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Spring is still two weeks away but already candidates' campaign signs are springing up like yellow daffodils. The advertising in front yards and the pages of The News are proof that Indiana's May 4 primary is fast approaching and locally contested races for sheriff, treasurer, county commissioner and county council.
A candidate forum April 15 at the Schergens Center will give candidates a public chance to outline their reasons for running and their goals, if elected. So will questionnaires the newspaper will send to them in the next couple of weeks.
But even now, with the election eight weeks away, we can think of questions we'd like to hear candidates begin to address. For today, we'll focus on the sheriff's race, which has thus far garnered the most attention.
The first question for the four men running, Lee Chestnut, Joe Lackey, William Schroeder and Lynn Wooldridge, is obvious. What do you think about a new jail? A committee has been formally assessing the need for a new facility for more than a year, though talk about the need for another jail has been ongoing for well more than a decade. The current group has met with consultants, visited jails similar in size to what we may need and even coordinated a study by representatives with the federal Bureau of Prisons. Still, no decisions have been made and lots of questions have yet to be finalized.
Among them: Can the existing facility be replaced or enlarged? Can the county receive income from the state by housing offenders? How many more people will be required for a new jail?
We think the current jail, 40-plus-years-old, is too small and is out-of-date. It's also not as secure as we think a jail housing people accused of violent crimes should be. Public safety is important. We know court officials have to sometimes reduce bonds and release people on their own recognizance for no other reason than the need for more space.
The jail has already been the subject of civil suits over conditions there. Jailed men and women need a safe, secure and humane place to stay, not perks. But money spent on fighting legal battles over an old jail is money poorly used. That's our view. What about the candidates?
In addition to the new-jail issue, we'd like to hear about what candidates will do to ensure better coverage of the county since some people have voiced concerns about why deputies don't always respond to calls or aren't out on regular patrol.
The county only has six full-time deputies and while the department could certainly use more, funding probably won't allow it. Candidates should talk about how they will get deputies on the road more often.
Could that mean using jail employees for transports from the jail to the courthouse for initial appearances, hearings and trials?
What about contracting out the process of serving court papers, a task that now keeps deputies busy for hours? Could well-trained reserve deputies help ease the staffing burden, as they do in Tell City?
Some have suggested a combined city-county police force that would allow officers to respond to calls anywhere in the county. That might be a difficult proposal to handle financially, but Tell City provides dispatching services for the county under a contract. It's no secret several county deputies work, or have worked for Tell City and Cannelton and patrol officers assigned to Tell City and Cannelton have worked as part-time deputies.
We offer these ideas for discussion. Voters may have plenty of others. Our hope is that the men asking for votes in May volunteer for their ideas on how to provide better coverage, improve efficiencies and ensure the public gets the service it deserves.
Races for sheriff have a long history of drawing attention from voters. We hope candidates will lay out their ideas, both in print in The News as it profiles their candidacies and as they knock on doors.
We'd like to hear any questions you may have for the four men running for sheriff, as well as other contested May races. We'll try to work some of them in during the April 15 forum.
Questions can be mailed to The Perry County News, P.O. Box 309, Tell City, IN 47586, dropped by the office at 537 Main St. or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope to have the event aired on local radio and perhaps even streamed online. Details have yet to be worked out. The event is open to the public and we'd like to see you there. Make plans to attend. It begins at 6 p.m.
Our view: Editorials reflect the opinions of the newspaper.
Your view: Tell us what you think. E-mail us at email@example.com or mail your comments to P.O. Box 309, Tell City, IN 47586.