Sheriff candidates air views at forum
By Collin Lueck
The two Republican candidates for Lincoln County Sheriff aired their views last Thursday at a public forum co-hosted by T.B. Scott Free Library and the Merrill Foto News/Merrill Courier newspapers and moderated by retired Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Hartley.
Ken Schneider, Senior Patrol Lieutenant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, and Pete Borchardt, a Merrill Police Officer, will face off in the Aug. 14 partisan primary. The forum provided the public with an opportunity to see, hear and question the candidates.
In opening statements, Schneider pointed to his 27 years of experience with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I know this agency, I know its people,” Schneider said. “The number one job of the sheriff is the safety of the people, safety of their persons, safety of their property and safety of their rights. I have the training, and more importantly the experience to be your sheriff.”
Borchardt has served as a police officer for 20 years. He said he feels he has an advantage by not being a part of the current Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office administration.
“I have concrete knowledge of tax payer dollars being wasted by this administration,” he said. “The tax payers and residents of Lincoln County need a sheriff who will truly represent the best interests of the people. I will provide the people of Lincoln County the service they deserve at a more efficient cost.”
Asked what he felt was the biggest current need at the sheriffs office, Schneider cited low recruitment numbers.
“I would say one of the biggest issues facing our agency and agency nationwide is the lack of candidates for law enforcement positions,” Schneider said. “Last week we put out requests for interviews to 12 people, four people showed up for their interviews. In years past, we would have 20-40 people. This is something that has become an epidemic across the nation. In order to get qualified people for our agency, we must remain competitive with surrounding agencies. Once thing we have that helps bring people in is our take-home car program. It’s an incentive for people to come in. Surrounding agencies have that program, without it, we will lose candidates.”
Borchardt views service as one of the major issues at the sheriff’s office.
“If I become sheriff I would stress better service overall, across the board, from everyone who works there,” he said.
On the issue of maintaining or improving relationships with other emergency services agencies, Schneider said he would like to get back to cooperative training exercises.
“Seven or eight years ago it was not uncommon for us to train with the Merrill Police Department and volunteer fire departments,” Schneider said. “If they had a training day, they invited us. That hasn’t happened for the last 7-8 years, but I would like to bring that back. If you train together, you get to know who you’re working with. If I’m training with MPD or the volunteer departments, I know who these people are. Then when it comes time to work together, I know who they are and it’s not some strange person I have to deal with on my scene, but it’s ‘Tom’ who I’ve trained with before and we can work out and work together much better.”
Borchardt said the Sheriff’s Office needs to improve its relationships with other agencies.
“If I get to be sheriff of Lincoln County, one of the first things I intend to do is contact agencies… like social services, emergency medical services, local volunteer departments, etc.,” he said. “I would contact and get on board with them to develop a better relationship. Currently the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office does not have a good relationship with the Merrill Police Department or Tomahawk Police Department. I intend to change that.”
Both candidates were asked their views on the current Sheriff’s Office take-home squad program.
“If elected sheriff of Lincoln County one of the very first things I would do is evaluate that program,” Borchardt said. “That is a hot topic. The current take home squad program costs Lincoln County a lot of money. I don’t know yet if I am completely in favor or against it, I don’t know the numbers. Once I get into the Sheriff’s Office to see and receive these numbers I would have a better idea. My decision wouldn’t be solely based on money.
“It’s a good thing to have these squads out in the county, no doubt about it,” he added. “When someone sees a squad, it’s a deterrent in some regards. On the other hand, some squads being used as take home squads there is no reason for. Our court officer has a take home squad and our chief deputy who lives 8-10 miles east of Antigo has a take home squad. He’s not even in Lincoln County. We have another officer who lives in Marathon County, maybe more than that. I would not allow those cars to be taken out of the county, that’s for sure. In other words I would evaluate this program and do the right thing. If I decided to keep the program, I would make the necessary cuts to make the program work efficiently.”
Schneider said the take-home squad program is not unique to Lincoln County and has proven economical for other agencies.
“Agencies across the state have a take-home car program,” he said. “Statistically, across the board, they save money and that is why they went to these take-home car programs. There is less wear on the cars as they are not being driven by three different officers 24/7. It used to be whoever worked first shift drove a car, whoever came on second shift drove that same car and whoever came in on third shift may drive that car. We rack up a lot of miles on those cars and maintenance cost was high.
“One person driving a car, maintenance is lower and they last longer,” Schneider continued. “According to statistics from other agencies, this allows us to save money.
“We don’t know if this will save us money at this point,” he continued. “This is the first year we have take-home cars for everyone. It was done gradually and it is now everyone has a take-home car. The program is paid for. To just end it now would not make any sense, it would be a waste of money for tax payers. In 3-4 years we will have the numbers and determine if we are saving money or not. The two cars that are outside our county, our chief deputy is required to respond 24/7. That’s why he has a take-home car.”
Both candidates expressed support for the Sheriff’s Office maintaining a Recreation Deputy.
