• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Clerk, sheriff candidates discuss views

Before a crowd of more than 40 people, Democratic primary candidates for county clerk and sheriff took part in a forum April 12 in the third floor circuit courtroom of the Woodford County Courthouse. The event was sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Chamber CEO Don Vizi. As in years past, Vizi cautioned the candidates to avoid personal attacks, and none were levied by any of the five participants. Candidates were given an opportunity to introduce themselves and answer eight or nine questions. In the interest of space, we focused on what seemed to be the most pertinent questions. County clerk Please give a brief history of yourself, including why you are running for county clerk. Judy Lancaster described herself as neither a public speaker nor a career politician. She said her 34 years of experience in the financial industry helped make her a good choice for county clerk. Incumbent County Clerk Sandy Jones noted that she’d been county clerk since 2015, had no political agenda, and used her experience to help all Woodford County citizens. What does integrity mean to you? Jones said, “Integrity means everything to me. It’s your reputation, it’s how you handle your day-to-day life. You are judged strictly by your integrity … by your co-workers, the public – it’s how you’re known in the community …” Lancaster said, “Integrity means to me doing the right thing – not always the best thing, but the right thing. … Integrity is just treating everyone equally and being a person of your word and again, just doing what is the best.” As a sworn officer of the law, if your personal beliefs differ from the law, how would you handle the situation? Lancaster said, “I’ve thought a lot about this question and I would take an oath of office and would carry out the duties under that oath of office. I would set my personal beliefs aside …” Jones said, “My personal beliefs would have nothing to do with the job I am sworn to take. An example of that was the (legalization of) same-sex marriages (which required county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples) …” Describe your background in customer service: Jones said, “I think that customer service means everything to an office. The way a person … is treated when they come in, we need to make sure that they understand that their needs come first and you’re there to meet their needs …” Lancaster said, “My entire career is within the customer service industry. In banking, if you did not provide exceptional customer service, you just didn’t have customers. So I have always practiced excellent customer service, and … I try to go above and beyond the work expectations …” Why should you be elected over the other applicant? Lancaster said, “ … Just based on my years of experience. I think I would do well as county clerk. I think that change is sometimes good, and I think in this case, it would be fresh eyes in the position. … I see some changes that we need to make.” Jones said, “I think it’s strictly on the basis of the performance that I have given in the past three-and-a-half years. I have no doubt that any change would probably be good to any office, but … you’re only allowed to change as much as our state agencies will allow …” Sheriff Please give a brief history of yourself, including why you are running for sheriff: Danny Owens Owens said he’s been wanting to run for sheriff for a long time. He spoke of his 29 years as a first responder, his work for the city and county fire departments, his position as assistant coroner, and said he’d like to play a role in lessening the drug epidemic. Gary Gilkison said he joined the Woodford County Police Department in 1977, where he started the K-9 and mounted police units, then served four terms as jailer. He now works as a court security officer for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, and said the drug epidemic would be a top priority. Johnny Wilhoit said he began working for the Versailles Police Department (VPD) in 1986, where he was named chief in 2005. Last year, Wilhoit was appointed sheriff. He said he made drug enforcement a priority with the VPD and was doing the same in his new position. What is your solution to the drug addiction (problem) in Woodford County? Wilhoit said, “The problem we have with drug addiction is these people that get strung out on drugs, that’s all they think about. … I don’t know that we have a solution.” He said state law now allows family members of drug addicts to go to court and have them jailed until a treatment facility is found for them and has seen several cases where that’s worked. “We can fight drugs all day long, but until we get these people into some good treatment programs, we’re spinning our wheels.” Owens said as sheriff, he’d worked to get rid of as many illegal drugs in the community as possible. He said he’d work to bring more opportunities for some drug offenders to be admitted to drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, but that people with drug problems have to want to help themselves. “A lot of people don’t want to do that,” he said. Owens said he’d bring the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program to middle and high school students. Gilkison said “We should be arresting these people that’s selling whatever they’re selling, but we definitely need some additional programs set up to help those who do have a true addiction to dope. A true addiction, you can’t break by yourself. …” He said drug abuse prevention programs for youths are important, that he’d begin a “spend a day with the sheriff” program for children “to let them know we’re out to help them, we’re not out to be the bad guys.” Do you believe that a clean needle exchange program (like the one recently begun at the Woodford County Health Department) is an appropriate response to the current drug epidemic? Gilkison said, “I think it’s going to cut down on a lot of hepatitis … I think they’re going to use it anyway, and we might be saving their lives. … I would be reluctant to share a needle with anybody … but these people don’t care. … They’ll do whatever it takes to get … their next fix.” Wilhoit said, “I think the results (number of people using the program) are real low. I would probably have to go with, ‘Yes,’ … for the same reason that Gary said -- it’s hepatitis and all the other diseases these people get sharing needles. …” Owens said, “I don’t know if it’s an appropriate response … It does give us, as first responders (a safer work environment) … because if we get … accidentally poked by that needle, I’d much rather have that needle exchange program … I think it’s a safer response.” Describe your supervisory experience. Wilhoit said, “I’ve been a supervisor since 1996 with the police department and then I became the chief, so, I’ve got quite a bit of supervisory experience. And now, I’m the sheriff for the last nine months, so I have a clear understanding of what it’s like to deal with employees. …” Owens said, “Over the years, working in the law enforcement/coroner’s office, I have supervised a lot of crime scenes, being the head investigator of that crime scene when it involves a fatality. … I supervised a plane crash in Woodford County … (and) I was the only chief deputy coroner on the scene. …” Gilkison said, “I started when I was serving with the police department. A lot of times, your senior officer is in charge. … At the jail, I supervised about 30 people, and at the (Franklin County) courthouse, about, probably, 12 or 13 as supervisor of court security. …”

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