Dickerson, Simmons show different styles at Rainier Chamber of Commerce forum

by: Rick Swart, Jeff Dickerson (left) and Gerry Simmons (right) continued their campaigns for Columbia County sheriff at a forum sponsored by the Rainier Chamber of Commerce.

Two of the three candidates for Columbia County sheriff brought very different styles to the first major political outing leading up to the May 20 election.

Gerry Simmons read a long typewritten statement, citing his leadership and experience during his 27 years with the Sheriff's Office, during a candidate's forum Thursday in Rainier.

Jeff Dickerson gave a short, extemporaneous speech outlining his passion for law enforcement, experience as a state trooper and his vision for the department as its next sheriff.

A third candidate, Robert Crain, did not show up.

That, in a nutshell, may define the differences in the three candidates, which pits a seasoned member of the old guard against a relative newcomer with a vastly different style and background, and a third candidate who remains largely unknown.

Simmons, who has served for the past eight years as the number-two person in command at the Sheriff's Office, tried to parlay that experience into his case that he and he alone is 'the only candidate able to lead us forward.'

He told the more than 100 people gathered at the forum last week he would do that by affording positive change from inside the Sheriff's Office.

'I know the complexities of the Sheriff's Office, its budget issues, its staffing issues, its strengths and its issues,' Simmons said.

Simmons conceded the Sheriff's Office 'has its flaws,' including a manpower shortage that results in holes in police coverage.

'It's not a good system but it's the best that we have,' he said, adding, 'We need to work through these flaws together.'

Dickerson said the Sheriff's Office is beset with problems that start at the top of the organization.

'The biggest issue is leadership,' Dickerson said. 'We need leadership at the Sheriff's Office that is sensitive to the needs of the community. At the very top is where the agenda is set and service delivery is accomplished.'

Dickerson said the coverage problems that Simmons alluded to could easily be resolved by staggering work schedules.

'You can increase the patrol hours by staggering the shifts without adding a dollar to the budget,' he said.

Simmons earlier defended the current practice of limiting coverage to 12 hours a day, saying it 'allows the department to have more deputies who are able to respond at the same time.'

Training - or lack of it - is the other big failure of the Sheriff's Office under the current administration, according to Dickerson, who said employees do not receive annual reviews and that training is 'haphazard.'

'You can improve service by properly evaluating the deputies,' he said. 'That's not being done, now, but it will occur in my administration.'

Simmons highlighted his longevity as the community undersheriff, noting that he supervises the sheriff's posse, implemented the civilian search and rescue group, is an elder in his church, and is chairman of the Columbia County Chapter of Friends of the National Rifle Association, which supports the U.S. shooting team and funds range development and shooting safety programs.

Dickerson said he, too, has deep roots in the community. He graduated from Scappoose High School and was assigned to Columbia County by the Oregon State Police when he could have chosen a duty station anywhere else in the state. He added that he developed his ideas by talking to people.

'I was the only candidate for sheriff with a booth at the county fair,' he said. He also touted his popularity with Columbia County's public safety community, saying that nearly 80 police officers, firefighters and dispatchers have endorsed his candidacy, as have four mayors, two former police chiefs and three police unions.

He said the reason he's received all the endorsements is because, 'I stand for changes that need to occur at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.'