Jackson County voters will elect a new sheriff when they head to the polls for the general election Tuesday, Nov. 3.

To help voters decide which candidate best aligns with their beliefs, the Sentinel-Press asked Republican candidate Brent Kilburg and Democratic candidate Steve Schroeder to respond to six questions. 

Both candidates received the same questions and their responses were limited to 300 words per question. They were asked to supply their responses by 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17; both candidates complied.

Their responses are printed verbatim.

1. How would you ensure you and your deputies would provide fair and equal treatment for all?

It’s a training issue that needs to be instilled and influenced from the top down. The training then reinforces the culture that the law applies to everyone and certainly doesn’t exclude anyone just because of a position they hold within the criminal justice system. An insider should know better than anyone how to conduct themselves and lead by example rather than expect favoritism.

Most professional agencies have a Code of Conduct to reinforce professional, and deter unethical behavior. They have you sign an Oath of Office upon acceptance of the position. It covers things like defending the Constitution; CONFORMING to the laws you are discharged to enforce; that you will NOT be influenced in the discharge of your duties by fear, favor, reward, or personal prejudice; you will conduct yourself in a manner that reflects credit upon your fellow officers and agency; and you will ALWAYS be conscious of the fact that your purpose is to serve your fellow man, NOT yourself.  

There are several steps involved in providing fair and equal treatment for all. The first step is to generate that Code of Conduct that outlines the expectations for everyone on our team.  The second step would be to provide one-on-one mentoring with each team member and provide written documentation of their duties along with expectations which will be reviewed on an annual or as needed basis. The third step is to provide annual reviews for each team member which highlights achievements, reviews personal goals and defines areas that need improvement, if there are any.  This type of method is currently used by other agencies and has proven successful.

2. Should voters have concerns about hiring practices and nepotism in the current Jackson County Sheriff’s Office? Please explain your answer.

Voters absolutely should be concerned over nepotism in all parts of governmental organizations, especially when it comes to the Sheriff’s Office. It’s not a family business, nor should it be structured or operated like it is. Your Sheriff’s Office should not be filled with an abundance of influence from family or friends, otherwise it starts to lean towards a dictatorship where fair and impartial treatment becomes rare for those not belonging to the clique. Always hire the most qualified candidate based on ethics, honesty, fairness, integrity, and transparency.

Currently the Sheriff’s son works under him, and the Sheriff’s brother-in-law (Mr. Schroeder) is the Chief Deputy. During the forum on KMAQ prior to the primary, Mr. Schroeder’s opponent twice mentioned that he had heard Mr. Schroeder plans to promote the Sheriff’s son to the Investigator position, which can be a stepping stone to the Chief Deputy position. This could ultimately set him up for the Sheriff position and continue the family dynasty. Mr. Schroeder did not confirm nor deny. Even one of the previous Supervisors was also a brother-in-law to the Sheriff during his long tenure.

Nepotism makes disciplinary actions extremely difficult. It also creates resentment among the other employees because they perceive they are treated differently and unfairly. For this reason, most professional organizations don’t allow it.

Recently there was a Letter-to-the-Editor published in the local newspapers that was co-signed by many of Mr. Schroeder’s subordinates. Did some sign under duress? I think it’s more important to note who did NOT sign the letter. Even Schroeder’s opponent in the Primary said, “I think we need some fresh ideas and new leadership and new blood in that office”.

3. Where do you stand on the proposal of building a new Jackson County jail?

It is apparent the old jail is not sufficient. If we pursue building a new jail, I prefer it be connected to our courthouse to save on operational and transportation costs. It also helps with safety and security concerns. If that’s not feasible and we have to build at the new proposed location, I will support that decision. 

The biggest problem in determining the size of the new jail has been the lack of verifiable operational costs. The jail committee continually requested this information, but the current administration did not provide it. When the Sheriff’s office came up with some figures, no one could verify their accuracy or validate them. One of the first things we will do when I take office will be to track the actual daily operational costs.  

