By Bob Kenison and Emily Votruba
Back in July of this year, the Alert’s Morgan Feger interviewed the candidates for Benzie County sheriff—three Republicans. Ted Schendel won the August primary and would have been unopposed in the general election. But in July, Coury Carland announced he was running for the position as an Independent.
Coury Carland is a 2000 graduate of Frankfort High School and holds a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University in political science, with double minors in history and economics. He is now completing his master’s degree in international relations/comparative politics at CMU. An adjunct professor at Saginaw Valley State University, he teaches courses on the American political system and world politics, among other subjects. He is also an active member in the Lions Club.
At the League of Women Voters candidate forum on October 24, Carland, who requires a wheelchair because of Osteogenesis Imperfecta (aka “brittle bone” disease), addressed the question of his physical ability to serve: “Can you be sheriff in a wheelchair?… I am totally independent. By the end of this week I will have driven about 1,000 miles commuting between Benzie County and Saginaw to teach class…I like to remind people that our 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt, was in a wheelchair, and he served three terms, [during which] he defeated Nazi Germany, he defeated Imperial Japan, and he got us through probably one of the toughest times in American history since the American Civil War. Good things come in unique packages. For any of you who have further questions, I’m more than happy to answer them. I want to make sure people feel comfortable discussing that.”
What motivates you to seek the sheriff job?
I have thought about it for a long time. Being a political science major, I think we have all thought about running for public office. It is a good position and would give me executive experience. I felt the primary left a lot to be desired in terms of community discussion as to what needs to be done. It quickly descended into personal attacks. The county is in a dire situation…
You mean in terms of the budget?
I heard from [county commission candidate] Vance Bates at the Republican Women of Benzie County meeting that the sheriff’s budget back in 1996–2000 was between two and two and a half million dollars. The current budget is $684,000. When I went to talk to Sheriff Heckman about the budget, he said “look around”; he was sitting working in his office with the lights off to save power. I like that about Sheriff Heckman; he is very blunt. He has done what he can to get money. The problem is that the county does not have the money. The money for the sheriff’s department comes from the general fund, and because of the Headlee Amendment, as property value spikes, the millage rate goes down. But when property value goes down, the millage rate does not automatically go back up. Now [we have] the double whammy of having a lower millage rate for the general fund and lower property values. [According to the Michigan Municipal League, the Headlee Amendment, adopted in 1978, “requires a local unit of government to reduce its millage when annual growth on existing property is greater than the rate of inflation. As a consequence, the local unit’s millage rate is “rolled back” so that the resulting growth in property tax revenue, community-wide, is no more than the rate of inflation.”]
People want 24-hour road patrol, but it is just not feasible with the funds they have available. These important matters were not really discussed in the primaries. That is one of the reasons I am running; as it stood, the Republican candidate would have run unopposed. Now there will be a forum to discuss issues between candidates.
With your lack of law enforcement background, what do you feel your education and experience will bring to the job of sheriff in Benzie County?
Carland I think there is a general lack of understanding on how the government works. The founders of our government set up a system where the separation of powers is the executive branch, the lawmaking branch, and the judicial branch. That structure of government is at the federal level, the state level, and our local government level. So what I bring is an understanding of how that system operates and the theory behind it. I think the sheriff should be well versed in how the government operates. In the past the sheriff’s position took a more direct role in law enforcement. Today—I don’t want to say that it’s not about law enforcement because ultimately it is—but the job of the sheriff is more of an administrative role. More management. Finding the money to operate and do the job as required by the constitution.
I had a conversation with [the Republican candidate] Ted Schendel when I became a candidate, and I told him I would not get personal with him and try to take away his experience. He is a dedicated public servant, and I respect him for that. That is what soured the Republican primary. A lot was focused on nitpicking the experience of the candidates. I ultimately want to expand the discussion, use [my candidacy] as an opportunity to let people know what’s going on over there at the sheriff’s department. The idea of having local government in theory is to have government closer to them so they can keep an eye on it. But the peculiarity of it is that people know much more about what is going on in the federal government than what is going on in their own backyards. I think people want information, and that you can make a case for why the sheriff’s department needs more money.
