Crow Wing Sheriff Todd Dahl told voters Monday night that he's not afraid to make tough decisions during tough economic times.
His challenger, Crow Wing County Deputy Eric Klang, said he'll bring better leadership to the county if elected sheriff Nov. 2, showing respect and accountability to his employees and those he serves.
The men squared off Monday night in a candidate forum at the Little Theater at Brainerd High School, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes Area and American Association of University Women.
Klang, who has a 20-year law enforcement career, including serving as Crow Wing County sheriff from 2002-2006, said he has unfinished business as sheriff, pointing to projects he started four years ago that need attention.
"My passion is to build and restore relationships without our department and county," said Klang. "Strong and consistent leadership needs to be brought back to the sheriff's department."
Dahl said he has a great sense of pride in wearing his badge for the past 24 years in law enforcement, a dedication that won't change with the outcome of this sheriff's race. He said he has the training, education and experience needed during these challenging times.
"I promise to be fiscally responsible," said Dahl. "I've been accessible to our citizens and throughout our community by attending meetings with township and city boards. The current times have changed but my promises have remained strong."
Dahl said if re-elected he'd like to see more training for his staff and to continue narcotics enforcement. He said his department needs to continue to work with the county's seniors to address issues that affect them.
Klang said there are more and more people being victimized in Crow Wing County and nationwide by Internet crimes and this is an area that will be one of the challenges facing the next sheriff in the next four years.
Dahl said he anticipates future budget cuts for his department and he'll continue to look at different avenues where the department can get back some of that revenue for the county.
Klang agreed with Dahl, adding that while on the campaign trail this fall he's visited with families who have lost their jobs and are losing their homes.
"There's a sense of desperation that I haven't felt before," said Klang. "We have to really look at some duplication of services and try to cut back and collaborate together, working with law enforcement agencies to look how to do things cheaper."
When asked how his approach to leading the department would differ from his opponent, Klang said training and experience isn't everything.
"You can have training and experience and be from here but people don't follow you because of those things, they follow you because of the direction they feel you bring to the organization," said Klang. "By providing respect and value to the employee, by providing service and support and by setting an example. ... If we don't know where we're going as an organization, everything is just floundering out there."
"I believe a leader is someone who leads by example, a person who has gone through hard times," said Dahl. "Having walked through three out of four years of budget cuts, these are quite interesting things being brought up here. ... A leader is someone who is dedicated to the mission, a person who allows officers the space to do the job and also supervises so a professional line is not crossed. An individual commitment to a group effort, that is what I believe in."
When asked about predatory sex offenders in the county, Klang said the county needs to be proactive. He said when he was sheriff he instituted monthly checks on sex offenders in the county, just after the murder of Pequot Lakes college student Dru Sjodin by a convicted sex offender in Grand Forks in 2003.
"I believe we need to take a strong stance on this, Level 3 offenders are the worst of the worst and we need to hold them accountable," said Klang.
Dahl said the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension requires twice a year checks on sex offenders and the county performs these checks quarterly.
"We're continuing to do area notifications on Level 2 offenders and the state tells us we should not be doing that and I will not be doing this," said Dahl. "This is something near and dear to my heart and I think we are better off now."
Dahl said the economy is one of the most important issues facing the county. He said in the last two years his department has cut $1 million. He said he has not cut full-time staff.
"I think we have to look ahead with doing more with less," said Dahl. "It's going to be trying times but we can do it by staying together as a family."
Klang also said the economy will be challenging in the years ahead. He said the department also will have to deal with upgrading its 25-year-old radio equipment by 2012.
In his closing arguments, Dahl said residents deserve a sheriff who isn't afraid to make unpopular decisions. He said his department has remained fiscally responsible when faced with a dwindling budget.
Klang stressed the importance of safety and prevention in the county, as well as working more effectively, efficiently and wisely. He said he has unfinished business and a renewed vision.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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