I think we need to find a happy medium. Other Sheriffs have warned me not to “sell” the jail to our community by claiming it will make money. One, that only works if there is demand by other agencies to fill our vacancies. Two, jails aren’t profitable. At best filling other agencies demands may make some of our operating costs more efficient.  Three, jail standards will continue to evolve with time so eventually down the road we should expect to be out of compliance again. Today most jails are operating at minimal capacity due to Covid-19, and the future of detentions is unclear based on other technological advances and alternatives.

4. What characteristics most set you apart from your opponent?

The three most important characteristics of a Sheriff are Leadership, Competency, and Integrity.  All three of these are developed over time through experience and performance of duties. I think my background proves I far exceed my opponent.

Leadership. I have almost 32 years of leading troops in the military, not only as a Sergeant, but also as an Officer. I have enjoyed the same success as a law enforcement officer for over 27 years where I have trained co-workers in a multitude of capacities. This requires learning the art of understanding a wide range of diverse cultures and personalities, and mixing that chemistry together so it desires to operate as a cohesive team for you.

Competency is the foundation of professionalism, and ties into leadership.  Others will recognize it, trust it, be loyal to it, and follow it.  Knowing your job is the first thing, but people will follow you when they know you care enough to do things correctly, even when it is uncomfortable.

Integrity should be the cornerstone of law enforcement, and be intertwined within leadership and competence.  People’s lives and futures depend on us doing our jobs correctly, so we owe them the same integrity as we would want for ourselves or our family members in that same situation.

Due to my wide range of experience in many different capacities over a broad ranging geographical area, I have always built collaboration with other agencies through my solid reputation and interpersonal skills, and have always been able to multiply the success of everyone involved by working together. I will expand that collaboration as your Sheriff.

I have also managed budgets in private business, so I know how to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers. 

5. What kind of training do you think is necessary for sheriff’s deputies to do their jobs well? 

What kind of training do you think is necessary for Sheriff’s Deputies to do their jobs well? In light of recent events, some training is more critical than others, so you have to prioritize the major topics first. Interpersonal communication skills are some of the biggest assets a Deputy can have at their disposal. Your demeanor with subjects can largely determine the direction and outcome of your interaction, so things like the gentle art of persuasion, diversity training, and knowing how to de-escalate things are critical. A Community Policing mentality where Deputies interact closely with the residents will help with that, building rapport and confidence in the Sheriff’s Office, and solving crimes.

Mental Health has become a huge issue in recent years because of the lack of funding for care. Law enforcement are generally the first ones to deal with those situations, and unfortunately, we suffer the brunt of dealing with what society doesn’t have any other solution for. Partnering with mental health services is critical. Some incidents can result in the use of force, so it’s also important to provide critical medical care immediately afterwards. 

Next, it’s important to stay within current legal guidelines and current training trends to ensure we are operating within acceptable parameters. We need a clear understanding of what the courts will allow us to do and work closely with the County Attorney to accomplish unified goals. 

Other areas we want to focus on are evidence collection and processing, investigations and follow-up, drug interdictions and embrace new technology such as utilizing cameras to reinforce transparency and deter liability, etc.    

6. What would be your top three priorities as Jackson County sheriff?

I have many individual goals, but my overarching priority would be to get the respect of the residents of Jackson County by doing a professional job of managing the Sheriff’s office without showing favoritism and avoiding litigation for not having done our job properly. We will be more proactive and visible in all the towns and rural areas throughout the County. We will concentrate on the more serious crimes, spend our budget wisely, monitor our expenses, and get the most bang for our buck.

I will also work to gain the respect of our team by setting a good example every day, treating each team member fairly and with dignity, allowing them to explore their aspirations and provide input, providing recognition when warranted, and cross training the staff.

I will also work to gain the respect of our neighboring Counties and all law enforcement agencies by sharing resources, working proactively together, re-building trust and cultivating relationships across boundaries. This will result in multiplication of everyone’s efforts and successes.

I appreciate all the support from the community and look forward to bringing new blood, fresh ideas, and new leadership to the Sheriff’s office. Please vote for Brent Kilburg.