Jail in Mason key issue in sheriff’s race

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By Rokeyta Roberson
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

HOMTV and Meridian Township have teamed up to provide county residents with coverage of local elections. Ballot Meridian 2012 coverage includes live debates, candidate interviews, and candidate statements.

“I think it is very important for local candidates to share their stances on problems facing the communities they wish to serve,” said Ingham County resident Ashley Lawrence. “If debates between candidates that are running for a county-wide position are broadcast, then it can help residents become more informed and not place their vote because off of familiarity.”

On Sept. 26, Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth and opponent Clyde Smith received an opportunity to do this.

Ballot Meridian 2012 featured a live debate between the two candidates where viewers had the opportunity to phone in questions.

From the beginning of the debate, the disagreement between Wriggelsworth and Smith was apparent. Incimbent Wriggelsworth said the county is a good place in regard to public safety and monitoring taxpayer-supported institutions such as the Ingham County Jail in Mason.

“I think I’ve done an incredible job as sheriff,” said Wriggelsworth, who has held the position for 24 years. “There aren’t many necessary changes that need to be made.”

Smith disagreed. He said the county and the Sheriff’s Department are overdue for change.

“There is a clear need for change,” said Smith. “The sheriff’s job has become more about politics than public safety. There are not enough police officers due to funding and cuts, but too many administrative positions seem to go unharmed.”

Smith is a police officer in Leslie, and worked was sergeant in Lansing for 25 years. His main goal is to get more deputies on the streets and have fewer in administration, while Wriggelsworth says administrative positions are just as important as deputy positions, despite they pay difference.

“I don’t make the budget,” said Wriggelsworth. “The County Board of Commissioners does, so as far as having too many administrative positions there is nothing I can do about that. We are trying to get more deputies on the road but with the cuts, that’s not possible.”

The second topic of the debate was the Ingham County Jail in Mason.

The county jail is the fifth largest in the state and is primarily funded by taxpayer dollars. The Sheriff’s Office oversees jail finances, runs and maintains the jail, transports prisoners and serves warrants.

One concern of taxpayers is jail alternative programs. These save the county money by letting individuals participate in community service to avoid jail time and save the county money. The daily cost of housing an individual in jail is $92.

“As sheriff, I have set up programs such as the dead-animal recovery team,” said Wriggelsworth. “I have created alternatives like this, as well as tethering, for judges to have other options that allow us to save money.”

Smith agreed that these programs save the county money, but he said he doesn’t like some programs attributes.

“Essentially, outside of the gas cost, these programs shouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime,” said Smith. “But each time a person participates in one of these programs we feed them a free lunch. Why? Why should they eat on the taxpayer’s dime? The goal is to save money.”

The Ingham County Sheriff is responsible for the county jail, providing courtroom security, county civil defense, emergency disaster service, rescue service, and emergency management.

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