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Sheriff, KCC chair, treasurer candidates speak at forum

Highlights ‘fundamental differences’ between Matthews, Thomley

Posted: June 6, 2014 2:48 p.m.
Updated: June 9, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Seven Republican primary candidates answered questions and presented their views during a June 3 forum at Lugoff-Elgin High School. The Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce and Kershaw County Teacher Forum sponsored the event. The candidates are competing in Tuesday’s primary for county sheriff , council chairman and treasurer.

The decision of who will be Kershaw County’s sheriff for the four years starting in 2015 will be decided Tuesday as incumbent Sheriff Jim Matthews and challenger David Thomley, both Republicans, are the only candidates for the office. Matthews, elected to his first term in 2010, said he is proud of the progress in the sheriff’s office and he hopes to continue.

“Over the past three-and-a-half years, we’ve worked hard to modernize the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) in a way that can protect you, the citizens, in an honest and fair way. We’ve focused on the crimes and criminals that do the most harm to our community,” Matthews said. “Before I came into office, Kershaw County had the dubious distinction of having the highest DUI (driving under the influence) fatality rate per capita in the state of South Carolina.”

Thomley said he wanted to talk about some “fundamental differences” between he and Matthews on how to combat crime.

“I’ve complimented Jim and his staff for things they have done in the past for a job well done, but the bottom line is, we are different,” Thomley said. “I’m going to continue to question policy and procedure. I’m going to talk about the ideals and goals that I have and the beliefs that I have. Jim comes from the federal government system, I come from the county government system. The sheriff’s office is a county government agency. They are run completely different. A lot of times, the federal government throws money at a problem, the county government has to pinch pennies to solve problems.”

Thomley is critical of the KCSO’s traffic enforcement unit Matthews created after he took office. Thomley said that manpower should be used to serve Kershaw County residents, not to patrol I-20.

“My plan would be to reassign the traffic unit that is currently assigned to the interstate. I would have a radar unit in each car on each shift because I want to be well rounded,” Thomley said. “I don’t have a problem with having radar and I don’t have a problem with responding to the needs and requests of the citizens in the county. However, I would require my radar unit operators to go to schools and set up classes to educate our young people about the dangers of driving while distracted, driving under the influence, driving while not wearing a seatbelt.”

Matthews countered by saying the traffic unit is self-sufficient and funded by fines from citations and arrests they make and not by tax money from the sheriff’s office budget. He said the S.C. Highway Patrol is understaffed in patrolling the interstate and, therefore, his personnel increase safety on the highway.

“Our traffic unit has been acknowledged statewide for three consecutive years. They have saved lives. This year, we have two traffic fatalities to date. Last year at this time we had eight. They are doing an outstanding job,” Matthews said. “They were not taken from patrol and assigned to traffic enforcement. Our patrol staff is the same as it was when I came into office. The traffic unit is an independent unit. They pretty much fund themselves. To have them do anything else will reduce their revenue stream and they will have to be dissolved.”

Responding to a question on future law enforcement issues, Matthews said drug and gang activity is greater in surrounding counties and he wants to keep it at a minimum in Kershaw County.

“We stay on top of our gang and drug problems via a very proactive and aggressive narcotics unit. They’ve made over 1,000 arrests since I’ve been in office. They take down meth labs on a regular basis. They sometimes hide in the woods for hours on end in order to get enough probable cause to execute a search warrant at a drug house. These guys do a phenomenal job. Drugs is the common denominator in almost all crimes in Kershaw County. We have to stay on top of it,” Matthews said.

Thomley said reducing call response time should be a priority.

“When someone dials 911, that is the most important thing in their life at that time. They want to see a deputy there. I disagree that the traffic unit funds itself. At times it breaks even,” Thomley said. “I do agree with Jim on this: drugs continue to be a big problem, not just in Kershaw County, but statewide and nationwide. It has to be addressed. I think drugs and gangs are tied together. I think you have to have education, prevention, intervention and enforcement. Those four things need to work together.”

In their portion of the forum, county council chairman candidates Julian Burns, Gene Hartis and Ben Connell all spoke on a common theme: economic development. Hartis started the opening statements, followed by Burns and Connell.

“I’m very concerned about our youth. I’m very concerned about jobs. We are becoming a ‘mom and pop’ county,” Hartis said. “Our children and grandchildren work out of our county because there’s no jobs or income here.”

Burns said his experience in the military and in business would be an asset in the council chairman’s seat.

“I’ve traveled all over the world and there wasn’t a day I didn’t dream about returning home to my birthplace here,” Burns said. “It’s a great place to live and for people to raise their families and to work. Kershaw County needs to be open for business and we need to work together as a team of teams to improve ourselves for a better future, for jobs for ourselves and for our families.”

Connell said he has young children and returned to his native Kershaw County to give them the same quality childhood he had.

“I’d like to help existing businesses grow and also attract new business to the area. I think it’s really all about jobs,” Connell said. “I also want to focus on recreation and education, but without the jobs to fund some of those amenities and some of the other things we’ll need, whether they be facilities, programs or technology, it’s really putting the cart before the horse.”

When asked if they would support a tax increase to fund economic development that would create jobs, their answers were mixed.

“You have to know what you want to do before you try to figure out how you’re going to do it and how you’re going to pay for it,” Burns said. “In this county, there’s no one who favors a tax increase. A tax increase is just not in the cards and may not be necessary if we get the economic development, if we get the businesses in here that can raise the tax base.”

Connell said he could support a modest tax increase if he felt assured it was a sound investment.

“If it was an investment in improved infrastructure and got somebody like Continental Tire or some other business here so people could work,” Connell said. “I view taxes as an important bane to my existence as a business owner. I don’t like taxes, but I understand for Kershaw County to catch up to where we need to be, investments might be necessary.”

Hartis said that like a business, government sometimes has to spend money to make more.

“We’ve got to do something to get infrastructure in. A lot of time when people think of infrastructure they think of water, power and sewer,” he said. “That’s just part of your infrastructure. You’ve got to have a fire department and rescue squads. You’ve got to have a sheriff’s department. You’ve got to have the schools.”

Jill Catoe and Heather Ives-Dykes are the two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination to replace Steve Vincent who is not running for reelection. Catoe spoke first, saying her 15 years working in the treasurer’s office gives her a thorough understanding of what the job requires.

“I have a great working relationship with the staff in the treasurer’s office. We’ve been together for many years. We have cross trained each other. We have a very friendly office and a very accessible office,” Catoe said. “It runs very organized and efficiently. I feel I have the qualifications to lead the office the next four years.”

Ives-Dykes said her business background would bring new knowledge and experience to the office.

“I have a strong financial background and business background. My skills in those areas would serve the county and the treasurer’s department on that end,” Ives-Dykes said. “My motivation is I have a lot of options and skills and business knowledge for collections and financial background that would help the county.”

Most of the rest of Catoe and Ives-Dykes’ comments were similar to those made in answers to the Chronicle-Independent as part of a series of candidate Q&As in Friday’s edition.

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