Editor's note: Mark Shepherd is the only candidate printed on the Union County ballot after he received the most delegate votes during the Union County Republican Convention in June. After his loss, McNeill announced that he would continue a write-in campaign. Burkhalter posted on Facebook that he is not running a write-in campaign, but he would accept the nomination, should he win the general election.
Burkhalter the 'people's choice'
Although he won the popular vote for the Union County Sheriff in the Republican primary, Brian Burkhalter received less than the 35% required margin to be declared the winner.
The 17 delegates on at the Union County Republican Convention voted six times before selecting a candidate. For the first five votes, no candidate received a majority plus one — equalling 10 votes — which the delegates had amended the rules to require at the beginning of the convention. Burkhalter received the most votes on the first three ballots, with 9 of the 17 votes on rounds two and three. However, the tide shifted and the final ballot secured the nomination for Mark Shepherd.
When the convention chose his opponent to represent the Republican Party in the general election, Burkhalter decided not to fight it.
"I ultimately decided that I would not run an official campaign in order to submit to the County Convention’s decision – even though they chose not to submit to the will of the people by choosing a candidate who did not receive the most votes in the June primary," Burkhalter posted yesterday on his campaign Facebook page.
However, a group of Union County residents has been circulating flyers to promote writing Burkhalter's name in for Sheriff, calling him the "people's choice"
"Will I accept the position of Sheriff if I receive enough write in votes? The answer — YES," Burkhalter posted.
New jail/Increased services
As he said during the primary race, Burkhalter believes the Union County Sheriff's office does not need a lot of changes. He said he want to "get his feet wet" before making any major decisions about how the department is run.
"My approach would be, even though I work there, until you are sitting in that job you don't know exactly what goes on so I think it's irresponsible to comment on what you think you might do or what you are going to want to do until you actually get in there and figure out what's going on," he said.
Burkhalter called himself "fiscally conservative" and said he would not support the building of a new jail until he had had a chance to look at it more closely from inside the position of sheriff.
"It needs to be planned out very carefully," he said, "We're not going to just spend frivolously. That's a long term goal. It's not something you're going to be able to accomplish immediately."
In keeping with his no changes perspective, Burkhalter said there are no areas he believes should or could be cut from the sheriff's budget at this time.
"I am not a politician," Burkhalter posted on Facebook. "I simply love where I live and the people who I serve. If you feel led to write my name on the ballot, I would be honored to have it counted."
McNeill the 'right guy for the job'
Dan McNeill decided early after the decision of the Union County Republican Committee that he would run a write-in campaign, posting on Facebook June 4, "After much thought and consideration, I do not feel that someone getting less 35% percent of a single parties' vote is enough for the people of Union County. "
McNeill supports the need for a new jail in Union County, but "hates to tax people" to do it. However, a bond would be the most likely way to raise the $8 million that the county previously estimated it would take.
"There was no money for that ... so it was set on the back burner," he said. "Even though it seemed like we weren't going to figure out where that $8 million come from, we turned around and we just spent $8 million on radios. ... That's something that's going to have to get paid for before anything else happens."
The current jail cannot house female prisoners, forcing the deputies to transport them to other counties at a yearly cost of around $70,000 plus driving expenses. McNeill said the deputies often have to transport prisoners more than once due to court dates and then often they must bring them back to Union County when they are released.
The current jail has issues that need to be addressed, McNeill said, citing the difficulties of security and the need for a separate courtroom to avoid using the state facility in the courthouse and having to "parade prisoners through the public" to reach it.
"It's coming down to the point where we have to do something or they're going to close our jail," he said.
If the state were to close the jail, McNeill said the deputies would also have to transport male prisoners elsewhere.
"If the county wants somebody to respond to ... their emergencies or have somebody there, all we're going to be doing is transporting people," he said. "As busy as we are as a county, especially our jail, we have to get something going."
The current sheriff's budget of $1.4 million could sustain another of his priorities, McNeill said. Each year the sheriff's office returns "a lot" of unused funds to the county. He believes that money could be better spent on training.
"I'm going to need to send not only my jail staff, but deputies for training," he said. "That's something we've been lacking for a long time. ... By state law we have to have 12 hours of training per year, ... we haven't done that for years and years and years ... it just doesn't happen. That's something else I would like to get addressed where we're at least in state compliance with our deputies."
There are no areas that currently need to be cut from the budget, McNeill said.
"We run a really, really tight ship the way it is," he said. "We don't spend money on anything that's not essential. ... We run the lowest amount of people we can run. It's a skeleton crew and has been for years."
He added that if a new jail were to be built that included a kitchen, the county could save money from purchasing inmate meals at around $1,500 per month.
"With just my experience of living here and working here would make me the right guy for the job," he said.
Shepherd the delegates' pick
Mark Shepherd came in third in the Republican June primary race for Union County Sheriff, but with no candidate receiving the required 35% to win, after six rounds of voting, the Union County Republican Convention chose him to represent the county in the general election.
Shepherd received the most votes in the fourth and fifth rounds but was one vote shy of the majority-plus-one needed to secure his nomination. On the final ballot he received 11 of the 17 votes putting him on the ballot for the general election.
Shepherd said he has spoken with city and county officials regarding the need for a new jail. He believes it is a "concern" that Union County must pay other agencies "inflated rates" to house its inmates.
"I am in support of housing our own inmates and keeping our jail operational if it is the best fiscal option," he said. "All possible solutions need studied before decisions are made. Our citizens need to be made aware of all the pros, cons, and costs no matter which avenue is taken."
There are other "Issues" that could force the current jail to be closed by the state inspector, Shepherd said, but he is not certain that building a new jail is the answer to the problem.
The voters should make that decision Shepherd said.
"Ultimately the voters may need to decide this issue if it is put to a referendum because the cost would require a bond issue," he said.
Shepherd said additional staff is where Union County should increase its spending, which in some cases would end up saving the county money.
"I believe we need to hire a full time dispatcher to fill the scheduling needs which have been taken care of by part timers which we can't seem to keep," he said. "This costs us overtime and training money because of the turn over."
He believes additional deputies are needed as well.
"Citizens would benefit from us returning to 24/7 coverage in patrol," Shepherd said. "There are currently federal grants available that would provide funds to help us do this and save tax dollars."
Shepherd did not comment on any areas where the sheriff's office could reduce its budget.
Shepherd addressed the rumors that he would not set up a full-time residency in Union County.
"I'm excited to say that my wife and I have recently made a contingent offer on a home in Union County and have a great local Realtor who is working hard for us," he said. "I look forward to returning home and being closer to family."