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Four sheriff's candidates participate in forum

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DEPUTIES: The four Republic candidates competing for Clinton County sheriff in the May primary support putting resource officers at the three county schools but vary on if and/or how the plan could be paid for.
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SHERIFF: Four Republican candidates vying to be the next Clinton County sheriff participated in an election forum Thursday at Clinton Prairie High School Auditorium. The candidates include Rich Kelly, Jarred Blacker, Matt Myers and Mark Mitchell.

BY SHARON BARDONNER - sbardonner@ftimes.com

The four Republican candidates for Clinton County sheriff answered questions for audience members and two facilitators Thursday night at the second of three election forums sponsored by the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce.

Attendees to the forum filled about half of the Clinton Prairie High School Auditorium.

Candidates Rich Kelly, sergeant with the Indiana State Police Commercial Traffic Division, Jarred Blacker, a lieutenant with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, Matt Myers, also a lieutenant with the CCSO, and Mark Mitchell, Mulberry Town Marshal and former sheriff, were busy for about 90 minutes giving opening and wrap-up statements while in between responding to a few dozen queries.

Posting resource officers at each of the three county schools - Clinton Prairie, Clinton Central and Rossville - was a topic all officers agreed was a good move to increase student safety but differed on if or how that could be accomplished given both the schools’ and the sheriff’s office budgets.

Mitchell noted that employing and outfitting one officer with a vehicle and the necessary equipment carried a price tag of $98,000 and if three of the department’s 21 officers were stationed at the schools, there would be three fewer to cover the 800 square miles of Clinton County.

Kelly pointed to the state and its school funding budget as likely providing the answer to the issue. He noted that the legislature had set guidelines and requirements for school safety so he would look there for funding.

Myers admitted he was a novice at politics and would act based on his experience, motivation and passion for the job and the community. “Before I took any action, I would have a plan researched and make sure it was propertly implemented,” he said.

Blacker committed to putting a deputy at each school full time, saying that children could not be neglected in lieu of fighting the area’s drug problem or other community crimes but during his allowed one-minute answer provided no ideas whether the county or schools would pay for the coverage.

When later asked to clarify briefly his position, Blacker answered, “Both.” However, due to time constraints placed on the candidates, he had no time to describe his plan in more detail. 

However, when asked, a few audience members were not satisfied with Blacker’s original answer nor his second response.

“He dodged the question,” said one audience member, “and as sheriff, you’re going to take heat under pressure, so you have to quickly come up with an accurate answer. If you can’t handle the heat, how can you handle the office?”

Candidates were also asked their plans for combating the county’s opioid epidemic, with Blacker suggesting reorganizing the staff to devote another office to drug enforcement. 

“But you can’t arrest the problem away,” he said.

The drug problem is a society issue, said Myers, that requires enforcement, rehabilitation, and helping inmates with recovery. Answers lie in law enforcement, jail staff, the courts, community corrections and probation all working together.

Mitchell said in addition to enforcement he would utilitize the six programs already under way in the jail, from helping inmates attain their GEDs to a faith-based program. He also cited a heroin addiction recovery program as a tool for getting inmates back on their feet.

Like Myers, Kelly also said the community and multiple agencies should be involved in the battle, but also supported enforcement and treating overdoses as crimes. Kelly a few times said he would use ideas he’s picked up from some of the 22 counties he has covered an an ISP officer.

“They need to know they will go to jail for ingesting, using and selling drugs,” he said.