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Candidate forum - more about questions than answers?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Members of the voting electorate who attend candidates' forums usually do so to test the mettle of those seeking elected offices. An overflow crowd converged on the Silver Sage Corral Senior Activity Center for a first up close and personal look at prospective county leaders during the Bandera County Republican Local Candidates Forum, held Saturday, Jan. 21.

Whether they learned anything new or revealing about the 21 people on the ballot in the upcoming Republican Primary Election remains to be seen, however. The formal part of the forum, scheduled to begin at 1:30 pm, actually got off the ground 20 minutes late. Nevertheless, the forum had concluded by 3:30 pm, enabling candidates to glad hand with prospective voters.

The forum was sponsored by the Bandera County Republican Women and the Republican Party of Bandera County.

Same time, next week

The first part of the forum featured Gwenda "Winnie" Tschirhart, who is running unopposed for tax assessor-collector; Incumbent Precinct 1 Commissioner Bruce Eliker and his challenger, Bob Grimes; Incumbent County Commission Precinct 3 Richard Keese and his challenger, Andy Wilkerson; and unchallenged incumbents, Precinct 1 Constable Phillip Tobin; Precinct 2 Constable Ernest Reich; and Precinct 3 Constable Don Walters. In this session, each candidate was given two minutes to speak. There were no questions for commissioners or constables..

Keese's wife, Sherrie, spoke on behalf of her husband who was attending the Extension Service Appreciation Luncheon in Medina as a special guest. Hands down, everyone agreed that Mrs. Commissioner stole the show.

Short statements from candidates for tax assessor-collector, commissioners and constables will be published in the Thursday, Feb. 2, edition of the Courier.

Legal minutiae

Next up on deck were candidates for county attorney, incumbent John Payne and challengers Janna Lindig and Daniel J. MacNeil.

After an allotted two-minute introduction, BCRW President Kerry Schneider posed questions to the trio.

Schneider, however, prefaced her questions by saying she understood the three-part queries were so involved and yet so important that she didn't anticipate anyone being able to answer them in the one minute they were allotted.

As more than one audience member noted later, "If the questions were so complicated that they couldn't be answered in the time allowed, why were they asked?" At times, the cumbersome format appeared designed to set the candidates up for failure.

Also, focusing on legal minutiae seemed, at times, counterproductive in a candidates' forum.

Exculpatory evidence

MacNeil believed the county attorney should aggressively prosecute only cases that merit prosecution. He would not seek the consent of an arresting officer before pursuing a case as, ultimately, the decision to prosecute would be his. MacNeil also felt all evidence, including exculpatory evidence, which points to a suspect's innocence, should be disclosed.

Referring to exculpatory information, Lindig concurred that a prosecutor must try to find as many facts regarding a case as possible.

Payne noted that, according to the Brady Rule, all evidence uncovered in a case, including exculpatory information, must be disclosed by law. The key to successful prosecutions, he said, is for the county attorney to work closely with law enforcement officers. "You have to know about evidence before you can turn it over," Payne said.

Other legalese

According to Payne, the most important function of the county attorney is to provide leadership to the county - and work in tandem with other elected officials. "We all have to work together in harness 24-7 going the same direction for our real bosses - the people of Bandera County."

"All functions of the county attorney are important," MacNeil said. "This is a full-time job and at a minimum, I would put in a 40-hour week."
Lindig said prosecution of offenses is the most important function of the office, as well as dispelling the "undeserved" bad press that Bandera had garnered lately in the media. "This position would be a full-time job for me," she said.

Answering a three-part question that dealt with civil vs. criminal disputes and balancing victims' rights with the ethical obligations of a prosecutor, Lindig, along with her colleague, MacNeil, believed ongoing education would be key to assisting officers determine the civil or criminal nature of cases.

According to Payne, communication is also an important component. "When you talk to officers, other facts in the case usually come out," he said.

