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Sheriff hopefuls discuss issues
Sheriff WEB 1
Sheriff Ted Paxton, center, gives his opening statement as candidates Lauren McDonald, left, and Duane Piper listen during Wednesdays sheriff debate at the Forsyth County Administration Building. - photo by Autumn Vetter

In their last scheduled debate, candidates for Forsyth County sheriff talked efficiency, crime prevention and upcoming improvements.

Incumbent Ted Paxton and challengers Lauren McDonald and Duane Piper drew a large crowd for their third debate, which was held by the Forsyth County Republican Party.

Paxton said he stands by his record over three terms, which includes several accolades from the law enforcement community and no successful lawsuits launched against the office.

His challengers discussed some areas to improve upon the office’s efficiency and image, topics asked about in two questions.

Piper said he would “flatten the command structure” to reduce the length of the chain, which he compared to a game of telephone.

“I’m sure you’ve all played that game when you were a kid where there’s 10 people, you tell a secret at one side, and when it comes out on the other end, you don’t even recognize it,” he said. “Take some of those layers out. I’m not talking about cutting people. I’m talking about cutting layers.”

He also discussed plans to continually review the budget and identify areas that could be cut.

McDonald said the next sheriff needs to set an example of ethics, leadership and character.

“You don’t need someone that’s driven a patrol car and pulled over and run blue lights,” he said. “This community needs a leader, a liaison between you the customer and the deputies out there on the road. I will put the right people in the right place to represent you in the sheriff’s office.”

McDonald, the current coroner, has been challenged by the other candidates on his lack of law enforcement experience.

He discussed his experience as an emergency medical technician, working alongside deputies as coroner and volunteer firefighter, and said much of the job comes down to hiring the right people.

Paxton used the example of a hostage situation in a question asking how the candidates will use decision-making skills during an emergency.

“Yes, you seek [others] counsel and information about what their assessment is of the situation, and yes, the decision does rest with me,” he said. “The difference is I understand the principles of law, the court cases, which my staff is using and advising me on.”

During a question about crime prevention, Paxton discussed many programs the office uses to educate the community, including neighborhood watch, which he said more than 300 subdivisions participate in.

He said Forsyth’s neighborhood watch program won an award of excellence from the National Sheriff’s Association and was later filmed for a promotional video.

Both McDonald and Piper believed the program is important to the community, but felt there could be some room to grow or improve it.

Piper suggested moving the program under the patrol division to improve its effectiveness, while McDonald said perhaps cars at the end of their lives could be donated to neighborhoods to help them patrol.

On the issue of crime prevention, McDonald also emphasized more educational involvement in schools.

For next four years, the candidates discussed the importance of a planned jail expansion and new courthouse, built with funds from a recent voter-approved sales tax.

Piper said the consolidation of the judicial system may allow the reassignment of deputies serving in the courthouse to other areas.

McDonald said he would work to implement the best technology for safety.

The added security features of updating the jail and courthouse will make for a more efficient operation, Paxton said, adding that the larger jail will allow the county to stop farming out its inmates at a higher cost.