out that we can.”

Lewis also championed transparency, saying, “When you’re using taxpayers’ money, they have a right to know what’s going on.” He also said when (law enforcement) makes a mistake, they must admit it openly. “A Sheriff’s only as good as his Indians,” Lewis said, adding that the Sheriff must lead by example. “If the Sheriff treats the public right, his men are going to see that and treat the public right.”

Montgomery said he thought transparency was important, but side-stepped the transparency question, and instead referenced his boss, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, saying he had watched Lott gain the trust of the community and was part of that. “We have to have unity in the community. Without that we don’t have nothing.”

Why do you think you are the best man for the job of Fairfield County Sheriff?

Gibson said he would bring common sense to the job. “I will be open, no hidden agendas. I can motivate the workers to do better. I will come out and talk to the people and address their concerns. We must hold ourselves above reproach. I want this job because I know what I can do,” Gibson said.

Montgomery said this is his third time to run for the office. “I really want it,” he said. “It’s my life-long goal. I’m a proven leader. My education speaks for itself. I was there for my people (in Richland County) and I’ll be there for you. I’m a hard worker.”

Seibles said he is not looking for a job or a career. “I have a heart to serve and this is a way of life for me.” He referenced his spiritual faith, his closeness to the community and his ability to build trust. He expressed confidence in his ability to carry out the duties of the office of Sheriff and rested his trust in God. “It’s truly an honor to serve the community. I’m very thankful for that opportunity.”

Glenn said he was the best choice for Sheriff because of his 20 years of leadership experience, management skills, being in charge of large organizations and making decisions that can mean life or death. “Being a crime victim myself made me want to go into law enforcement,” Glenn said. “I will be the Sheriff you can depend on to be in your community and in your neighborhood. I will bring energy and advanced skills. I know how to make the tough decisions.”

Lewis said, “It’s hard for me to stand up here and say I’m a better candidate than these men. They are all good people. But let me tell you what I can about me.” He said there’s more to being Sheriff than the duties of the office. “It’s the responsibility of the Sheriff to help assure that the County is a productive, healthy, safe place to live,” and he said Fairfield County is on the doorstep of economic growth and that the crime rate plays a big role in economic development. “Our crime rate is 34 percent, one of the lowest in the state and better than some of the surrounding counties. In the next two years we could become one of the best law enforcement agencies in the state.”

A second forum for the Sheriff candidates was held last evening in Ridgeway. The special election for Sheriff will be held this Tuesday, Sept. 30.