Leader Blues

Friday, October 17, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sheriff seeks fourth term

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

With early general-election voting slated to start Monday, Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson, seeking his fourth term, is being challenged by former lawman Steve Rich, who has 25 years in law enforcement under several Lonoke and Pulaski County sheriffs.

Roberson, 61, is running for a fourth-term, updating and upgrading the office, replacing older patrol cars with newer ones, fighting crime and working toward the new county jail, which could be completed by the 2010 election.

County voters approved a one-year, penny sales tax dedicated to building a new, 140-bed jail by a vote of 3,774 to 3,336. That tax is anticipated to raise about $5.5 million.

Roberson beat John Staley by a 3-to-1 margin in the Republican primary.

Rich defeated Samuel Cham-berlain 1,755 to 1,607 in the Democratic primary.

“We have a good record as far as drug arrests and domestic violence,” Roberson said Tuesday.

All of his road-deputy slots are filled and he plans to ask for two more deputies in the 2009 budget, now being drawn up.

“That would be 16 road deputies. That would help us get four out on a shift instead of three,” he said.

Rich, 49, who was a criminal investigator under former sheriff Charlie Martin, said Roberson places too much emphasis on writing tickets for traffic violations and not enough on preventing and solving crimes.

“Criminals drive cars,” Roberson said. “I think he’s running against me because I wouldn’t hire him.”

Roberson said that’s in part because his department couldn’t find records of accountability for property Rich seized while working in the drugs and special crimes division.

Rich said it is precisely his managerial experience that helps set him apart from Roberson.

He said he worked in management both in law enforcement and for Routh Wrecker Service, his current employer.

Rich worked for sheriffs J.O. Easley and Charlie Martin in Lonoke County and Carroll Gravette and Tommy Robinson in Pulaski County.

“I was working for Jim (Roberson) part-time prior to filing for sheriff,” he said.

“I want to make the department less traffic oriented, and more oriented toward prevention and working crimes,” Rich said.

“There’s areas where speed is a problem. Traffic is a good tool in the right circumstances.

“Jim’s an okay guy, I just think I’ve got more of what it takes.”

Besides working for Routh, he has worked for his brother George Rich, owner of Rich’s Wrecker Service.

He said wrecker drivers and sheriffs deputies are trained to respond to emergencies.

Other contested Lonoke races include Democrat Walls McCrary, Republican Doug Hatcher and Independent Trent Eilts, who are running to replace Dist. 15 state Rep. Lenville Evans, who can’t run for reelection because of term limits.

Other contested races include Democratic County Clerk Dawn Porterfield against Republican Cassandra Pitts; Circuit Clerk Deborah Oglesby, a Democrat, facing challenger Susan Denise Browne, a Republican; Dist. 13 JP Mark Edwards, a Republican, against Kenny Ridgeway, a Democrat, and Dist. 5 JP Lynn Clarke, a Republican, against Barry Weathers, a Democrat.

Turnout for the May primary was 7,256, more than the usual 5,000, according to Larry Clarke, who was election commissioner at the time.