You are running as an independent. Many people vote straight ticket. Is that a concern of yours?
I have received the endorsement of the Democratic Party and they have sent out information to let people know that they can vote straight ticket, and still vote for me as an independent. [From the State of Michigan website: “A voter participating in the Nov. 6 general election who wishes to cast a ‘split’ ticket can vote for individual candidates of his or her choice under any party or can vote a ‘straight party’ ticket and vote for individual candidates under any other party. The votes cast for individual candidates under the other parties will override the straight party vote in the races involved.” In other words, you won’t invalidate your ballot by voting for different parties in different races—just don’t vote for more than one candidate in a single race!]
Since you see the sheriff’s job as more of an administrative and management job, can you tell us your administrative experience?
I have no management experience; I am an educator. I have been teaching since I was 23. Working in an administrative atmosphere in a university, I taught seven classes in one semester with class sizes up to 47 students. The role of the sheriff in my opinion is to get out there and work with the community, and to work with the county commissioners and find the resources to do the job.
Describe your management philosophy.
It’s all about balance. You don’t want to be overbearing. Then you have people second-guessing you. A deputy out there on the streets trying to do their job has to depend on training and instincts. If they feel that I am going to override every decision they make, then they cannot effectively do their job. It’s the balance between letting them do their job and maintaining control to direct the department. It boils down to public service.
Some say Sheriff Heckman did a good job cleaning up the department. Are you concerned that the department could backslide into the good-old-boy-network bad old days? What would you do to prevent that?
I would maintain the code of conduct and ethics of the department. The deputies need to be above suspicion; there is a high standard, and rightfully so. It comes down to keeping track, and making sure there is an understanding of what is expected of them, and what the rules and parameters are, and enforcing them.
Sheriff Heckman said there are two types of failures in this world: failures of the heart and failures of the mind. The failures of the mind we all have—sometimes the brain just goes dead, and we screw up procedure or something like that. That happens and we deal with it, and we move ahead. It’s failures of the heart that there is no tolerance for. I agree with this philosophy. Hiring has a lot to do with it. It should be a mix of the right experience, academics, and local knowledge and connections.
What do you think of getting citizens more involved in law enforcement, for example with community watch groups?
I am not opposed to that. I think in many ways it might be advantageous to have more eyes out there. I am somewhat concerned about vigilante groups. The whole Trayvon Martin thing that happened… [In February 2012, Martin, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community in which the shooting occurred.] Or citizens that call all the time over little things—the boy who cried wolf. This could cause problems. I am not sure it this helps or hurts your ability to respond. The public safety meetings [held by Sheriff Heckman] are a great idea, to provide a forum for citizens to voice their concerns to the sheriff.
Sheriff Heckman mentioned in an interview with the Alert that the illegal use of prescription drugs has become one of his worst problems recently. Do you have any thoughts on that?
The drug war is one of my topics of interest in my government class. In the 1990s the medical community realized that advances in drugs had the ability to limit pain. They started prescribing more of these drugs because of their [Hippocratic] oath. Now they realize that they have let a monster out and are trying to cut back. The cutting back of opiate-based drugs may have something to do with the increase of other drugs coming in to take their place, such as heroin. Grand Traverse has a drug take-back program to get these prescriptions off the street. Some of these drugs can have you hooked within one prescription. I agree it’s a big problem. There is one deputy tasked to working with Grand Traverse region to assist with drug problems.
In Elberta we have a continuing problem of people driving offroad on the beach and dunes. Is there anything you would do about that?
Because some of the beach is considered critical dune area it is protected by state law. Property owners are responsible for it. The sheriff’s office has limited resources to deal with this. They have 28 to 30 [total] calls a day, average. Frankfort police used to patrol the area, as part of a contract with Elberta, but again there is cost involved.
Is there any message you want to get out there to our residents?
One of the most frustrating things for a student of the government is the lack of understanding people have about the government. It contributes to the election of bad politicians. I want to bring an understanding of the government to the people. How things work, and how we can get things done. It’s about information. I lecture my students for not getting involved. So here I am, getting involved. John Adams said that the public business has to be done by somebody, and if wise men deny it, others will do it.
Coury Carland’s website is at http://www.sheriffcoury.org
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