Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, a Democrat, is fighting off a challenge from Republican Dickie Green.
A self-proclaimed “conservative constitutionalist” who's been endorsed by the local tea party, Green has waged an aggressive campaign to cast the incumbent as fiscally irresponsible, citing an $8.5 million increase in the office's budget under Duncan.
"That's unacceptable in these tough economical [sic] times, when everybody else is tightening their belts and he's still spending money," Green asserts. "We've got to run the Sheriff's Office more efficiently."
Duncan, however, says the increase was needed to hire new deputies, provide cost-of-living raises and fund improvements at the Detention Center.
Nonetheless, says Green, "In law enforcement, we all want more officers. But in a tough economic time, I think we should put a freeze on that. We can have the officers work a little smarter, they can get in tight with the community."
Duncan also brushes off accusations by Green that his private-vehicle stipend (about $10,800 per year, according to county Finance Director Donna Clark) is excessive.
"I receive a vehicle stipend — as the [Buncombe County] commissioners do, as other department heads do, as the county manager does. ... The county manager decides what that stipend is, and that's what I'm given," counters Duncan, adding that the money covers gas, tires, maintenance, insurance and other expenses for the work-related use of his private vehicle (in lieu of using one provided by the county).
The incumbent also notes that some of his office's expenditures have been funded by money seized from drug dealers rather than tax dollars.
"I think when you break those big numbers down and actually look at where that money came from, you'll see that we've been very good stewards of the county's money," Duncan asserts. "I'm a taxpayer; I have a child in public school here. I have much of the same concerns as anybody else in Buncombe County who is paying taxes and trying to raise a family here."
And after his predecessor, Bobby Medford, received a 15-year sentence for crimes committed while in office, "We've reinstilled the public trust in this agency," Duncan declares. "I think people feel that we're a professional agency and deliver a good level of service."
Among the accomplishments Duncan cites are: reducing the crime rate (by 3 percent this past year; 11 percent the year before); lowering the average emergency-response time (from 12 minutes to 9.5 minutes); and improving the clearance rate for cases by 18 percent. Besides reorganizing patrols, criminal investigations and the evidence-handling system, Duncan proudly touts the department's efforts to reach out to youth through reading programs for elementary students and leadership programs for at-risk middle-schoolers.
"We read to the kids and try to establish relationships at a younger age, so they feel very comfortable around law enforcement, and we also really try to talk to them about the power of reading and how that determines their success," Duncan explains. "And the leadership program hopefully instills in them some things about decision-making that will stick with them."
Green, who retired from the Asheville Police Department as a sergeant in 1994 after 17 years on the force, says that if elected, he'd favor a similar approach of community service and outreach.
"I love the Lord, I'm a Christian and I love people," Green proclaims, noting that after retiring he worked as a volunteer at the evangelistic Crossfire Ministries. "We need to give law enforcement back to the people; that's what's motivating me to run. … We need to get that spirit in our community and get serious about going into our communities, knocking on doors, going to community meetings."
Green also feels strongly about the need to fight illegal immigration and associated issues.
"We've got some serious drug problems in Buncombe County. … A lot of the people involved in these gangs are illegal aliens; that's just common street knowledge," he says. "Anytime you have menial people come through, they're doing whatever they got to do to make money."
Praising Arizona’s controversial new illegal-immigration law, which requires immigrants to have registration documents in their possession at all times, Green says it empowers local authorities to help enforce constitutional law.
"They're forcing the federal government to do their job, to assist them in doing their job. … We've got to catch [illegal aliens]. It's not a federal thing; it's a local thing. The locals have got to catch them," he declares.
A proud member of the controversial Oath Keepers group, Green says he wouldn't enforce laws he believes conflict with the Constitution.
"The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land. An Oath Keeper keeps his promise — his oath to the office — to enforce the Constitution, to protect the U.S. from foreign and domestic enemies," Green explains. "The real issue is educating people on the Constitution. We need a wake-up call to do exactly what the meaning of the Constitution is. … You don't want the federal government telling you what to do and how to do it."
Duncan, however, counters that only U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel can legally enforce federal immigration law.
"I don't think he has a real thorough understanding ... about what's going on here," Duncan responds. "He talks about enforcing federal immigration law, and that's against the law."
Duncan also points out that the county already participates in the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities program, which requires that everyone who’s processed at the Detention Center udergoes a fingerprint and immigration check.
Acknowledging the current anti-incumbency mood, Duncan notes that many people "feel disenchanted by their government," adding that he hopes voters will judge him on his record.
"I feel that we, as an agency, have done a very good job, and hopefully the voters will recognize that and give us an opportunity to serve another four years," says Duncan. "I don't want to be sheriff the rest of my life, but I would like to stay here to make sure that some of these changes we've [made] are cemented in place, and that people will never expect any less."
Green, meanwhile, says: “We're just trying to get our message out that it's not about me as sheriff for Buncombe County; it's about law enforcement that works for people. We've been going out grass-roots: talking to people, meeting people, listening to people. The people are the boss."
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.