The sheriff race, a matter of leadership style

October 30, 2012

Observations of the sheriff race by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

Many voters in Mason County expected the race for sheriff was over in August when Sheriff Jeff Fiers lost to challenger Sgt. Kim Cole in the Republican primary. Cole won by a majority of 53 percent of the votes. A few days later Fiers announced he would pursue a write-in campaign in the general election.

Earlier in the spring, Fiers announced that he would be running as a Republican in the election, though he ran as a Democrat in 2008. The change, he said, was because he felt his political philosophies were more in tuned with the Republican party.

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Jeff Fiers

The race for sheriff seems to be one that is a matter of leadership styles.

The issue of morale at the department has come up often. In late July, the uniformed officers unanimously voted to endorse Cole, with one abstention. Throughout the campaign, Fiers has said it was the sergeants who were responsible for morale, not the sheriff.

During last week’s candidates’ forum, Fiers said as sheriff he doesn’t have contact with the road patrol deputies, although he worked alongside those same deputies for 14 years. The department has less than 35 personnel and occupies one building.

When asked why the uniformed personnel were supporting Cole, Fiers said he believes Cole made promises, noting that if Cole is elected there would be two sergeant positions open; Sgt. Jody Hartley has ran as Cole’s choice for undersheriff.

“There is some promotional issues there,” Fiers said. “I honestly believe that for the most part, Kim has been a union steward for several years in Mason County Sheriff’s Office.”

Cole said he has not made any such promises and that he will follow the current sheriff’s list of recommendations for the promotion of the two sergeants, if he were to be elected.

Though Fiers has constantly made reference to his ability to stay within his budget, Cole has never indicated that he would spend outside of the budget.

During last week’s debate, Fiers alluded that the road patrol officers, of which Cole is a part of, do not understand the budget. He made reference to a few serious investigations that have cost over $100,000 and stated that those officers don’t understand those dollar figures.

Throughout the campaign Fiers has often made reference that the rest of the sheriff’s office personnel – outside of himself, his undersheriff and chief deputy – have no understanding of the budgetary process.

Kim Cole

Fiers said he was concerned Cole might not have the good standing with the county board that he has developed.

He said he has told the county board that if they gave him adequate funding, he would give back anything that he could afford to. If his budget was cut, he would spend it all. He has been able to give money back to the county for the last four years thanks to that policy, he said.

“I have never said I’ll declare war on the county board,” Cole said. “As long as I can put my best foot forward and give them the opportunity to see what’s going on.”
Also during last week’s debate Fiers said he was pursuing a write-in campaign because he was concerned that someone with less experience could lose a road patrol position for the county, alluding that Cole has less experience.

Checking the resumes of both candidates, both Fiers and Cole received their law enforcement certifications through the academy at West Shore Community College. Neither has a degree in accounting or business management. Fiers has worked full time at the sheriff’s office since 1995, Cole has worked full time at the department since 1985.

Cole has been a sergeant for 17 years. Before becoming sheriff in 2009, Fiers was a road deputy.

The point being, that one can only assume that if a road patrol deputy with 13 years experience can manage the budget then a 27-year veteran of the department, with 17 years as sergeant can probably manage.

Another campaign topic has been the dive team. Back in March Cole stated the dive team only had two members. Since that time, Fiers said the team now has six members. In addition, Fiers said, the City of Ludington has received a grant to add three of its officers to the team.

Fiers has maintained that the team has been completely outfitted with new equipment in the last four years. Cole has said the team’s boat is inadequate for use on all lakes in the county.

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