Rogers County candidates faced tough questions Thursday during a debate at Rogers State University.
The two-hour event provided candidates for District 2 Commissioner, County Clerk, Court Clerk and Rogers County Sheriff to directly address their opponents.
Each group had approximately 20 minutes to deliver opening remarks, answer submitted questions and to participate in open debate.
Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm and his opponent Troy Wilstead began the event and addressed the issue of road repairs in the county.
“I am going to bring accountability and integrity to the office of county commissioner,” Wilstead said. “If you contact the commissioners office, I will get back to you with an answer.”
“When we look at opportunities we first have to look at leadership,” Helm said. “Leadership and passion have to come to the forefront.”
Helm also spoke about the opportunities in Rogers County, including the Port of Catoosa and the increased shipping that is now occurring.
Wilstead explained that the port is an asset but that issues with employee layoffs will need to be addressed.
Helm was asked about the recent lawsuit against Rogers County resulting in a $22 million judgment against the county.
Both agreed the attorneys that handled the case with Material Services, Inc., could have done a better job.
They responded to questions about how city and county services could work together to save money.
When working with area cities, Helm stated that the creation of an Oologah-Talala EMS system and the new E911 center were projects that he supported to improve city-county cooperation.
Wilstead said the E911 center will be an asset to residents, but “wasteful spending” like replacing windows in the old courthouse have been another obstacle in funding city-county projects.
“I wanted to run for county commissioner because I saw the tax dollars that were being spent,” Wilstead said.
He explained how he wanted to bring accountability and transparency to the office.
Approximately, $18 million has been brought back to Rogers County to be used on projects like road repairs, according to Helm.
“I believe one of those roads runs in front of your house,” Helm said.
“That is correct Mike, I have lived in that house for 17 years and that is the first time my road has been resurfaced, I appreciate that in an election year,” Wilstead said.
Helm then explained that it cost $100,000 per mile to resurface the roads, and that limited funds have directly effected the ability to repair the 700 miles of roadway in the county.
Wilstead questioned the increase in road repairs during an election year, however, Helm attributed the repairs to grant funding that was recently received.
Both of the men stated that they will work to further the opportunities and future growth of the county.
County Clerk Candidates
In an effort to continue discussion regarding county government the candidates for county clerk, Robin Anderson and Kit Kelley followed.
Anderson has worked in county government for eight years and Kelley has worked for nine years, according to opening statements.
Experience in abstracting, work in the land department and specialized county training have provided the training needed to be successful in this position, Kelley said.
Anderson spoke about how owning a home-based business and how it provided her with budgeting experience.
Anderson supports complete transparency in government and will support budget boards if elected.
Kelley explained how he has had hands-on experience working with the county clerk, land records and systems that are currently in place.
Kelley asked Anderson about her “excessive” travel expenses.
“Your yearly travel is more than my total expense for the past nine years,” Kelley said.
Anderson’s response was simple as she stated she only travels to training at her supervisor’s request.
“Schooling is very important. If you don’t have schooling you can’t be a good county employee,” Anderson said.
“I go to the classes also, but when traveling with taxpayers money, I try to be a good steward with taxpayers money,” Kelley said.
The issue of travel centered on previous reports that Anderson claimed meal expenses that were greater than average for county employees in similar positions.
“I will work hard for you, make people accountable for what they do,” Kelly said.
Both candidates were asked about how they would spend funds if provided with a surplus, for example an extra $200,000.
Anderson said she would use the funds on furniture for the new office in the courthouse.
Kelley said he would spend the money to preserve land records that date back to statehood and to provide greater access to records to the public.
Court Clerk Candidates
The two candidates for Court Clerk, Candi Czapansky and Kim Henry, focused on technology improvements for the office.
The issue of access to court records was addressed and privacy protection under the law.
The candidates agreed that increased access through electronic records would benefit the citizens of Rogers County.
