Sheriff candidates address public at forum
The two candidates in the race for sheriff following Sheriff Bobby Suttles’ recent and sudden retirement sparred for the approval of Haywood County Democrats at a recent forum.
It was the only opportunity for longtime sheriff’s office employee Larry Bryson and recently retired N.C. Highway Patrol Lt. Greg Christopher to make their case as to why they believe they should be the next sheriff.
Only registered Democrats were allowed to attend the forum addressing the Haywood County Democratic Executive Committee, which was held Saturday at the Haywood County Justice Center.
Both candidates were cordial toward one another as they sat side by side to answer 19 questions submitted by citizens prior to the forum. Moderator for the event was former Rep. Ray Rapp.
During introduction, Bryson, 57, who is the current chief deputy at the sheriff’s office, acknowledged that both he and his opponent are “Democrats to the core,” but he pointed toward 19 years of service in the department as his best qualification for the job.
Having worked in every major position at the department, from an undercover drug agent to chief of detectives, Bryson said he knows the inner workings of the sheriff’s office.
“There are changes to be made at the sheriff’s office and I intend to make those changes,” Bryson said.
His three main goals if appointed sheriff are to create a multi-agency drug task force, place more school resource officers in schools and create a community advisory board for the sheriff’s office.
Christopher, 51, came to the podium with three goals as well — to provide professional leadership, build a better relationship with other agencies and improve the services to the public.
He pointed to his 27 years in law enforcement and leadership over the years as his best asset to the job.
Throughout the question and answer session, Christopher repeatedly stressed his intentions to bring better professionalism, transparency, accountability and accessibility to the sheriff’s office, all of which he believes are not consistently present in the department.
“We must remind our employees that they are representing every one of you even when they are off duty,” Christopher said in regards to professionalism.
He said he wanted to focus energy on more training of employees and he intends to lead by example to encourage his officers to "do the right thing."
Both candidates agreed that the drug epidemic, specifically prescription pills, must be addressed.
Christopher said, as sheriff, he would like to partner with the community in efforts to raise awareness about drugs. He said the sheriff’s office is not active enough in combating the prescription drug epidemic with other agencies.
“Everybody else in this county is involved in the drug enforcement togetherness with the exception of the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office has to be involved with that and right now, they’re not,” he said.
While Bryson said he felt the sheriff's office works well with other agencies, he agreed that coming together will be the best way to fight the drug battle.
“We’ve got to put our petty differences aside. We have to have the community behind the sheriff to make a difference. This drug business that’s going on now – one person or one police department cannot tackle that alone. It’s going to take a concerted effort from a group of people and I know how to make that happen,” Bryson said.
He also said he has a plan to place an SRO in schools with slow response time because of their rural locations, particularly Bethel and Riverbend Elementary schools.
While Bryson said his first goal is to “rearrange and restructure” the office by moving employees to different positions, Christopher said he plans to sit down with each employee and listen to their needs and ideas before making changes.
While agreeing on several issues, such as the need for more personnel, there were some areas of argument. Bryson pointed to rumors of job promises during the campaign.
“My opponent has promised a number of jobs to people who are working in the precincts…there’s nothing fair about that when you can go and try to lock up a bunch of votes by promising jobs. I’ve not promised anyone in here a job. We have positions to fill but we have a process of doing that and it’s not going around promising people work,” Bryson said.
In response, Christopher said, "I have asked someone from another agency to come and help me and it’s a man that is a professional and he has done a great job in other places and he would do a great here."
In closing, each candidate made their final appeal to the job.
"I believe I can create a positive environment with the office, employees, communities and believe I can mend fences, so to speak with other agencies. I believe I can relate, communicate and I can be available to each person that needs me," Christopher said.
Bryson pointed again to his knowledge of the department.
"I think you need to lean toward (the fact) that this is not a job you can learn on - you already have to possess some of those skills. I know where the changes need to be made, folks, and I know how to make those changes," he said.
Only the officials of the party and its affiliate groups, as specified by the N.C. Democratic Party Plan of Organization, are eligible to vote for sheriff. They will be notified by mail that they are official delegates.
The election to nominate an individual for sheriff will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, at the Haywood County Justice Center courtroom 2B. Registration will begin at 10 a.m. In case of inclement weather, the election will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, March 4, at the Haywood County Justice Center.
For more information, call 452-9607 or visit haywooddemocrats.org.