By PETER KASPARI
The direction of the Webster County Sheriff's Department became the main point of disagreement Tuesday night between the two candidates running for the open sheriff's seat.
Webster County Sheriff candidate James Stubbs, left, answers a question Tuesday evening during a Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance candidates forum as fellow candidate Kevin Kruse listens at right. The current Sheriff, Brian Mickelson, is retiring at the end of his term.
Chief Deputy Jim Stubbs and Lt. Kevin Kruse, who are running for the seat left open by the retirement of Sheriff Brian Mickelson, took part in a candidate forum sponsored by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, and held at Iowa Central Community College's Bioscience and Health Sciences Building.
During his closing arguments, Kruse, running as a Republican, talked about the need for new leadership in the department.
"I want to impress on the communication gap," he said. "We have training needs that must be picked up."
Kruse also brought up the recently completed renovation of the Webster County Law Enforcement center and the recent escape attempt of an inmate who was being held in the jail.
"There were issues with that renovation, and if those had been taken care of, this might not have happened," he said. "We need to get more involved with the jail and start implementing good changes."
Stubbs, running as a Democrat, declined to comment on the incident itself, citing a pending lawsuit against the county. But he criticized Kruse's comments on the situation.
"I take offense that it was the leadership at fault," he said. "That's a misguided lack of knowledge about the incident. And I'm not going to go around blaming or pointing fingers at anyone for that."
Earlier, Stubbs and Kruse also disagreed about communication within the department.
"For the last eight years, there have been no actual staff meetings where all of us get together and talk," Kruse said. "I've talked to several of our employees and they're ready for change."
Stubbs acknowledged that no regular full-department meetings have happened, but added the command staff meets to discuss what is happening.
"I was taught that as a supervisor, you need to be in charge of your shifts," he said. "The communication goes from the lieutenants and sergeants to the deputies."
Stubbs did say there is always room for improvement.
"I don't see us making big, sweeping changes," he said. "We need to improve on what we have."
Regarding the department's budget, both candidates said in the event 10 percent needed to be cut from the budget, they would want to minimize the amount lost services.
"We want to do the least amount of damage while trying not to lay off any certified deputies," Kruse, who stated he doesn't regularly deal with the budget, said. "Maybe we'd have to cut some of our office staff."
Stubbs said while that big of a cut from the budget is possible, it's not something anybody wants to deal with.
"Those grants that we get we also use to supplement our budget," he said. "With those grants being less and less, we aren't going to be able to purchase any equipment that we need."
Both candidates praised the successes the Drug Task Force has experienced.
"We've got a lot of federal and state cases in the courts," he said. "We supply the most manpower as we can, and I think you can see the results."
Kruse said the task force is always having to adapt to new drugs that come through the area, such as crystal methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse.
"We do have a very good task force," he said. "Drug problems are always going to be there and we have to keep going after them."
Looking to the future, both Kruse and Stubbs said they would implement changes that would improve how the department works.
"We're looking at adopting Biometrix, which is an iris and facial recognition software," Stubbs said. "It's valuable for the deputies because it helps identify people. It'll help us with criminal investigations, or people with Alzheimer's and people who run away."
Kruse said he'd improve training and expand task forces.
"Our cyber crimes unit really needs to go on," he said. "And I'd like to get the deputies trained as far as responding to medical emergencies. I think with can do that at minimal cost."
Stubbs also stressed the importance of being financially responsible.
"Those are your tax dollars we are spending," he said. "And we need to utilize and be good stewards of that money."
Both candidates said they are proud of the sheriff's office.
"We've got a very good department," Kruse said. "All the guys do a pretty decent job, and I think we're sitting pretty good."
Stubbs echoed Kruse's statements.
"I'm very proud of our department," he said. "The citizens perceive us as doing a pretty good job, and I would say that's a good thing."