“(Current Recreation) Deputy Watruba is doing a fantastic job for us!” Schneider said. “Before our rec deputy was here, in the winter we would see a serious injury snowmobile accident or fatality at least every other weekend. A comment was made once to our rec officer, ‘Some guys were just in here and they said, We’re in Lincoln County. We gotta’ be careful.’ Our rec deputy is pretty active, Last year I don’t think we had a single fatality and our ATV crashes are down overall.
“Plus, it doesn’t cost us much, if anything. If he’s on vacation, we pay his salary. Otherwise his salary and his equipment is paid for by the state and through timber sales in Lincoln County.”
Borchardt agreed. “I fully support the recreational officer position at this time,” he said. “As Ken alluded to, he serves as a deterrent for people doing bad things such as driving drunk or recklessly so I fully support the position. I think it’s fantastic that all his equipment is paid for so I would continue that.”
An audience member asked Borchardt to explain his advertising statements that he would “look out for our wallets,” and whether that would mean staff cuts at the Sheriff’s Office.
“I do not plan to cut any personnel at all,” Borchardt responded. “I will look first and foremost to save money through the take home squad program. If we keep the program going and cut out the take home vehicles we do not need and keep the take home cars that we do need, we will save a lot of money. I will need to see numbers before I make any of those changes. But I do know there is some savings to be made there.”
Schneider said he would not plan to make any staff reductions.
“The numbers we have are what we need to maintain the safety of the people in Lincoln County,” he said.
Both candidates were also asked what measures they would take in the jail to assure every prisoner retains their dignity.
“I believe it is of utmost importance be professional in this line of work,” Borchardt responded. “If we are professional in our duties and treat people like human beings should be treated, that is what I would require. It goes without saying that I would expect every one of my employees to treat people professionally and with dignity.”
Schneider responded, “I used to work in the jail and when I did, I would have questions like ‘Why do they have TV?’ ‘Why are they allowed to smoke?’ – at that time, they were allowed to smoke, but they aren’t allowed to smoke anymore. And my answer was, if you take everything away from them, they have nothing to lose. If we treat people like people – people who have done something wrong but they are being punished for it. If you treat them as something less than that, they are going to come out of jail and 90% of them will come right back out to our streets and just going to be angry, less-than people.
“Our officers are very professional in the corrections facility,” Schneider added. “I don’t know how I would change that.”
The candidates were also asked about their personal involvement in the community.
“I’ve always prided myself on being a normal person in our community,” Borchardt said. “I’ve been active in the community since forever. Right now I am a member of the Merrill Historical Society, Sick and Social Benefit Society, Golf Booster club and Vice-President of my church, Faith Lutheran Church. I am also a member of the Merrill Silver M Club. I have always been very active. I was an Optimist for many years as well; frying cheese curds. I am a normal guy and I’m a competitor. I enjoy athletics, golfing Tuesday night and shooting pool Thursday nights. I get out in the community and show the community a police officer can be a normal person.”
Schneider said, “I have been a long time committee member of Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo, a non-profit organization that gives money back to the community in a number of ways. I have taught Hunter’s Safety for a number of years. I am currently one of five people who teach the ALICE program. We go to schools, businesses and churches or anyone else who wants us to come in. The ALICE program, is a civilian response to an active shooter. It’s a very good class and I am very passionate about this class. I would love to be able to instruct everyone in the county on it. Maybe we will someday.”
In closing statements, Schneider stressed that, although his is a current supervisor in the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, he is his own man.
“I have heard talk of past sheriffs and the choices and direction they led the agency,” Schneider said. “I am not any of those sheriffs, I am Ken Schneider. I have heard talk there is need for change; I am change. I am Ken Schneider. My experience and personality make me different than previous sheriffs. While I hold those sheriffs in high regard, I am not them. As your sheriff, I will lead this agency in the very best interest of the people of Lincoln County. I will not make uneducated declarations of change for political reasons. The changes I make will be after careful and deliberate counsel with our command staff that I already have the support and respect of. Deliberation keeps safety of the people of Lincoln County as a priority.
“To be an effective leader, you have to have the trust and respect of those you work with and those you serve,” Schneider continued. “I have spent 27 years earning trust and respect. Because of that I have overwhelming support of the people I work with. For the first time in my career the Law Enforcement Deputies Association of Lincoln County has voted to endorse a candidate for sheriff. I am truly honored by their show of support and I thank them for their trust in me. I would like to thank the people who made this happen. I would like to thank the people who took time out of their lives to come here tonight and listen to us. Please show your support by voting August 14; Ken Schneider for sheriff. It would be a great honor to be your sheriff.”
In his closing statement, Borchardt said the Sheriff’s Office is in need of positive change.
“I stand before you tonight asking you to believe in me,” Borchardt said. “No, I’m not perfect, and I do not have the answers to every problem. But you can take this to the bank; you will not find anyone who will work harder for the people of Lincoln County than me. My 21 years of law enforcement experience, bachelors degree in Economics and small business experience gives me a well rounded background to base my decisions upon. Lincoln County needs a positive change; someone to provide checks and balances at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and someone to assure our sheriff’s office employees provide top quality services at the most efficient cost, to Lincoln County tax payers.”