Sheriff candidates share vision for future
WILLMAR — Four candidates seeking to become Kandiyohi County's next sheriff outlined their vision for the future Thursday night at a forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters.
It was standing room only as the candidates talked about their priorities and responded to questions ranging from staffing at the jail to illegal immigration.
The sheriff's office is opening up this year with the upcoming retirement of Sheriff Dan Hartog, who has held the position for the past 16 years. The four candidates vying in next week's primary election are Daniel Burns, Eric Holien, Todd Neumann and Greg Stehn.
All four have extensive law enforcement experience. Burns and Neumann are both longtime deputies in the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office. Stehn also is a longtime deputy and currently serves as chief deputy. Holien, the youngest of the four candidates, is a former Kandiyohi County deputy now with the Lower Sioux Tribal Police and Meeker County Sheriff's Office.
A common theme of the hour-long forum was communication and leadership.
Burns emphasized the need to connect with people, saying he sees the sheriff's role as being "the face and voice of that office."
"We are not reaching out to some communities," he said.
"Mission first, people always" is how Holien summed up his philosophy.
"I am running for sheriff to make a positive change in leadership," he said.
Neumann pledged to listen to the public and find out what people need. It's important for a sheriff to "know your community and know who you serve," he said.
Stehn said he will bring professionalism, integrity and fiscal responsibility to the office.
"I think it's very important for us to treat people with respect... It's doing what's right even when others aren't looking," he said.
More than 50 people were crowded into the Willmar Municipal Utilities auditorium for the forum Thursday night. A League of Women Voters organizer said it was one of their best-attended candidate forums ever.
Interest in the race was so high that forum organizers ran out of time before they could get to all the questions submitted by the public.
Many questions reflected law enforcement and public safety issues in the headlines both statewide and nationally.
The candidates were asked what they would do to improve relationships with Kandiyohi County's minority communities.
All four said they would make an effort to reach out.
"We really have to dig deep into getting into those communities," Holien said.
Neumann said he would provide cultural training for officers and possibly establish a liaison position within the department. More also needs to be done in successfully recruiting minority employees to the Sheriff's Office, he said.
Outreach and cultural training are important, Stehn agreed. Community education about the role of law enforcement and promoting the message within minority communities that "we're here to help you" are also needed, he said.
The candidates all said they would assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if asked to do so but would not actively seek out and detain people suspected of immigrating here illegally.
"That is not our responsibility," Neumann said.
All four candidates supported drug enforcement efforts to stem the flow of opioids into Kandiyohi County and help for addiction.
"Treatment is everything," Burns said.
The CEE-VI drug task force made a record number of drug arrests last year, Stehn said, while also noting meth remains the biggest threat overall.
"It's important to remember methamphetamine is still the king drug in our area," he said.
All four candidates also supported the use of body-worn cameras, which are in the process of being implemented by the Sheriff's Office.
Use-of-force complaints decline when law enforcement officers wear cameras, Holien said. "They are a great tool."
Voters in Tuesday's primary election will decide which two sheriff candidates end up on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.
The League of Women Voters forum will air on the Willmar Regional Access Channels through Monday. It also can be viewed on demand online on the WRAC page of the city website, www.willmarmn.gov.