In my view, Liberty County voters have batted a thousand in the last few years when it comes to sheriff races. And, despite what sounds like a very organized and, up until recently, secret effort by people from outside Liberty County to influence us to not make the best choice this time, I believe voters will continue upgrading.
In my book Democrat Greg Arthur came to office with valuable experience and with a great deal of promise. He was good at organizing and building a more competent department with good morale. In many ways the sheriff’s department under his management improved in the way they “served and protected” our community.
As the years went by however, Arthur personal decisions and moral failings almost seem to be reflected in the culture within the department. As is true with many who hold political office, he was starting to make more and more decisions based on politics and protecting his power by helping allies and hurting political enemies. In the 2008 election voters overwhelmingly voted for change. Indeed, in Arthur’s own neighborhood he was soundly beaten.
Voters in 2008 voted for a man whose home life by all accounts is a good one. They voted for a man who had no personal attachments to some of the bad apples that were giving the sheriff’s department a bad reputation and causing problems. When Henry Patterson was elected, the voters chose the only route they had to clean up problems in the sheriff’s department.
Now as the 2012 Republican primary approaches, voters will have another chance to continue their streak of choosing the best person to lead at the time. After four years of questions by federal investigators and voters about some of the people the new sheriff brought in to help the department, the arrest and conviction of Captain Harry Kelly and other decisions have caused a downward spiral in the morale within the department. Patterson freed the department from one of the most morally challenged deputies in the history of the county, but that took two years and left the best of our deputies feeling like they were more under the microscope than those committing crimes around the county.
Though those in the department may not agree, the sheriff’s purging of the department was needed and it would never have been done if Patterson had not been elected. But Patterson’s choice in bringing in help has been almost like a red flag to people on all sides of politics in Liberty County. His special crimes unit, though a good idea in theory, has taken manpower off of the streets and more and more sounds like it has some of the aspects of more politics than law enforcement. Rumors about Patterson almost turning over the department to people who are not licensed law enforcement or licensed private eyes- who also are key people in his re-election campaign, appear to be having names and faces added to the stories we are just beginning to hear.
In my opinion, Sheriff Patterson has served his purpose, but when we hear how he has handled some of the problems left him, I believe voters will agree that help is needed. But the help that is needed will not be outsiders invited into Liberty County by Patterson, but a new sheriff. The times demand a sheriff who has a law enforcement background, but also has real good business skills.
Arthur was popular among many in the department, but he gave deputies something he was not free to give. He gave them comp time. He gave them so much comp time that it literally set the taxpayer up for millions of dollars of debt that was never approved and never showed up on the books. He passed that problem on to Patterson. Patterson has now spent three years simply letting people off to reduce the comp time. He has done this at the same time he has pulled deputies off of patrol to work on special projects. Both the last two sheriffs have had areas they were good at, but 2012 is a time when we need a new kind of sheriff. One that is able to manage money and organize men. It has been many many years since we had a sheriff that had regular press conferences and answered questions so the public could understand what the goals of the department are. Now is the time for a sheriff that will do that.