Lee County Sheriff’s candidates offer differing perspectives

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Candidates for Lee County sheriff discussed their views on the office and the race in recent interviews.

Sam Piraino, 58, said he isn’t interested in playing politics with some of the other candidates, only in working for the public that he hopes elects him.
This is Piraino’s third time running for Lee County sheriff and he hopes the third time is the charm. Piraino said he entered the race in 2003 as an independent to get his feet wet. In the 2007 election he ran as a Republican and this time around he is running as a Democrat. But no matter what party he is running under, Piraino said it’s clear who he is running for.
“My employers will be the people if I’m elected sheriff,” said Piraino. “I think we have started letting the government run us instead of running the government like it is supposed to be. I will get back to that. I will help to rebuild trust in law enforcement in Lee County.”
Piraino said the children of Lee County and drug enforcement and prevention will be two big issues he will tackle if elected sheriff. He also said he plans to upgrade the quality of deputies on the roads.
“I want our deputies working hard to earn the respect of the children,” he said. “I want our children to know if they can’t turn to anyone else they can turn to their sheriff. We have to win our children back.”
Piraino said he plans to create a Community Service Advisory Board that he and his deputies will have to answer to once a month. The board will be made of Lee County citizens and will go over issues in the community and sheriff’s department.
Narcotics is an issue on all the candidate’s radar but Piraino has an idea that may not be popular for some law enforcers in the area.
“I want to bring back the Lee County Task Force,” he said. “The North Mississippi Narcotics Unit is not bad but we need to clean up our own back yards. I don’t care what is happening in the other counties in our area, my focus is Lee County.”
He says he knows what his focus will be as sheriff.
“I will work for the people and with the people,”he said.
Dovie Outlaw Williams, 37, is taking her first crack at politics.
Williams hopes to win the Aug. 2 Democratic primary against Sam Piraino in the Lee County sheriff’s race so she can face the Republican candidate in November. Williams has never dealt in politics but says her passion for the children and elderly in Lee County is the reason she hopes she’s the next sheriff.
“We have a lot of children and elderly in Lee County and I feel that those two groups go unnoticed a lot of the time,” said Williams. “I want to make sure that we do right by our children and elderly and I think as Lee County sheriff I can help to do that.”
Despite being a political rookie, Williams said she is learning quickly about just how brutal running for office can be. She said she didn’t expect the mudslinging she’s seen from some of the other candidates but said she won’t participate in it.
“I’m not here to talk about the past administrations and what they’ve done and haven’t done,” she said. “I’m here to let the people know what I can and will do for them. I’m focusing on how I can help this county and the people in it. I won’t focus on being negative, only on being helpful.”
Williams says she feels there is a disconnect between the community and sheriff’s department and she wants to bridge that gap. She also says as sheriff she will implement intervention and crime prevention programs for inmates.
“These programs can help these inmates become productive citizens instead of repeat offenders,” said Williams. “I think our community would benefit from trying to reform some of these inmates instead of locking them up time after time.”
Going for his third term as Lee County Sheriff, Jim Johnson has a simple message for the voters, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The 48-year-old Johnson puts his experience up against his opponent’s cry for change.
“With me you know what you are getting,” said Johnson. “I’ve been doing the job for nearly eight years, so my record and what I bring to the table is there for everyone to see. Now my three opponents have a lot of things they say they can do but they haven’t done any of them.”
Johnson brings in 30 years of law enforcement experience of which most of those where done in Lee County. He also said the fact he is the only candidate with a current law enforcement certification is a reason why he remains the best man for the job.
“I have been successful at running this department for two terms,” said Johnson. “We’ve built it into a well respected department at is well known throughout the state. I was selected to serve on the Board of Law Enforcement Standards and chaired that board as well. And all of that was because of the job we’ve done over the past two terms.”
Johnson has taken the most criticism from republican candidate Marty Rock who has pointed out the large volume of lawsuits the jail has accumulated over Johnson’s tenure as sheriff. To that Johnson simply says you can’t stop someone from filing a senseless lawsuit even if it is a false one.
Johnson also points out that he was the first sheriff to join the North Mississippi Narcotics unit, a multi jurisdictional drug task force.
“We are proud of the job we’ve done for this county and the people in it,” said Johnson. “Like I said, you know what you are getting f you re-elect me and that’s a good sheriff who is tough on crime.”
Marty Rock, a 55-year-old business owner, is on his second go around in the Lee County sheriff’s race. Rock was defeated in the 2007 election by current sheriff Jim Johnson. Despite that defeat, Rock said that experience has put him in a position to win this time around.
“I got to meet a lot of people who still know me and remember me from the last race,” said Rock. “Last time I didn’t expect to win. I wanted to, but I didn’t expect it. This time will be different because we can win it.”
This time Rock will get to meet Johnson head-on at the polls a lot sooner than he did in the 2007 election because since then Johnson has switched to the Republican Party. That means the Aug. 2 primaries will decide which man will remain in the running.
Even though he feels there are some good things Johnson has done during his seven years as sheriff, Rock said the bad outweighs the good and it’s time for someone else to have a crack at it.
“Jim has been in office for almost eight years and he’s done all that he can do,” said Rock. “It’s time for some new ideas and I have new ideas that will help this county. There is too much negative stuff going on with our sheriff’s department and If I’m elected I plan to change the image to a positive one.”
Rock said his experience as a business owner makes him more equipped to handle the administrative duties of the sheriff’s office than the other candidates.
“You can be a good law enforcer and not be a good administrator,” said Rock. “I have run my own business for 30 years so I know how to budget and other things the job takes. I can’t say Jim has done a very good job at some of those things over the past seven years.”
Rock said he feels there has not been a lack of leadership during Johnson’s administration, but a lack of good leadership.
“I will be a good leader and a lot more accessible when I’m sheriff,” said Rock.