BEND, OR -- With just three weeks until the November election, Deputy Eric Kozowski hopes his message will resonate with voters. He is running for Sheriff of Deschutes County, despite a vote from the Employees' Association showing overwhelming support for current Sheriff Shane Nelson. Kozowski is confident that, if elected, he’ll eventually gain their support. "Are there going to be employees that don’t agree with my vision? Absolutely. That’s just - everybody has their own opinions on how things work. I think if you make that vision clear, you make that direction clear, and ask employees to participate in those decisions, you gain their trust and their input and their buy-off; and, that’s ultimately what makes things successful."
A representative of the Deschutes County Sheriff Employees' Association tells KBND News members are happy with the current direction of the agency. Deputy Kozowski contends the union should not have asked members to pick sides. He adds, "If I’m elected Sheriff is, the first thing I have to do is communicate my vision and my goals for the agency and then incorporate input from all the employees on ‘here we are now at Point A, we want to get to Point Z down the road. So, how do we get there in the most efficient manner and with the least disruption possible?’ And, that definitely requires the input of the employees."
At a recent debate, current Sheriff Nelson asked Kozowski how the Deputy would have handled recent scandals at the agency if he were Sheriff. Kozowski did not offer specifics at that time. He now tells KBND News, "Well, from day one, is communicate clearly with the employees. Again, back to ‘here’s the expectations I hold for all the employees, here’s the expectations the public holds for all the employees, and we’re going to hold you accountable to those.’ And, we’re not going to let any violations of those standards or the public trust slide under the carpet. We’re going to deal with them and set the environment so people know that they won’t get away with those things."
Kozowski's campaign promises a change in leadership; however, his statement is similar to Sheriff Nelson's approach to cleaning up the agency, according to his description at a recent debate. "If you want to shift a culture, the first thing you do is start by taking care of business," Nelson told the crowd. "By taking care of business, you establish what your 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."
To hear our full conversation with Dep. Eric Kozowski, click HERE or visit our Podcast Page.
Sheriff Nelson started with the agency more than 20 years ago. Kozowski worked as a deputy in Wallowa County for six years before coming to Deschutes County in 2010. This is the first contested Sheriff’s race in Deschutes County in more than a dozen years.