Two men running in November for Bollinger County sheriff met the public Monday night at a meeting sponsored by the Bollinger County Farm Bureau and the Grassy Neighborhood Watch Committee.
Republican candidate Darin Shell, who defeated incumbent Sheriff Leo McElrath in the August primary, will face independent candidate Stash Petton on Nov. 6.
Both candidates grew up in Bollinger County, and are now raising their families there. Both have experience and training in law enforcement. Both recognize the need to work well with other agencies in the county and the area.
"The sheriff is not just the sheriff," Shell said. "He has to work with fire departments, the police department, EMS, all three agencies. They have to work for a common goal, to serve you all with the best possible service."
At the outset of the meeting, Petton stated that he wanted to distance his candidacy from politics, so he is running as an independent.
"I'm not hiding anything," he said. "I've never voted one way or the other. I've voted for the one I thought would do the best job. In law enforcement you don't have the luxury of picking a side."
Both candidates are also friends and have worked together. They were seated together during the dinner before the meeting, and both have vowed to support whomever wins.
"He is a great man," Petton said of Shell. "Regardless of what comes we will maintain our friendship."
Both candidates pledge to stay connected with the people of the county, to be accessible and visible throughout the county.
"I plan to visit with the folks," Shell said. "I'll go eat lunch at Patton, Zalma, be out in the public regularly. I'll go to functions, basketball, volleyball, committees like this one. The sheriff has to be visible and be seen. He's not just a politician; he has to be a people sheriff."
Shell added that he would like to interact more with the schools and offer education sessions to the public.
Petton allowed that there really isn't much difference between the two. Both realize that the toughest problem they will face is having enough deputies who will stay once they're hired. Many leave for other counties that provide insurance and pay higher salaries. He recalled how in 2010, when told that the budget had been cut and a deputy had to be let go, he was directed to choose which one would leave. So he chose to resign instead, because "we need all the deputies we can get."
Shell said he would forge a relationship with the SEMO Drug Task Force to help fight the county's drug problem. Petton said he would like to bring back a drug dog like the one that helped the department make many drug arrests about 10 year ago.
Responding to Presiding Commissioner Travis Elfrink's question, Shell and Petton both said they would give the county commission the courtesy of an advance notice when they needed to make a major purchase, just to keep the lines of communication open. Elfrink said that the county board hears about purchases McElrath has made from talk in the community, not directly from him.
"My immediate response is that can be solved by meeting with the county commission every Monday morning," Shell said.
Long term goals include improving dispatcher training and working toward an enhanced 911 system.