SALEM, Va. – It may be the busiest race in the Roanoke Valley this election season. Six candidates are vying for the position of Salem sheriff. The sheriff's job duties range from transporting inmates for appearances in court to courthouse security and it packs a paycheck of nearly $92,000 a year because the sheriff is a state constitutional officer.
On Monday, the sheriff candidates were face-to-face at a forum hosted by the Salem Kiwanis Club. At the forum, each candidate had a chance to deliver opening remarks and then answer a couple questions from the audience.
Some of the candidates focused on the training they think is needed for the sheriff's office. They cited recent violent events throughout the country as reasons to better equip and train deputies to handle anything.
"I would like to institute cooperative training between the police department and the sheriff's office, specifically for those incidents that may occur in our schools," said Jacob Carroll.
"We've got good men and women that work there, but we need training for them. It is not an agency where you want high turnover," said David Wells.
Wells also focused on establishing a better relationship with the Salem Police Department. While Carroll spoke a lot about an inmate workforce program that he thinks would benefit the city.
For the most part, the candidates aligned on ways to improve the sheriff's office from better training to a bigger community presence. All of the candidates have some level of law enforcement experience, and that was the focus of many of their remarks -- how their specific experience makes them more qualified to hold the position.
"I have a strong heart for people. I believe that everyone makes mistakes and none of us are perfect and therefore it takes some understanding," said Richard Goodman.
"I have worked courts, I have transported inmates, I have served civil process, I have served jury summons which has been my favorite for 14 years. This is what I know," said April Staton.
Staton is Salem's chief deputy. She differed with the candidates in some ways when she highlighted what she believes are the great successes of the current office. Goodman also mentioned his faith as a reason he is running for office.
Many of the candidates mentioned a better community presence including in the schools and better training for deputies in case a mass shooting or other horrific event happens. Taxpayer money made up some of the discussion too. Two of the candidates made a point to talk about fiscal responsibility and taking a close look at the budget.
"Having over 15 years of professional experience and knowledge in the private sector, I will be fiscally conservative with your tax money. I will manage the resources within the department to better serve the community," said Tim Sutphin.
"To be fiscally responsible in the use of all taxpayer's money and that starts day 1. We will no longer have take home vehicles. We as citizens should not have to pay to have these vehicles fueled, the upkeep and also maintain insurance," said Flint Wright.
One of the questions presented to candidates was whether they would lay off or let go of current sheriff's deputies. All of the candidates said they wanted to evaluate the current staff but didn't plan to fire anyone.