Outreach, accountability key issues at sheriff candidate forum
WILLMAR -- Communication, outreach and prevention were key issues Tuesday night at a forum for the two candidates seeking election as Kandiyohi County Sheriff. Eric Holien and Greg Stehn both pledged to listen to the public's concerns and forge g...
WILLMAR - Communication, outreach and prevention were key issues Tuesday night at a forum for the two candidates seeking election as Kandiyohi County Sheriff.
Eric Holien and Greg Stehn both pledged to listen to the public's concerns and forge good partnerships with the communities they serve.
"We're here to help them. That's our primary purpose," Stehn said.
Failure to understand each other is at the root of the demonizing of law enforcement that's happening nationally, Holien said. "We need to get better at serving the community we work for."
About 30 people attended the hour-long forum, one in a series of candidate forums being hosted this month by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area to acquaint the public with who's running for local elected office and provide an opportunity to ask questions.
Holien and Stehn won a four-way primary election in August and are now squaring off for the Nov. 6 general election. The winner will step into the shoes of Dan Hartog, who is retiring at the end of the year after 16 years as county sheriff.
Both the candidates emphasized their experience and qualifications Tuesday night. Holien, a U.S. Army veteran, spent several years with the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office and is now employed part time as a Meeker County sheriff's deputy and full time with the Lower Sioux Tribal Police. Stehn has been with the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office since 1996, working his way up the ranks as a road deputy, investigator and jail administrator to become the chief deputy.
Questions from the audience reflected many of the issues being voiced nationally about public safety and the public's relationship with law enforcement: diversity, human trafficking, school safety, mental health, opioid use and more.
Holien and Stehn both spoke of the importance of good community partnerships.
"We have been disconnected from our community. We have forgotten the people we serve," Holien said.
Both said they would promote transparency and accountability.
It's important to educate the public about what the Sheriff's Office does on a daily basis, Stehn said. "It's very important for us to be transparent with the public."
The candidates also said they would work to support the employees of the Sheriff's Office with staff development, training and opportunities for listening, feedback and teamwork.
They differed most sharply on the issue of current relations between the staff and Sheriff's Office leadership.
Stehn said he felt morale "is good." Concerns have been brought to his attention while he has been campaigning but he pledged to "take note of that and work on that."
He said he will focus on individual strengths and abilities in staff development. "I just know we need to have discussions about what is important to people," he said.
Holien disagreed, saying morale is "probably the lowest it's been since I've been employed there," and attributed it to current leadership.
He said he will use a team leadership model that gives employees more ownership. "It makes them feel like a valued member of the team," he said.
Holien also used his closing statement to take direct aim at Stehn's leadership as the current chief deputy.
"There's some programs that haven't been initiated under his watch... You won't hear me say I've been working on it 10 years," he said.
Stehn's closing statement stayed focused on his experience in law enforcement.
"I am prepared to be your next sheriff and I will lead your sheriff's department in a positive and ethical manner," he said.
The forum was aired live Tuesday night on the Willmar Regional Access Channel and livestreamed on the city of Willmar's website. It will be rebroadcast on demand by WRAC and KWLM Radio and on the city of Willmar Facebook page.