BEND, OR -- It was a packed Deschutes Brewery Tap Room for the latest debate between Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson and challenger Deputy Eric Kozowski.
Tuesday night's Bend Chamber forum was fiery at times; both candidates admitted the campaign has created tensions within the agency. Sheriff Nelson told the crowd, "Look, I have no doubt that internal Sheriffs races can cause some conflict. The one thing that gives me a little bit of hope is the fact that the people I visit with say morale has been increasing exponentially since we've been dealing with and addressing personnel issues; especially personnel issues at high levels."
Dep. Kozowski responded, "One of the reasons I ran for office was because I had coworkers encourage me to do so. I have considerable support within the office; many people are afraid to voice that support publicly, because of concerns of retaliation. In fact, there's a Department of Justice investigation active in that regard. And, as was mentioned earlier, there's been significant retaliation against me, personally." Kozowski has threatened, through his attorney, to sue the Sheriff's Office if harassment continues.
Sheriff Nelson says he takes all allegations seriously and is looking into the claims. "If that is going on, we want to get to the bottom of it. That's why I asked an outside agency - I called the Department of Justice - to come in and do this investigation, because it won't be tolerated. We'll find out what the truth is, and we'll handle it appropriately."
Read more about the candidates' last public debate.
Despite the nature of the race, Sheriff Nelson says his office will continue the ensure the public's safety and both men say they will move forward after the election. Deputy Kozowski said at the forum, "There's definitely tension inside the office. It's unfortunate these things have happened. I have tried to do everything I can to minimize that tension. I come to work, I do the job to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, people are people, and everybody has their own opinions."