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2008-01-31

Citizens meet candidates at local town meeting

By David Arny

Approximately 75 local citizens attended a Saturday, Jan. 26, forum featuring candidates running for Bandera County Sheriff and Bandera County Attorney.

The two-hour gathering was held at the Pipe Creek Community Center and hostd by The Bandera Bulletin.
After thanking the audience for “participating in the democratic process,” Bulletin editor Christina Ryrholm introduced Bandera Sheriff Weldon Tucker and former Kerr County Sheriff Francis Kaiser, his opponent in the March 4 election.

Kaiser described herself as a fourth-generation Hill Country resident. She said her 17 years of experience, first as a Kerr County Sheriff’s Deputy and then as a two-term sheriff of that county, uniquely qualified her to serve as Bandera’s next sheriff. Describing the local sheriff’s office as a “good old boys’ system,” Kaiser said she would bring strong leadership to the position that she described as “lacking” there now. She said her organizational skills, sound fiscal management, law enforcement experience and ability to train deputies to file “cases the county attorney can prosecute” were among her strongest suits as a candidate.

Tucker said that while anyone in the audience was technically qualified to be sheriff, what really mattered was the quality of that person’s staff and their ability to fill open law enforcement positions.

“The sheriff holds everything together, he forms the team,” said Tucker. “He is the quarterback.”

Tucker noted the good working relationship formed during his tenure between the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement agencies in nearby counties. “Other sheriffs say they like working with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office,” Tucker said. “You’ve got to go above and beyond when you work with outside agencies. This department puts together good cases. We will continue working closely with other law enforcement organizations.”

A question concerning management of the new 96-bed jail and justice center prompted Kaiser to respond, “Been there - done that.”

Referring to the opening of a new 192-bed jail in Kerr County while she served as sheriff, Kaiser warned that experience taught her to beware of unforeseen budget problems such as unfunded state mandates for county jails.

“I can manage the budget at the new jail because I’ve done it with a bigger project,” she said.

The candidates were asked what they considered to be the dominant issues in the race.

“Strong leadership, aggressively pursuing the drug problem and having successful dispositions of cases,” Kaiser answered. “Successful dispositions means crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s when we send cases up for prosecution. We need written department guidelines for policies and procedures so everybody’s on the same page.”

Referring to the local animal control problem, Kaiser said while she recognized that people needed the ability to protect their livestock, “CCPAL must be supported as well.”

“As sheriff, I will have an open door policy. When someone needs to see the sheriff, I’ll be there.

Tucker noted his agreement with Kaiser about the drug problem facing Bandera County and said the number of methamphetamine labs which had been put out of business during his time in office was the highest ever. “We’re going to run drug dealers out of Bandera County,” he said to audience applause.

“We’ve also recently returned more than $100,000 dollars’ worth of stolen goods to area residents, thanks to the great officers and investigators we’ve brought in,” he said.

“When James McMillan was leaving office, he said ‘Bandera County is going forward; you take this department forward’.”

During the closing comments segment of the forum, Tucker noted some of the accomplishments attained during his first full year in office, including having an increased ratio of deputies residing in the county, a more proficient Criminal Intelligence Division and a greater number of successful recent drug arrests. He acknowledged the need for a written policies and procedures guide for the sheriff’s office and pledged to complete that undertaking if re-elected.

Kaiser described herself as a taxpayer and property owner who, while serving as Sheriff of Kerr County with a department of 70 employees, “was able to fire people without them filing lawsuits” against the county. She said at least three former Bandera County deputies did not leave for pay issues, but rather over disagreements with Tucker’s “management style,” and have promised they would return to work for her if she’s elected.

She went on to say the only reason she left office in Kerr County before her term as sheriff was up was because she was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo intensive treatment for her illness. Adding that “No indictments followed my leaving Kerr County,” she alluded to Tucker’s legal woes after he left the Real County Sheriff’s Office following a 2004 incident in which Tucker shot an unarmed suspect while the man was attempting to escape custody.