Heated debate continues in sheriff's race

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

GUNTOWN – Even though the venue changed, the candidates and their political jousting didn’t.
The three challengers to incumbent Sheriff Jim Johnson once again pleaded their cases to Lee County voters, this time in Guntown, as to why they should be chosen to replace Johnson, who is seeking a third full term. Three weeks ago at the Verona Heritage Festival the same campaign gamesmanship went on between the four.
Candidates Sam Piraino, Marty Rock, Dovie Outlaw Williams and Johnson spoke to the small crowd that gathered at the city park despite scorching temperatures. The real heat was between Johnson and Rock.
Rock cited several lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s department in the seven years Johnson has been in office.
“They have had 70 lawsuits in the past seven years and that’s not acceptable,” said Rock. “This is not a game. He will get up here and talk about the cases he’s won but it isn’t about winning or losing but about right and wrong.”
Rock continued by saying he respects the sheriff’s employees and was not attacking them, as Johnson had accused him of in a previous speech. But Rock said he was attacking what he described as the leadership, ability and lack of accountability of Johnson.
Of the lawsuits, Johnson said he’s inherited about 35 of them from the last administration.
“I can’t help it when people file lawsuits and waste jurors’ time and taxpayers’ money,” said Johnson. “We just had a lawsuit dismissed last week. And Mr. Rock talks about me firing an employee for filing a false report that led to a lawsuit. Well I did fire that employee for wasting the money of the taxpayers by filing that false report.”
Rock also questioned Johnson’s treatment of inmates, claiming that inmate mistreatment was common in the Lee County Jail.
Johnson’s rebuttal: “If you want a sheriff who is more concerned about the people who break in your homes, kill people and rape your children then don’t vote for me. But if you want a sheriff who will lock them up, then I’m your man.”
Piraino and Williams didn’t spend a lot of time telling the crowd what was wrong with the current administration but instead told what they’d do if elected.
“I will earn the youth’s respect and get involved in our schools,” said Piraino. “I plan to build a community service advisory board where people from the community can come in and talk to us about the issues they have. It’s time to take government back and tell them what to do and stop letting them tell us what to do.”
Williams also said her focus would be the children and the elderly.
“I want to provide more services to the youth and the elderly in Lee County,” said Williams. “We need more intervention programs to slow crime down and more rehabilitation programs to make sure these people have a chance once they get out of jail.”
Johnson and Rock will square off in the Republican primary on Aug. 2 and Williams and Piraino will on the Democratic side. The winners will face one another in the Nov. 8 general election.