Contested offices

During the second part of the forum, sitting in the hot seat were four contenders for the office of Precinct 4 Constable, Incumbent Rod Chalmers and challengers Austin "Butch" Lewis, Richard "Rick" Neely and Mark "Butch" Terry, along with the six candidates running on the Republican ticket for sheriff.

Much like making the bull riding the final event in a rodeo, scheduling the sheriff's candidates as the last Q&A ensured that the audience remained in their seats. BCSO Campaign Activities Chairman Lila Ward moderated this session.

Republican candidates for sheriff include former Department of Public Safety Supervisor Daniel "Dan" Butts, former Kerr County Sheriff Frances Kaiser, current BCSO Deputy David McGilvray, former law enforcement officer James Newton, former BCSO Sgt. - and author - Scott Sharp and current BCSO Chief Deputy Richard D. Smith.

Who wants to be sheriff?

When asked why he wanted to be sheriff and what would be his top priority, Newton said, "I threw my hat in the ring because this department needed changes. I can look at things objectively and make the necessary changes."

He continued, "I would reorganize the department and hold officers accountable for their actions. I am not obligated to anyone and have formed no alliances. There will be no more closed door deals."

Answering the same question, McGilvray, who has served 40 years as a peace officer, said he would also reorganize the sheriff's department. "My platform is to protect and guard the constitutional rights of every citizen in this county," he said. Referring to the audience, McGilvray added, "I work for you."

He also promised to get county law enforcement officers "headed in the right direction to what the community wants and expects of their law enforcement agency."

What stinkin' budget?

The next question referenced the BCSO's current budget, including reductions and increases. Smith, who recently completed the process, drew that question first. The fifth generation Texan said that commissioners had already "cut, cut, cut" the department's $4 million budget. "We really can't cut too much more," he said.

"Our law enforcement officers provide the best service that Bandera County can afford at this time with regard to education and training," Smith said. "We provide services for the children and the grandbabies of this county. We might have a long way to go, but I'm proud of the department's plan of action."

Butts, who had drawn the same question as Smith, garnered the biggest laugh of the day when he said, "Well, I didn't know what the sheriff's office budget was before, but I do now. I'm glad I had to answer second."

Up front, he said explanations about budget cuts and increases would take longer than his allotted one minute. The short answer, Butts indicated, would be to "prioritize, cut waste and try to get the 'best bang for the buck' when putting the departmental budget together."

Waxing philosophic

When asked about his philosophy for the sheriff's department, Sharp, a peace officer for 17 years, said, "My philosophy would be one of transparency because during the years I worked here, there were lots of secrets and things occurred that the community didn't know about."

Referencing his dismissal related to whistle-blowing activities, Sharp concluded, "When the sheriff's office had issues that needed to be addressed, I stood up and I'm willing to do it again - for the next 25 years."

As one of the first female sheriffs in Texas, Kaiser acknowledged she had had "a hard row to hoe," but had been elected to three terms. Describing the position of sheriff as "an administrator who manages the budget and personnel," she said, "I won't be there kicking in doors, but I will be there to back up the officers who do."

A native of Bandera County, Kaiser said she would provide the leadership necessary to ensure the sheriff's office is again one of pride, dignity and professionalism. "Law enforcement officers must be a part of the community," she said. "I will institute an open door policy that extends to both the citizens and employees."

Did it help?

At the forum's conclusion, one voter was asked if she had learned anything about the various candidates. After some consideration, she replied, "Well, I'm not sure who I'm going to vote for yet, but I was able to scratch a couple of the candidates off my list."

Well, that's something.

Pictured: Before getting in the hot seat on Saturday, Jan. 21, BCRW President Kerry Schneider, right, and Republican Party Chairman Ed Hodges, left, discussed the format of the Bandera County Republican Local Candidates Forum with candidates for county attorney, incumbent John Payne and challengers, Daniel J. MacNeil and Janna I. Lindig.