BEND, OR -- There were fireworks at the Deschutes Republicans debate between Current Sheriff Shane Nelson and his challenger, Deputy Eric Kozowski. The Tuesday night forum drew a big crowd to the Bend Shilo Inn.
One of the hot-button issues was Kozowski's continued criticism of what he calls the departments "pervasive culture of mismanagement." He told the audience, "Certainly, there's a lot of fodder there. Scott Beard, obviously; everybody knows about that. He just got sentenced to federal prison for stealing from the Sheriff's Office. You have another Captain that was forced to resign because of inappropriate behavior with employees. You have two Lieutenants currently out on paid administrative leave for policy violations of some kind or another."
Sheriff Nelson took issue with the characterization. "I don't think anybody is disagreeing with the elephants in the room, but we're taking care of business there so I'll leave that alone. My actions have shown that that's not going to be tolerated. OK, if you want to shift a culture, the first thing you do is you start with taking care of business. The second thing you do is, by taking care of business, you establish what you're expectations are. And, you establish the fact that, if you're not in line with our mission and values, you won't work with us."
Kozowski also criticized Nelson of not being transparent. The Sheriff responded that he's been more transparent with local media than his challenger. "I was asked by a local radio station if I would sign a release for the four Sheriffs I have worked for. They wanted to be able to go interview them and the Sheriffs' release said I would release them from any liability for discussing my character, how I performed my job, how I was thought of, how effective I was. And, I signed all my forms and turned them in."
This summer, KBND News sent a request to both candidates, asking that they sign liability waivers for all Sheriffs under which they've worked. Kozowski refused to sign waivers for current Wallowa County Sheriff Steve Rogers and former Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen. Tuesday night he defended his actions. "So, I'm not in the habit of signing blanket liability waivers. They can talk to whoever they want; they don't need my permission to go do it. The fact of the matter is, is the current Sheriff of my current employer, I supported his opponent; he and I don't see eye to eye. So, why would I want to let him say things that potentially aren't true?"
Following Tuesday's debate, the Deschutes Republicans chose to endorse Sheriff Shane Nelson. According to a representative of the group, a vote of Deschutes County Republican Party members at the event showed more than 90% support the current Sheriff.