Salted with Sharks

The Top Man: Sheriff Race ’12

In Crime, Politics on July 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm

At press time, three Republican candidates were to meet in the August primary, seeking to serve as our county sheriff for the next four years: Dave Casey, Blair Moss, and Ted Schendel. We were not able to obtain a response to our interview questions from Mr. Casey, but here we offer the discussions we had with Mr. Moss and Mr. Schendel. In addition, Coury Carland confirmed July 24 by text message that he’ll be on the ballot as an independent in November. According to the League of Women Voters, the sheriff’s salary is $52,659 and includes a full range of benefits.

By Morgan Feger

Elberta Alert How long have you lived in the Benzie area?

Blair Moss Well, I was born in 1955, so 56 years I have been in the community, and I intend to stay here, not moving or going anywhere.

Tell us about your work history. When I got out of college from MSU in 1979 my background was in education. I wanted to come back to this area, but teachers were a dime a dozen. While still in school in 1977 I got a job at the [Benzie] sheriff’s department as a marine officer, and when I got out, in ’79, it developed into the next 17, 18 years. Although it was seasonal work I felt it was more than just seasonal. I worked under four different sheriffs [during] that time and I feel that’s where I’ve gained much of my valuable experience.

Overall how would you rate your experience working with the Benzie County sheriff’s department? Well, with a total of 23 years here with the department, and with the last 6 years in corrections… My experience has been good, like I said before, working under four different sheriffs… So I would probably emulate, if anyone, the late, great Zane Grey. I really respected that man, and learned a lot from him. If I ever became sheriff I would emulate that type of sheriff.

What do you predict will be the differences between your previous work experience with the department and your new responsibilities as sheriff if elected? Well, let’s face it, when you are the sheriff you are the top man, and leadership starts at the top. Everyone has to be accountable from top to bottom, so there are definitely some challenges ahead and I’m ready to accept those challenges.

What would be some changes you would like to implement?First, the budget. Let’s face it, the sheriff’s department has taken a big hit, about $400,000 give or take here in the last year or so, and that going to be a challenge. [According to the county website, the sheriff’s department budget for 2011–12 was 684,818; the budget for 2012–13 was still being discussed at press time. Marcia Stobie, our county commissioner, said that the sheriff’s budget had been cut by roughly $300,000 from 2010–11 to 2011–12.] When you are serving the people and when you start making cuts, a lot of those services are cut. I think I’m a conservative type of person and I still think that we can work within that budget, and sometimes, like I’ve said in the past, you have to do more with less, and I think that that is going to be a big issue. If elected, Keith [Redder, Moss’s running mate for undersheriff] and I will definitely sit down and look at the budget, evaluate it, and make changes where we can.

How would you rate the job our current sherriff, Rory Heckman, has done? I think Rory has done a nice job, considering the budget he has had to work with.

A popular theme among candidates who are running this year is “transparency.” What exactly does transparency mean to you in regard to the sherriff’s department? As I’ve been out there talking at different functions and gatherings I’ve had more people come up to me and talk about transparency. What that means to me is that if elected I would make it a point that every week there would be a sheriff’s report and get that information out there to the public. Taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on with their community without compromising the safety and integrity of an investigation or any personnel. This is the information that needs to get out there to the people, because they want to know.

What role do you think social media plays in today’s sheriff’s department? You know, I think they have their uses, but sometimes I think it can be dangerous. Sometimes it seems to be a positive tool for people to communicate, other times it’s a sounding board for people and it makes me question if that’s a direction we want to go in.

Recently there was an issue in the Elberta area about public use of the Elberta Beach. The beach road was gated to reduce traffic on the beach and on protected dunegrass areas. What are your thoughts on this? Well, it’s a catch-22. I remember years ago there used to be dune buggies down there and eventually they had to stop that because of the damage it was doing to the dunegrass. I’m all about saving and preserving the dunes, but I’d also like to see people use and enjoy the beach area for recreation, so really it’s a catch-22.

What is your favorite part of living in the Benzie area? Hmmmm, how should I answer this. You know when you live somewhere your whole life you start to take things for granted. But you know something, every time I go around Crystal Lake and around Lake Michigan I ask myself, “Where else would you want to be?” It’s a great place to raise a family, it’s a small community where people help each other. These are the reasons why I’ve stayed here.

What are your biggest concerns for the Benzie County area? You know something, it would have to be our economy. You see the houses for sale, you read in the paper about foreclosures, people losing their homes. Times are tough, and getting back to the budget, whoever is elected really has to work within the budget. I know everyone is working within their own budget just to live here. My heart goes out to those people, it’s not easy. As sheriff I’m going to do everything I can to try to get back those programs that may have been cut. It’s going to be a tough job.

We wish you the best on your campaign. One last off-the-wall, fun question: Who would you rather have coffee with? Michael Jackson, Jerry Garcia, Michael Vick, or Ellen DeGeneres? Well, that’s interesting, I guess I’d have to say Ellen. She makes me laugh—she’s funny as heck.

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How long have you lived in the Benzie County area?

Ted Schendel I first came up to the Benzie County area probably in the mid- to late ’60s. My family would come up here on vacation like many families do. In 1968 my father bought property in Benzie County. Then in 1975 my folks moved up permanently. I had gone to school down south in Livonia and graduated from Bethany High School in 1975 and then went to Michigan State University. The year I graduated from MSU, 1980, was also the year they laid off 700 state troopers, and finding a law-enforcement job in Michigan was next to impossible, so I put my application out across the United States, happened to get called to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and did my entire career down there. Then in 2006 I retired and came back home.

