Sheriff candidates differ in leadership styles

July 24, 2012

Kim Cole and Jeff Fiers talk about the sheriff's race

Story and Photos by Rob Alway, Editor

SCOTTVILLE – About 150 people attended Monday’s Candidates’ Forum at the Scottville Clown Band Shell. The event was sponsored by MasonCountyPress.com and WMOM FM 102.7. Participants included several of the county commissioner district races, county treasurer, county surveyor, clerk, prosecutor, register of deeds, probate judge and sheriff.

During the event, audience members were able to submit written questions to a panel consisting of filmmaker/journalist Lisa Enos and economist Jamie Healy. Enos and Healy checked over the questions to determine they weren’t redundant and that they were legible and fair. Moderator Mike Tanis, WMOM news director, then asked the questions based on the amount of time allotted per race, 10 minutes for all races except sheriff, 20 minutes. Erin Outlcalt served as timer. 

We will recap several of the races in separate posts. Here is a recap of the sheriff race:

Sheriff. Jeff Fiers and Kim Cole

Sheriff Jeff Fiers speaks

Jeff Fiers has been sheriff since 2009. In 2008 he ran as a Democrat, defeating his Republican opponent Sheriff Laude Hartrum. Earlier this spring Fiers switched parties and is now running as a Republican. He faces Cole in the August 7 primary.

Both Fiers and Cole are lifelong residents of Mason County. Fiers graduated from Mason County Eastern High School and Cole graduated from Ludington High School. Both are also graduates of West Shore Community College’s law enforcement academy.

Fiers began his law enforcement career as a volunteer on the sheriff’s reserve in 1988 and became a deputy in 1995. Cole has worked at the sheriff’s office for 27 years, 17 as a sergeant.

Fiers and his wife have two children and Cole and his wife also have two children.

“I have mended a lot of bridges with the board of commissioners,” Fiers said. “We have accomplished a lot by working together… I live within the budget.”

“These officers come to work every day and each one that I work with would die for you,” Cole told the audience. “An effective sheriff works in conjunction with other agencies.”

Fiers and Cole both said it’s important to operate within the department’s budget. What seems to be different, though, is their leadership styles and philosophies.

Fiers said he would not change anything he has done since becoming sheriff but he did admit that morale is very low in the department.

“I could honestly say I wouldn’t change anything,” Fiers said.

“Wow. I’m speechless,” Cole responded. “Last week the entire department took a vote and it was unanimous that they would endorse me. Clearly if 100 percent of the deputies chose to support me there is something going on and you should be asking that.”

Sgt. Kim Cole listens to FIers introduce himself.

“My opponent has been a union rep. for several years,” Fiers said. “Promises have been made that he won’t fulfill. They all complain to themselves but they don’t go where they should. They need to speak to their sergeants and the sergeants need to speak to the command staff.

“I have been living within my budget,” Fiers said. “They don’t understand the dollars without understanding the line item budget. Basically their rumors are blown out of proportion.”

“Most everybody was on board when the sheriff was elected,” Cole said. “We work, ladies and gentlemen, and our crews are solid. We are going to come and help you. Morale has to start at the top.”

Fiers and Cole differ in how department money should be used.

For example, the topic of protective vests for the corrections officers was brought up, as was the budget for the jail.

Fiers said he is in support of the corrections staff having protective vests but he believes it is up to that staff’s union to negotiate the purchase of the vests. Cole, on the other hand, believes the vests should be a uniform expense that is supplied as department policy.

Fiers stated the vests would cost the department about $22,000 every four years, because that is when they need to be replaced. Cole said the sheriff’s office has returned $400,000 into the county’s general fund since Fiers has been sheriff, of which, $22,000 could have been used for the corrections staff’s safety.

Fiers and Cole also differ in the role of the sheriff.

Fiers admitted he does not make himself easily accessible to the media except during high visibility cases. But, he said he attends many public meetings.

“I’m probably the most visible sheriff the public has seen in decades. I attend all 15 township board meetings and every community watch meeting. In regards to the media, I keep a buffer. The media sells controversy.”

“One of the reasons I am running,” Cole said, “is that the sheriff should be held accountable to the ultimate board of directors, the public. How do you keep civil order? Through media outlets. It’s ultimately up to the sheriff if he is going to be in the media or not.”

 

 

 

 

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