Flash: ON   December 3, 2016 
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Sheriff candidates debate experience, jail operations

A political debate turned contentious when the candidates for Union County sheriff took the stage at USC Union Thursday night.
Incumbent Sheriff David Taylor, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Jeff Bailey disagreed about a variety of issues, including how budget money should be spent. Taylor questioned Bailey's experience. Bailey questioned the supervision of two inmates - including one murder suspect - who escaped from the Union County Jail in August.
Taylor said efforts are already underway to improve the jail. He said problems include that there is no way to classify inmates and the jail was poorly constructed. He said the concertina wire has gaps in it and the facility is not completely fenced in.
Bailey said the jail needs an administrator on site to oversee operations. He said an alleged murderer should not have been put in the yard for recreation time without supervision.
Taylor said Bailey knew little about jail operations because he had never worked in one and had been in the jail only  as a magistrate.
 “When you can't classify murderers in one spot and Joe Blow who comes in on a public drunk in another, and you have a facility built to house 50 people and we have 63 and 64 there on a daily basis, it's hard to classify. They were out in a fenced-in area with the same kind of fencing used to house dogs in the animal shelter.”
“If you know the fence is in that bad a shape why do we let them out there?” Bailey asked.
“They are required to (have recreation) by the Department of Corrections,” Taylor said.
Taylor said employees knew within four minutes that the inmates, Ashley Tyler and Steven Lipsey, were missing. Bailey countered that the inmates remained at large for hours.
Taylor said his budgets are cut to the bone and there is no money to hire any additional deputies.
Bailey disagreed.
“You can take that budget and cut it down and put more men on the road,” Bailey said. “I really don't want to go into detail right now about how it can be done, but I am telling you it is possible.”
Bailey said his qualifications to run for sheriff include his background as a probation and parole officer for seven years and a county magistrate for 18 years. He said his experience running his own business would be an asset in the handling the budgets of the sheriff's office, 911 and the Union County Jail.
Taylor said his qualifications include 30 years experience in law enforcement, beginning as a city police officer when he was 21. He said he has over 1,000 hours of in service training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, including 100 hours last year. He is a graduate of the FBI Academy, has advanced jail training and is certified criminal investigator in interview and interrogation techniques and other areas.
The men shook hands before they left the stage.
Clerk of court candidates Republican Amy Austin and Democrat Melanie Lawson and county council candidates incumbent Democrat Tommy Ford and Republican challenger David Sinclair also debated. They were not on stage as long - not as many questions had been generated for them.
Concerning the safety issues at Union County Stadium, both Ford and Sinclair said they think repairing the stadium is a better option than building a costly new stadium at Union County High School.
“Union County Stadium has some safety issues,” Ford said. “A lot of them are small that we can fix right away. Some are bigger issues. You've got to realize the stadium was built a long time ago to play baseball. That is the reason you have the small dressing rooms and the bleachers on the inside they call them baseball bleachers. I think this needs to be a joint effort with the school board. With a little money you could fix Union County Stadium up to be a first class facility. Talking about building a new stadium at the high school - you are talking about least $10 million.”
Sinclair said the school district and the county need to come together to fund the repairs. He said the stadium is in a great location and deserves to be upgraded.
“Moving the stadium to the high school would be devastating to our local business economy because so many of those people after they go to the game, they go eat right there,” he said.
The clerk of court candidates addressed their qualifications for the office and how they would make sure funds are accounted for.
Austin, a graduate of USC Union and Limestone College who is president of Miracle League of Union County, said she got much of her courtroom experience while working with the Department of Social Services in York and Union counties.
“I had to present things to the judges; I worked with the attorneys, worked with the clerk of court's office to file paperwork and schedule cases,” she said. “I know how important deadlines are. I am also familiar with Register of Deeds where I have had to help people in Adult Protective Services for me to prepare cases there. I have also written and helped write several grants we have been awarded.”
Lawson, who now works in the City of Union Building and Zoning Department, said she worked in the clerk of court's office for over 20 years, including supervising Family Court. She said she knows she can make improvements, including having bank statements reconciled by an accountant.
Austin said she did not think involving an accountant was necessary. She said an accountant's salary is around $30 an hour.
“There are two employees in the clerk's office now who have banking background,” she said.
 Austin said though she knows of no current accountability issues, she would ask for a complete audit of the clerk of court's office when she took office.

(Posted October 10, 2016)

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