What did you do down in Ft. Lauderdale? I started off as a patrolman, then I got promoted to sergeant. The interesting thing with Fort Lauderdale is we were all lieutenants, so you went from sergeant to captain. One particular time my captain was selected to attend the national FBI program, so that left an opening and basically he picked me to be his replacement and that left me in charge as active captain while he was away. My actual rank when I retired was sergeant.

Overall, how would you rate your experience working in Ft. Lauderdale? Ft. Lauderdale is a very challenging area in the US, very diverse. In my 25 years there I saw quite a bit, and learned a lot, and after I retired and came to Benzie County I’ve been working with the sheriff’s department ever since. So with a total of 30 years in law enforcement experience during all that time I’ve kept my certification. To be a police officer it doesn’t matter what state you’re in, you have to be certified, if you’re not you can’t be a police officer. That’s something I’ve been reminding voters about the two other candidates, one of them has never even been to a police academy. [The Alert was not able to confirm this statement before press time.]

What do you anticipate will be the difference working in Ft. Lauderdale and Benzie County? Benzie County is a much different area, obviously. But now that I live here and work here, I want to retain the great thing[s] that we have here: one, it’s a beautiful area, and two, it’s relatively safe here. I remember times when people would leave their house and cars unlocked, and I don’t want to see us lose our innocence, and that’s the whole reason I’m running for sheriff.[…] Because I’m in the sheriff’s department I’ve noticed a trend: our burglaries have started to go up, our felony crimes have started to go up, drug problems are on the rise. If we don’t get a handle on it soon we’re going to be in trouble, and that’s what I’m talking about when I say “lose our innocence.”

Do you think that there is one particular variable that is influencing the increase of crime in the area? Yes, it’s the lack of law enforcement capabilities. We just don’t have the personnel necessary to effectively patrol for and prevent crime. When you have one officer working the day shift and that person is going from call to call there’s no time for any other type of law enforcement, or follow-up. Follow-up is imperative in law enforcement and that’s what we’re lacking. We don’t have enough people—well, guess what, the bad guys know this and that’s why they’re coming here. They figure it out way before we do. Everyone likes to think criminals aren’t that smart, but they are—they’re very smart. They know their chances of apprehension is less likely here than in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Wexford, or Manistee county because [those counties are] all up to par. Frankly, we’re at an unserviceable level as far as law enforcement is concerned.

This is primarily because Benzie has a very small county budget? Yes, this is correct.

How would you handle the already strained budget? That’s going to be the big challenge for whoever gets elected. There’s not a lot of money coming in and it’s shrinking every year, so we as a community have to get together and decide what our priorities are. One of the things I think people need to understand is that Benzie County relies a great deal on tourism. We don’t have a lot of industry, so the majority of people who have jobs here are [in] service related [fields]. If we get into a situation where there is a perception that Benzie County is not safe because they don’t have enough police officers, guess what, [the tourists] are going to go north and they’re going to go south and they’re not going to come here, and we as a small community can’t afford that.

How would you rate the job Rory Heckman has done? I think he did the best that he could. I think he is a professional and I think he has made some great changes in the department. When people step across the line, there’s no sugarcoating it, he had to get rid of them. I think since Rory’s been sheriff he’s gotten rid of at least four personnel that needed to go. I want to continue to focus on perfection. I want us to move forward, not backwards. I don’t want a good ol’ boy network. I don’t care who you are or what your name is or what your income is, everybody needs to be treated equally and fairly and that’s all that the public expects.

How would you address transparency in the department? You hear that term a lot nowadays. Everybody claims to be transparent and then they’re not. But it’s real simple: one, the sheriff’s department belongs to the people, that’s who the boss of the sheriff is, the people of the community. Two, when the media wants to find out about something, you respond. Obviously when an investigation is going on that’s something that you can’t always give out information on, but once it’s complete, everyone has a right to know what’s going on. Here’s an example of one thing I’d like to do: Back in the ’70s there used to be a column in the local news paper called “the Sheriff’s Corner” or something like that, and it kept the public aware of what was going on in the county. This offered a forum in which people could communicate about suspicious activity, which would ultimately help officers in apprehension. But I think people have an absolute right to know what’s going on.

What role does social media play in today’s sheriff’s department? It’s a whole new ballgame. Social media is just incredible. When something happens in the area the whole county knows in a matter of minutes. Law enforcement has to be aware of that and has to utilize it as well. I think Benzie County’s is one of the only sheriff’s departments that doesn’t have a website.

Recently there was an issue in Elberta regarding vehicular use of Elberta Beach. What are your thoughts on this? Well, because there is so much controversy … first of all, I learned very early on in my law enforcement career as a community policing officer, that you might think you know the sense of the community, but I was quickly reminded that I didn’t, so basically what I’m trying to get at is, it’s what the people decide. The sheriff’s department is there to support the folks, whatever way it goes. The sheriff’s department is there to support the people. The bottom line: the people make the decision.

We wish you the best on your campaign for sheriff. One last off-the-wall, fun question: Who would you rather have coffee with? Michael Jackson, Jerry Garcia, Michael Vick, or Ellen DeGeneres? Wow, those are some choices! Hmmmm, I’m going to say Michael Vick and the only reason I say Michael Vick is because being the animal lover that I am I would love to just sit down and ask him, what we’re you thinking? Why with all your success would you lower yourself to that standard and end up in the situation that [you] did? So that would have to be my pick.

The Alert does not endorse candidates or parties and is eager to run writing on other candidates and races. elberta.alert@gmail.com / 231-399-0098.

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