2 Candidates Will Face Off For Sheriff
By ADAM RUSSELL
Two Smith County sheriff candidates are off on a nine-week campaign to secure a runoff victory as the office prepares for transition from longtime Sheriff J.B. Smith.
The campaign for sheriff has been longer than expected because of the redistricting battle in Austin, which pushed the primaries to May 29, but it won't be over until July 31. The extended race means more fund-raising, more ev-ents, focusing a message and getting summertime voters to the polls.
Chris Green, 50, a 20-year Texas Parks and Wildlife law enforcement officer, and Larry Smith, 54, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent with 34 years of law enforcement experience, were the top two vote-getters and will face each other in the runoff. Smith came out on top with 12,143 votes, 44 percent, compared to 10,353 votes, or 37.6 percent, for Green.
The two engaged in almost a dozen candidate forums or debates and have campaigned around the county since late 2011. Funding a nine-week campaign also will be a factor. Green led all fundraising with more than $210,000 in contributions, including, in-kind donations, such as billboards and campaign headquarters. Smith raised more than $129,000, including in-kind donations.
Green called the fundraising efforts by all the candidates "exceptional" given the down economy.
Both agreed the race really begins now.
Green has said he will run an ethical, transparent and fiscally responsible sheriff's office. He said his combination of business and law enforcement experience makes him the best choice as an administrator.
Smith said his coordinating efforts with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies around the country has given him the experience, leadership skills, education needed to improve the department.
Both said their top priority is an improved patrol presence in rural portions of the county and reducing response times they call abysmal.
Smith said he can rearrange the present staff and increase the number of patrol officers with experienced investigators who can teach advanced skills to deputies while in the field. Green said the office is top heavy and he will thin the administrative ranks and shift funding to patrol.
The two have shared barbs during the debates. Green has questioned Smith's involvement in high-profile investigations including the 2010 church arsons, but Smith said he has not oversold his role.
Green said a "smear campaign" was initiated by a local conservative political action committee, Grassroots America - We the People, and its executive board. The board endorsed Smith and pointed out allegations Green allegedly levied against Smith via past forums and social media.
JoAnn Fleming, the group's executive director, said its board vetted the allegations and proved them false. She said Green's allegations were part of a "character assassination" campaign against Smith. She said the board weighed each candidate's resumes and became alarmed by accusations Green made against Smith during an interview the group conducted with candidates individually.
Green called Grassroots America a "fringe political action committee" that is acting on Smith's behalf.
"Voters can elect a politician with no leadership experience who's supported by a fringe special-interest PAC, or voters can elect Chris Green, a man with experience in both law enforcement and business who knows how to lead the county's largest law enforcement department," Green said in the statement.
Sheriff J.B. Smith said he hopes each candidate runs on merits alone and avoids negative campaigning.
Smith has been in office for more than three decades. His 355 employees know what to expect from him and knows what he expects, he said. Some have been with him 30 years.
But with the third-place finish of Chief Deputy Bobby Garmon, it is clear a new administration will take office Jan. 1, 2013.
"Like any organization going through a transition, there's a very unsettling feeling," he said. "I feel responsible to the people because I've stood on their shoulders and I hope the next sheriff will appreciate their dedication."
Smith said their dedication is to law enforcement, not an administration. Their jobs are what they know and love, he said.
Larry Smith said he wants the office's employees to know wholesale changes are not planned, if he is elected. He said he expects to change two or three leadership positions and assess every position to determine where each staff member can be utilized best.
Green echoed those sentiments. He said his comments about making "changes" within the office have been misconstrued. Changes in top leadership are likely, he said, but that staff positions will be assessed.
Sheriff Smith said he will work with the eventual winner to ensure a smooth transition. He said he will give access to the staff, facilities and equipment to allow the incoming sheriff time to assess the office.