Two different pictures were painted of Warren County on Tuesday night during a political forum featuring candidates for sheriff.
Candidates Danice Taylor and Doc Smith both said Warren County is a hotbed for drugs and criminal activity, while current Sheriff Jackie Matheny said his department is doing a great job fighting crime and keeping the community safe.
“The homes and possessions of the people of Warren County should not be a payday for criminals,” said Smith during his opening statement. “You should be able to leave your home and have peace of mind knowing that your home will be secure and safe.”
Added Taylor, “Highway 55, our bypass, is one of the main thoroughfares from Interstate 24 to 40 for transporting drugs. We don’t even have a drug dog in Warren County to stop this stuff. So we have all these drugs coming this way and we don’t have any drug dogs at all. I think we really need to push that. Warren County has one of the highest theft rates in the state. The number of break-ins of our businesses and homes is unacceptable.”
Sheriff Matheny countered that the picture is not bleak.
“Since I’ve been sheriff, we’ve always been in the top echelon, the top percentage in our state, in solving crime,” said Matheny. “We’re third all-time in taking down meth labs. We’ve made thousands and thousands of drug cases, and we’ve also for the last 15 years been second in the Chattanooga district in prosecuting federal crimes and that’s people who are bringing drugs into our community from other areas.”
Matheny, who has served as sheriff for 20 years, is seeking a sixth term. His challengers have a wealth of law enforcement experience as well.
Taylor has been in law enforcement 34 years, including 23 years as a supervisor. He is currently captain of the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department.
Smith has 27 years of law enforcement experience, getting his start under Mason Black.
When asked about the jail and reducing the number of inmates who reoffend, Matheny said he has worked hard to put valuable programs in place.
“We have applied for a grant, and received a grant, to educate our inmates and try to help them,” said Matheny. “There are some people who continuously get in trouble and how you explain that I don’t know. But there are some, if they had the opportunity, they would not come back. So that’s what we are trying to do. We’re trying to get the GED program back in our jail. It takes time and it takes money. We do have grant money available for a program with a very high success rate in getting them employment so that’s what we’re presently doing.”
Taylor said he believe inmates should be put to work more instead of spending unproductive days locked in a cell.
“I have programs where I have been visiting other jails for four years,” said Taylor. “Bledsoe County for one has one of the biggest gardens in the state. They feed their prisoners. They have fresh vegetables and the inmates love to get out there and work in it. Warren County has the land right across from the jail to do that.”
Smith echoed those comments.
“I would like to have more inmates out of the jail working them,” said Smith. “I think people need to see the inmates out working. They don’t need to be sitting in there with idle time. We have over 300 miles of road. They can pick up garbage, mow, sling blade. I think that’s more productive for them.”
Matheny said his 20 years in office have flown by and he said it’s difficult to summarize that experience with a brief speech. He said he is still passionate about the job and making a difference.
“I care a lot about working with our youth and I continue to do that and work with our DARE program,” said Matheny. “I’ve taught thousands of children and talked to youth groups of all denominations and tried to help them. I feel very passionate about doing a good job for our community. It’s my belief that what we do in our life we’re doing it for the Lord and that’s what I’m trying to do to make a difference.”
Taylor served on the Warren County Commission for 12 years and worked for 15 years at our sheriff’s department. He said he has ideas to save the county money when it comes to law enforcement.
“I don’t need all these new cars every year,” said Taylor. “In Grundy County, we get new cars every four years. Warren County has enough cars out there to start a taxi company and I don’t need them. If you elect me your sheriff, I promise you I’d do a good job. I’ve worked out there for 15 years and been a county commissioner for 12 years. I know where the budget is padded and I believe I can help the people if they can just allow me to help”
Smith said he would emphasize keeping in contact with victims while their case is being investigated.
“I will require the investigator’s division to have mandatory follow-ups on all crimes,” said Smith. “Investigators should be required to file monthly progress reports in all cases assigned to them. They should also be required to stay in touch with the victims to update them on the progress of their cases.”
Video footage from the political forum is available on the Standard’s website, www.southernstandard.com.