UNION — How to reduce crime and combat gang activity, legalization of marijuana, the location of the sheriff’s office, and how best to deal with the drug problem were among the issues debated by the candidates for Union County Sheriff.
Incumbent Sheriff David Taylor and challengers William Jolly and Marshall Adams participated in the debate, which was held in the USC Union auditorium and sponsored by the university and WBCU.
Approximately 75 people attended the debate which was moderated by Dr. Allan Charles, professor of history at USC Union. Dr. Charles asked the candidates questions submitted by the public.
The first question asked was how each candidate would reduce the crime rate if elected.
Adams said he would have more men out in the community to find out what is going on.
Jolly said he would try to put more deputies on the road and also have them working in the community.
Taylor said his office is doing its share to get criminals off the street, pointing out that 1,723 people were arrested in 2011, 1,294 of which were drug arrests.
Gang activity was also a topic of discussion.
“We’ve got to take action against them, but I think the key to it is family values,” Jolly said. “We’ve got to teach parents to be parents. That’s not done much anymore.”
“It’s got to start with family first, and work its way out,” Adams said, pointing out that families, churches and schools could all utilize methods to help.
Taylor said issues in the past have included the denial of a gang problem and mentioned that 8-10 gangs have been identified in Union County. He also said parents are responsible for children’s behavior. He said that he and his wife left the high school football game on Friday and noticed about 15 children under the age of 12 running across the street.
“I thought, ‘Where are their parents?’” Taylor said. “Today, we want to be their friends and not parents. We have to take responsibility.”
Dr. Charles asked candidates their opinion on the legalization of marijuana, and all three said they would be against such an action.
“We legalized alcohol, and look where we are today,” Taylor said. “Look at the prescription drug problem. That’s legalized, and 45 percent of our drug problem is prescription.”
Charles also spoke as a historian later in the debate. He said he looked up Union County court documents from the 1920s — during prohibition — to see what was going through the courts at that time.
“I can tell you as a historian that if had not been for illegal alcohol, there would have been nothing happening in the courts of Union County,” Charles said. “We didn’t have drugs yet. The only drug we had was alcohol, and if we hadn’t had alcohol, the judges would have had nothing to do. There would have been no juries except for civil cases. The sheriff would have had his feet propped up most of the day. Making it illegal didn’t get rid of the problem; that was the problem.”
The location of the sheriff’s office was also brought into question.
“I think the sheriff’s office should be in the courthouse where he would be available to talk to people,” Adams said. “You need to be available to talk to people.”
Jolly said he would also move the office back into the courthouse, pointing out that his office was in the courthouse during his previous 12-year term as sheriff.
Taylor explained that the sheriff’s office is still in the courthouse, even though he moved his own office into Union County Emergency Services. He pointed out that many of the people who come to talk with him are drug offenders and do not want to be seen talking to him by courthouse employees.
“Loose lips sink ships,” Taylor said.
Questions were also taken from the floor at the end of the debate.
Pastor and professor Steve Lemons questioned Taylor about promises he made during his previous campaign. Lemons said Taylor condemned his predecessor for making drug arrests to make himself look good in the newspaper, and Lemons said this is one of the reasons he voted for Taylor during that campaign.
“You promised that you would focus on helping cure the drug problem in Union County,” Lemons said, mentioning that 1,294 of 1,723 arrests in Union were drug-related. “I don’t think that’s something to brag about. What happened to the promise you made of trying to get programs to help those people? If you took the money spent by Union County to house those people in the county jail and invested it in helping people with drug problems, wouldn’t that be a much better solution?”
Taylor first responded by saying, “I believe we caught your son, too.”
Lemons said Taylor then made it personal, but Taylor denied that. Taylor said that drug cases were not hand picked and that everyone is treated equally.
Following the debate, Lemons said he was shocked that Taylor would bring up his son, who passed away in Oct. 2011.
“My firsthand experience in dealing with the justice system and sheriff’s department is what has made me so passionate about this,” Lemons said. “My son is no longer here, but I am very interested in how other young adults are dealt with. It ruins their lives. They can’t function; they can’t get a job; the only thing they have left is a life of crime or living on welfare.”
Lemons said there needs to be a way to help those who want help.
Dale Robinson — who has been employed with the South Carolina Department of Corrections for the past 15 years — also spoke during the time in which questions were taken from the floor. Robinson brought up overcrowded prisons and asked candidates’ opinions regarding electronic monitoring and “drug court” similar to systems in surrounding counties.
“We currently have one unit with approximately 100 young men age 17-21, most of them are for drug crimes — from marijuana to crack, cocaine and so forth,” Robinson said. “A lot of these kids, when they get put behind the fence, they get in with the real criminals, and they teach them how to be criminals. They are worse when they get out than when they come in.”
Clerk of Court
A debate between the candidates for the Clerk of Court was also scheduled, but only incumbent Freddie Gault was present. His challenger, Melanie Lawson, sent the following message to USC Union via email:
“To the citizens of Union County. I regret that I will be unable to attend the debate tonight due to the tragic loss of my husband . Please remember my 23 years of dedicated service to Union County. Please continue to keep my family and I in your prayers as this has been a very difficult time. Thank you for you continued support and understanding.”
Lawson also told The Union Daily Times she regrets being unable to attend.
“Due to the tragic loss of my husband, each day has been a struggle and I am doing all I am able to do to get through each day and this campaign,” she said. “It has been three weeks since his death and public appearances are very difficult right now. I can only ask that the public understand and it is my prayer that no one ever has to go through something like this. I would appreciate your continued prayers for my family.”
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.