Door County Sheriff Candidates Spar in Forum

Subtle digs and verbal finger pointing crafted the remarks and retorts by two of the candidates for Door County Sheriff during a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday evening at the Sturgeon Bay City Hall.

Candidates William “Bill” Larson and Sheriff Terry Vogel will face off in the primary election Sept. 14 for the Republican Party nomination; William “Will” Oakley attended the forum as the Democratic Party candidate. Seated between the two Republicans, Oakley’s disdain for the sheriff was not restrained.

Oakley made sure the large audience seated in the Council Chamber room, filled with several Door County supervisors and county employees, knew where he stood on such issues as electronic monitoring of inmates and incarceration of criminals with mental illness. He also did his best to share with the audience ways he believes Sheriff Terry Vogel has incorrectly run the Door County Sheriff’s Department (DCSD) during his eight year tenure. Oakley’s main issue was a “one car, one officer” program, which he said has reduced the amount of officers that respond to emergency calls because of a cap on overtime compensation.

Sheriff Vogel said such programs and uses of modern technology – like a paging system that goes out on officers’ cell phones, has allowed him to return $1.6 million dollars to the county coffers during his time as sheriff.

“The new County Justice Center has allowed us space to house out-of-county prisoners, which helps offset the [DCSD] budget,” Vogel said, in an answer to the two-part question “What experience do you have in preparing a budget?” and “What would you do with unused funds at the end of the year?”

“Citations don’t help with the budget at all, that money doesn’t come to us,” Vogel added. “New technology helps us reduce our budget.”

Larson, a retired administrative lieutenant from the DCSD with 32 years in law enforcement, stuck to the safe middle ground with his responses to questions about underage drinking, the 2nd Amendment right to carry a firearm, and annual budget development. If elected, he said he would work on the three C’s.

“It’s vital for an administrator and members of a department to Communicate, Cooperate and Collaborate,” Larson said. “Especially with other county fire departments, the Department of Natural Resources, police department, Federal Bureau of Investigation. I don’t think [DCSD] does enough. I would also increase training for the department. There were recently 70 FBI SWAT team members training on board some ships in Sturgeon Bay, and DCSD wasn’t there. We also need to train with the Sturgeon Bay Police Department.”

Larson’s other beef was a recently purchased rescue and patrol boat. Although Vogel said the boat was purchased with a $187,000 Homeland Security grant, Larson questioned the necessity of the boat.

“I feel there are more urgent needs than a boat,” Larson said. “The Sturgeon Bay Police Department offered its current 23 foot boat to the DCSD. There will be operational and maintenance costs to the new boat, and DCSD doesn’t have the manpower to use the boat to its fullest extent.”

Vogel defended the boat acquisition.

“The sheriff is statutorily responsible for recovery and rescue of any persons on the water,” Vogel said. The Coast Guard will rescue people, Vogel explained, but will not recover bodies in the event of a fatality on the water. The Sheriff’s Department is responsible for body recovery.

The candidates were asked what they thought of the county work release program and electronic monitoring of convicted felons. Questions shied away from a recently proposed alternative sentencing program for repeat OWI offenders, as explored in an Aug. 20 story in the Pulse. At the forum, Vogel repeated a phrase he used in that story: “When a judge tells me to lock ‘em up, I lock ‘em up.”

In his closing remarks, the sheriff had an opportunity to defend his administration against claims made by Oakley. He described the paging system in more detail, and said it was saving the department thousands of dollars annually; he discussed what Oakley called “an excess” of jail staff as being state requirements; and he listed his involvement in state and county committees, as an asset for developing programs to reduce county problems like drunk driving. He also said he is one of the few Department of Justice administrators who still answers his own phone when people call the department.

“My door is always open,” Vogel said.