Forum sheds light on local candidates gas yourself in car

Longtime Lincoln County Commissioner Carrol Mitchem was given the first crack at addressing the gang issue. Mitchem lobbied for more frequent traffic stops on Highway 321, Highway 73 and Highway 16 in hopes of encountering outside gang members passing through Lincoln County while trafficking drugs and stolen goods from Charlotte or Gastonia to Hickory and vice-versa.

Former Lincolnton Police Department Lt. Jason Munday stressed the importance of cross-training current deputies as gang investigators. Munday also suggested a proactive approach to addressing the problem by having school resource officers connect with local children to steer them away from gangs before it’s too late.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Jon Propst, who spent two years as a gang investigator with the Dallas Police Department in Gaston County, noted the need for interagency coordination between the Sheriff’s Office and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as other surrounding agencies.

Sitting Lincoln County Commission chairman and former Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy Bill Beam echoed Propst’s sentiments about working with other law enforcement agencies in the area to identify gang activity. Beam also focused on the need to educate officers serving in the Harven Crouse Detention Center on how to identify gang activity within the jail.

Former military police officer Anthony Huss identified community involvement as the biggest step needed to address local gang activity. Huss, who owns a chain of mixed martial arts gyms, pushed for outreach programs that encourage local children to seek a hobby to occupy their time so that they don’t stumble into a life of gang membership.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Captain Tim Johnson highlighted the Felony Lane Gang that operates along the east coast, stealing identities and checkbooks from unattended cars. Johnson noted that this specific gang is costing taxpayers across the country billions of dollars through their identity theft tactics.

Munday referred to littering as a quality of life issue, saying that the Sheriff’s Office needs to issue citations and hold people accountable when caught littering. He also suggested working with local media as a deterrent to get the word out that law enforcement will be cracking down on littering.

Propst said that he doesn’t believe it’s necessary to write a ticket for everyone who’s caught littering. He added that there have been multiple times throughout his career when he’s been riding behind a truck that’s losing its load, saying that simply stopping the truck and having the person turn around and pick up what’s been lost takes care of the problem most of the time.

Beam noted that fellow Commissioner Rich Permenter has been working to come up with different ways that the county can address the litter issue. Beam said he’s also considered speaking with the county’s judges about sentencing some offenders to community service rather than jail time, with members of Keep Lincoln County Beautiful serving as supervisors for the clean-up efforts.

Huss referenced the safety issues that can result from littering and added that education is the key to resolving the issue. He elaborated, saying that most people might not know about the danger that grass clippings in the road pose to motorcyclists. Huss also suggested using inmates to help clean up the community in exchange for time off of their sentences.

Johnson added that the Sheriff’s Office has received a number of complaints about littering recently and said that sometimes the only solution is to write a citation. Johnson agreed that education is very important, but acknowledged that sometimes people don’t want to listen and therefore need to be ticketed for their offenses when necessary.

Mitchem commended Denver resident Patty Korn for her efforts to clean up the Denver area and added that he’d like to see more signs along the roads warning drivers of the penalty for littering. Mitchem also questioned why the current administration within the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t already done more to address the litter issue.

Each sheriff candidate said the current budget is adequate to address the needs of the Sheriff’s Office at this time, while acknowledging that more funding will be needed in the future as the county continues to grow and new programs are implemented. All of the candidates aside from Huss commended Sheriff David Carpenter for being fiscally conservative with taxpayer dollars during his time in office.

Huss has promised to donate 75 percent of his salary, if elected, which he figured to be approximately $60,000, back into the Sheriff’s Office to help with staffing and other funding needs. Johnson, who spoke after Huss, said he will not be giving back any of his salary as he has a family to feed.

The North Carolina General Assembly has proposed legislation that would eliminate the permitting process for state residents to carry a concealed handgun in areas where firearms can already be carried openly. Some sheriffs across the state, including Carpenter, have expressed concern with eliminating the permitting process, which includes eight hours of classroom and live-fire training.

Beam emphasized that law enforcement does not make the laws, but simply enforces them, and said that he will enforce whatever law the legislation passes. He did, however, say that he’d like to see the current system remain in placeso that the Sheriff’s Office continues to administer background checks for those wishing to carry a concealed handgun.

Huss said that, while sheriffs do not legislate, it is their duty to defend the Constitution, which includes the right to bear arms. Huss believes that citizens should be able to carry concealed without going through a permitting process, but added that he’d like to implement a gun safety course through the Sheriff’s Office for people to learn how to properly handle and fire their weapons.

Johnson said that he doesn’t have a problem with the current system, but added that he would also enforce any change in legislation. Johnson also said that law enforcement officers have to operate under the assumption that anyone they interact with is armed regardless.

Mitchem, like Huss, referenced the Constitution and the right to bear arms in his argument against concealed carry permits. Mitchem added that permitting process has no impact on criminals who are going to simply carry illegally during a robbery or murder.

Munday, who’s a certified concealed carry handgun instructor, spoke in favor of the current system. He did so because the current system allows for a basic training class for law-abiding citizens, which he believes may serve as a crime deterrent if criminals don’t know which citizens are carrying.

Heather Job, who worked in the clerk’s office for four years, spoke specifically about the estates department within the clerk’s office. She referenced a recent incident where a local attorney embezzled $1.5 million from a client’s estate, asking if Hatley has earned the right to be trusted with future estates.

Local attorney Greg Smith, who spoke after Job, noted that that attorney was sentenced to at least 12 years in prison last year. Smith suggested that those working in the clerk’s office need to be more courteous when dealing with the public and said that the clerk needs to be more available to the public.

Both men were asked if they would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Hester, who spoke first, noted that the law requires the register of deeds to do so regardless of their personal beliefs. Crisson said he would obey the law despite his belief that marriage should only be permitted between a man and a woman.

These candidates have been invited to participate in a second forum next Tuesday hosted by the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce at the Lincoln Cultural Center from 6-8 p.m. The Lincoln County party primary elections are scheduled for May 8.