Czapansky spoke about her role in the development of a new system that is currently being developed.
“I think it is also important that the office gets up to date with other technologies including websites,” Henry said.
“The confidential records in the office are protected by state statute,” Czapansky said. “I can’t say who can get them and not another, they have to be treated equally.”
In response, Henry stated a concern that employees may be copying documents and distributing information.
Czapansky explained the “Open Records Act” and which documents are open to the public.
“We have an open door policy and we plan to keep that,” Czapansky said.
There will some measures in the new courthouse to provide some protection for employees and to increase privacy, according to Czapansky.
These plans include having a front counter for the public and a private office area for staff.
Henry was in agreement with the plans for the new office and also would like to see a button security system implemented in addition to those plans.
Candidates were asked to share additional plans or improvements that could be made to the office.
“I will be pushing for technology, I think it is very important for the citizens of Rogers County to be able to get in contact with the court clerk’s office,” Henry said.
Czapansky said those improvements are currently being put into place with the assistance of state officials.
Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton and opponent Cole Butler faced off in a heated debate concerning deputy staffing and management of the office.
“One thing that is important is that we are very, very different,” Butler said as he urged the crowd to listen closely to the debate.
The attacks were not limited to opening statements. It was clear these two men had a different point of view in how the sheriff’s office should be managed.
There are 700-square-miles in Rogers County and the candidates were asked if the quadrant system would help increase coverage.
“We are doing the best we can and we have increased coverage since I have been in office,” Walton said. “Mobile technology will be the first step in a quadrant system.”
We need a better fleet of cars and more feet on the ground, Walton added.
There are too many supervisors and not enough men in the field, according to Butler.
“One reason there are 20 deputies in Rogers County is because they are top heavy,” Butler said.
The issue of incarceration and the place the jail will play in stopping career criminals was also raised.
Walton stated a direct correlation between arrests and criminal activities in certain areas of the county. The sheriff’s office monitors this and the behavior of inmates to analyze how it affects the community and to promote prevention of future crimes.
Butler believes the issue is more than this and the jail, although considered a punishment contains a greater issue.
“It is a heart issue,” Butler said.
There are things that can be done to help improve the repeat offenses including ministering to individuals in jail, according to Butler.
The candidates agree that there is a great benefit to the inmates through a jail ministry.
After discussing this issue, Butler requested Walton explain why he hired a “personal assistant” at taxpayer expense.
Walton responded by stating, “I have no personal assistant. I handle my own phone calls and probably make 50 or 60 a day.”
The position called into question was an administrative position that was replacing an individual that had retired from the department.
Walton did not hesitate after responding to deliver a tough question in return.
“In 31 years plus with the Tulsa Police Department, you have never had a leadership role, management role or a supervisor’s position or been in charge of that agency,” Walton said.
How do you plan to run the Sheriff’s office, Walton asked.
“I will remind you that you left the department as an officer as well,” Butler said. “I have chosen to stay an officer to serve the people, I have taken thousand and thousands of calls and each of them is a management opportunity.”
When you promote you get farther and farther away from the people. The sheriff’s role is to serve the people, according to Butler.
“I take my job seriously,” Walton said. “I would describe your career with the TPD as passive, and I see no place in a leadership role for a passive sheriff.”
The greatest need for public safety is getting back in touch with the people, according to Butler.
“Public safety starts with law enforcement and changes need to be made,” Butler said.
The focus has to be placed on career criminals that prey on good people, according to Walton.
“The first priority is for additional equipment and staff,” Walton said.
Butler believes Walton has not utilized the resources that are currently available.
“Anyone that believes we can serve 88,000 people with four deputies is absolutely insane,” Walton said.
The men continued to banter back and forth with little agreement between them.
Walton and Butler have very different ideas about how the Rogers County Sheriff can best serve the people.
The debates are now available online at www.rsupublictv.org and will be rebroadcast in Claremore on Cox Cable.