Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jefferson 2010 campaign County Sheriff: Hale, Hill opposite mindset

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Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 6:30 AM
?The race for Jefferson County sheriff comes down to one thing: Sheriff Mike Hale's record.

? Hale is running on it.

? Challenger Willie Hill is running against it.

? Hill, a 35-year veteran of the sheriff's office who retired at the rank of captain, has said repeatedly he is running for sheriff for one reason: to put protecting the public ahead of the greed and politics that he said has plagued the sheriff's office during Hale's tenure.

? The administration, he said, has wasted taxpayer money and used deputies as pawns in political turf battles with other elected officials.

? "I have commanded just about every division of the sheriff's office," said Hill, who at age 60 is seeking his first political office. "I know where the money is spent and where it should be spent. I know where the money is being wasted."

? Hale, 58, couldn't disagree more.

? "The thing that may define me is that with a $17 million budget reduction over two years, I've been able to keep 100 percent strong the law enforcement arm of the sheriff's office," Hale said. "I have never exceeded my budget. When someone accuses me of mismanagement, it's just not true."

? For the most part, the race between the two veteran lawmen has been low-key.

? "It's really kind of good that way because it's just business as usual around the sheriff's office," said Hale, sheriff since 2002. "The deputies have a clear vision to continue the crime fighting."

? Financially, Hale has dominated: In September, he had more than $210,000 left in his campaign account, compared with just $178.51 for Hill.

? "I know he's got more money than I've got," Hill said, "but I've got a lot more issues."

? Hill served as commander of the patrol and jail divisions during his time on the force. While he loved the law enforcement aspect of the job, he said, "you've got to have proper administration for the law enforcement end of it to be effective. To me, we're not effective right now."

? Hill's criticisms of the current administration include the previous outsourcing of inmate health care, a lack of deputy training, what he says are excessive fees paid out to attorneys for the sheriff's office and the closing of the county jail in Bessemer amid the county's financial woes.
? "The truth is he moved 200 inmates to Birmingham and instantly caused an overcrowding condition," Hill said. "He could alleviate that right now."

? Hill said the sheriff's office needs to do a better job of training deputies. The number of weeks deputies spend under training officers on the streets has been decreased, he said. Emphasis on deputies getting either two-year or four-year degrees has also declined.

? "You got better-trained deputies, you got less lawsuits, less injuries and the public feels more secure," he said.

? If elected, Hill said he would pare down the number of sheriff's captains from 11 to six. "It's a waste of manpower," Hill said.

? During the final stretch of the campaign, Hill has stepped up attacks on Hale. In September, Hill claimed Hale offered him a lucrative job to not run against him. He said the sheriff in January asked him to become director of the Sheriff's Training Academy at a salary of $90,000 a year. He said he came forward to "show the taxpayers how (Hale) is willing to waste their money."

? Hale said he offered Hill the job because he thought he was qualified to head up the training academy, not because he didn't want him to run for sheriff. The sheriff called Hill's charges "lowdown politics."

? Hill said he is the best man for the sheriff's job because he is fair, honest and respected by the deputies.

? "Fair treatment, that's all they really want," Hill said. "I'm saying morale is in the toilet."

? Hale said he has never seen morale higher.

? "They have done extraordinary work under difficult circumstances, and I could not be prouder of them," Hale said. "They take great pride in what they do, they want to be the best and the proof is in the product they put out, the service they deliver."

? Assaults in 2010 have dropped to 1,152 compared with 3,608 in 2009. There have been eight homicides this year, compared with 10 last year. The number of slayings has dropped steadily since 2005.

? "How in the world could they do that with low morale?" Hale said. "The answer is they couldn't, and shame on my opponent for speaking of them in that manner. I'll guarantee you this: When they hear he has said that, they won't forget it and they will be as offended by it as I am."

? Under his tenure, Hale has created a number of crime-fighting units that he said have made a huge impact on crime rates.

? In addition to a Street Crimes Unit that hits crime hot spots, Hale created the Highway Safety Unit that has intercepted $40 million worth of drugs since 2005. Despite budget woes, he said he has been able to keep strong the Convicted Sex Offender Unit. "We are so glad we did, because of the 620 sex offenders in Jefferson County, 600 have been charged with felonies this year, so I know that is a threat we have beat back."

? Hale defends his decision to pay $4 million to a Mississippi company to provide medical care at the jail. "I know it seems like a lot, but as it now goes out to bid, I know the bids are going to come in higher," he said. "We had to dismiss the county hospital because of eight deaths and eight lawsuits. This group came in and we've had one death and no lawsuits. It was a good strategic move that protected county taxpayer dollars."

? Hale said the consolidation of the two jails was a tough decision but one made to save more than $5 million in a budget year to allow the sheriff's office room to continue crime-fighting efforts. The jail was never closed, but the functions redefined to include inmate intake and a holding place for inmates going to court in Bessemer.

? "It's not the best situation," he said, "but it was the best situation in the face of a $17 million budget cut."

? "We've had a vision for the future, dealt with tough economic times and reduced our dependence on overtime," Hale said. "I have a heart for all people, but if people are going to suffer, my choice is for them (inmates) to sleep together in a cell rather than taking back one crime-fighting initiative. I'm not going to do it."

? Hale said the biggest challenge in the coming years will be the further reduction of revenue with the possible loss of the county's occupational tax.

? "The vision for the future is to be able to deliver a safe Jefferson County with dwindling budget funds," he said, "and I have a record for doing just that."

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The duties: The sheriff is Jefferson County's chief law enforcement officer. He directs the sheriff's department's Birmingham and Bessemer divisions.
The pay: $115,000.

Willie Hill

Date of birth, age: March 1950; 60?
Residence: Morris
Political experience: First bid for political office
Professional experience: Retired as captain from Jefferson County sheriff's office after 35 years; U.S. Marine, 1969-72?
Education: Bachelor's degree in criminal justice, Columbia Southern University

Mike Hale

Date of birth, age: June 1951; 59?
Residence: Clay-Trussville
Political experience: Jefferson County sheriff, 2002-present, 1998-99?
Professional experience: Pell City police chief, 2000-02; Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, 1976-98, during which he commanded every division in the department; Homewood Police Department, 1973-76?
Education: Bachelor's degree in criminal justice, University of Alabama at Birmingham; attended Jacksonville State University; FBI National Academy

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