Spotsy sheriff hopefuls debate
By PAMELA GOULD
The three candidates for Spotsylvania County sheriff kicked off a political forum Wednesday night by highlighting the unique experience each felt made him the best qualified for the position.
Roger Harris, 64, spoke first and trumpeted his “40 plus” years of law enforcement experience, including 20 years in Fairfax County, which he called one of the most recognized departments in the nation.
“I have more experience in law enforcement than my two competitors combined,” he said. He said he was the best trained to address the county’s cultural diversity.
Brian Bettis, the youngest of the candidates at 40, focused on his experience across levels of law enforcement, having begun as a patrol deputy in Spotsylvania, moving next to Fredericksburg, and now working for the federal Department of Homeland Security.
He said he is well-versed in anti-terrorism efforts and said Spotsylvania needs to get up to speed on its preparation. “Spotsylvania is behind the times when it comes to law enforcement,” Bettis said.
Mike Timm, 53, is the department’s second in command, and noted that he has spent his entire 22-year law enforcement career in Spotsylvania, has held every rank within the department, and is the only candidate who has prepared the department’s nearly $19 million budget and written state and federal grants to bring in funding to the county.
“I have been doing the duties of a sheriff in the absence of our fine sheriff, Sheriff [Howard] Smith,” Timm said. He also noted that he has a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice and a master’s degree in public administration.
The three appeared at the Marshall Center at a political forum sponsored by the Spotsylvania NAACP, the Spotsylvania Education Association and the Spotsylvania Citizens Roundtable for Political Action. They are vying Nov. 8 to succeed Smith, who is retiring at the end of his third term.
The two outsiders also criticized the current department. Harris said the department’s morale needs improvement, as does the attitude of employees toward residents. Bettis said the county needs a plan to address terrorism if it should strike in the community, and said he has a plan to prepare both the Sheriff’s Office and the community.
Timm disputed Harris’ contention that the department needs to improve its community policing efforts, saying he wrote the department’s first grant for community policing.
He said he wants to move the office forward by seeking national accreditation.
The candidates were asked how they would address morale issues within the department and their management approaches.
Timm said he believes in give and take between employees and management and believes in empowering supervisors to act in the field. He dismissed any suggestion of a morale problem within the Sheriff’s Office.
“Esprit de corps is very easy to come by within the Sheriff’s Department. It’s one big family,” he said.
He noted that he twice met with all employees and told them they would still have jobs if he was elected, a statement that elicited applause from the people assembled in the auditorium.
Bettis said he believes that to get respect you must earn it. He said he would send employees to free schools to supplement their current training, but he maintains there is a morale problem.
“It’s a shame right now that our community is suffering in the law enforcement area,” he said. He declined to say what the issues were or why they exist, but said “I hear the complaints.”
He added that to maintain the highest standard of ethics, he has funded his own campaign so he is not beholden to anyone if elected.
Harris said he would implement an open-door policy for employees and people in the community, and a grievance procedure so staff concerns could be addressed. He said morale is suffering now because employees can’t gain access to the sheriff and top administrators without appointments.
The final question for the sheriff candidates was how they would work to increase diversity in the department.
Bettis said he recognized that need and said the best candidates for deputy aren’t necessarily those with higher education but those who have maintained close contact with different facets of the community.
Harris touted his outreach to different segments of the community including Asians, Latinos and African–Americans. His campaign has a website in Spanish and said the Sheriff’s Office “does not recruit” from minority groups but should, a statement met with applause.
Timm said he, too, has reached out to some minority segments of the community and noted that he’s been in touch with Raymond A. Bell Jr., a Board of Supervisors candidate who is pastor of the predominantly black Mount Hope Baptist Church on Gordon Road.
He also defended the department’s minority hiring, saying “the Sheriff’s Office, of all county departments, has the best record.”
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Three men are vying to become Spotsylvania’s next sheriff.
Brian M. Bettis, 40, is with the Department of Homeland Security. He was a Fredericksburg police officer and in the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy, narcotics investigator and emergency response team member.
Roger L. Harris, 64, retired from the Fairfax County Police Department after 20 years. He then served in criminal investigations in the Spotsylvania prosecutor’s office and Sheriff’s Office. He retired in May after announcing his candidacy.
Mike S. Timm, 53, rose through the ranks of the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office over the past 22 years, from patrol deputy to second in command. Before that he worked as a carpenter with the Fairfax County school division for 12 years.