Democratic candidates featured in second of two parts.
The Macon County News is presenting candidate profiles on all primary candidates between now and the May 6 primary. Following the results of the primary, MCN will then profile candidates vying for seats in November.
The Jackson County Sheriff race is an office in which voters will choose which candidate will move on to the general election in November. The winner of the May Democratic primary will face the winner of the May Republican primary in the November general election.
Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe, who has held the office for 12 years, is not seeking re-election.
This week, the focus is on the Democratic candidates for sheriff. Democrats Robin Gunnels, Doug Farmer, Steve Lillard, Chip Hall, Michael Gosnell, and Glen Biller, have filed to run for Jackson County Sheriff and will face the winner of the Republican primary.
Candidates Michael Gosnell and Glen Biller did not return requests for interviews.
All candidates were asked the same questions for their candidate profiles.
Provide a bio including personal, professional, educational and political.
Robin Gunnels: After graduating from Basic Law Enforcement School in 1995, Robin Gunnels has steadily pursued a career in law enforcement.
While currently employed part-time with Western Carolina University Police Department, Gunnels has been a sworn police officer for the last 17 years. During his 17 year career, he has held positions as a jailer, patrol officer, Sergeant, and Lieutenant. Gunnels has also owned and operated Custom Truck Covers for the last 12 years.
Gunnels has been a member of the Trout Creek Baptist Church for the past 25 years. He was married to the late Sherry Gunnels for 28 years, and together they had two daughters, Samantha Crawford and Sabrina Gunnels.
Doug Farmer: Born and raised in Jackson County, Doug Farmer attended Old Log Cabin Elementary School, Sylva Webster High School and spent a year at Cullowhee High School. He attended Southwestern Community College. Farmer is a member of the Junaluskee Masonic Lodge #145, and a past President of the Jackson/Macon Fraternal Order of Police.
After graduating from Basic Law Enforcement training in 1997, Farmer moved to Macon County to begin his career. While in Macon County, Farmer served for the Sheriff’s Department and Highlands Police Department and has worked as a detention officer, patrol officer, Sergeant, field training officer, detective, S.W.A.T Operator, sniper and S.W.A.T Team leader. Farmer left Macon County to work in Iraq as an International Police Officer. He attended Kroll Crucible Academy before leaving to serve in Iraq in 2007. Farmer is currently employed as a Sergeant with the Sylva Police Department, where he has worked since 2010.
Farmer and his wife Regina have been married since 2006 and have three children, Taylor, Dawson, and Isabella. They attend Calvary Baptist Church and live in the Dick’s Creek Community.
Steve Lillard: Currently employed as the Assistant Chief of Police for the Western Carolina University Police Department, Steve Lillard has been a lifelong resident of Jackson County. Lillard has previously served as a Major and Captain for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, and spent four years on active duty in the United States Army from 1989 to 1993 and again from 2003-2004.
Lillard is a graduate of Western Carolina University where he obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice. He has 19 years of local law enforcement experience and has held positions as a patrol officer, criminal investigator, and administrative officer. Lillard has served as Chairman of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, and is a former member of the Board of Directors of Smoky Mountain Center.
Lillard and his wife have been married for 16 years and together have three children, Drew, Hannah, and Megan. They live in Savannah Community and are members of Long Branch Baptist Church.
Chip Hall: Born and raised in Jackson County, Chip Hall began his professional career with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office 25 years ago as a detention officer. He has since served in capacities such as patrol officer, Sergeant, Lieutenancy and Captain.
Hall is dual certified through the North Carolina Sheriff Tranining and Standards Division as a law enforcement officer and a state certified detention officer. He has served in federal multi-agency drug task forces and has been a member of multiple public safety committees. Currently, as the Chief Deputy, Hall oversees the daily operations of the Sheriff's Office, budgetary issues, personnel matters and serves as the jail administrator. Hall volunteered and retired from the Cullowhee Volunteer Fire Department in 2011 after 25 years of service
Hall and his wife Selena have two children. They have attended Webster Baptist Church for over 30 years.
Why do you want to be sheriff?
Gunnels: “My interest in being sheriff has grown since I began my law enforcement career in 1995,” said Gunnels. “I believe that there is no greater service a person can have or do then to serve their fellow citizen. This is the ultimate way I believe that I can serve and bring a positive change to our community.”
Farmer: “Running for Sheriff of Jackson County has been a goal of mine since I began my law enforcement career,” he said. “For the past few years, I have listened to the concerns of citizens of Jackson County who desire a change to correct the problems of high levels of drug activity and the rise of breaking and enterings within our communities. In my 16 years in law enforcement I have gained the skills and knowledge that I believe will allow me to make a positive change within the Sheriff’s Office to combat these problems and better serve our citizens.”
Lillard: “I feel that I have something to offer the citizens of Jackson County and my overall goal is to provide the best possible service to each and every citizen,” he said. “My 19 years of law enforcement experience has prepared me to work with other public safety leaders as well as county officials to ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent crime, investigate criminal activities and to protect our youth. I have worked in investigations and have worked closely with juvenile service providers which has shown me first hand how crime impacts the families within our county and I want to have the opportunity to meet the increasing needs and to provide a positive influence on those who are affected by the actions of criminals.”
Hall: “Through more than 25 years of service, I feel I am the most experienced candidate,” said Hall. “By providing this unwavering dedication to the Sheriff's Office and the citizens of Jackson County, it has prepared me to fully commit my knowledge to better serve the communities within our county. I want to make the future of Jackson County a much safer place to live, work and enjoy our families.”
What do you think is praiseworthy for the current sheriff?
Gunnels: “One point of praise for the current Sheriff’s Office is that the number of deputies has grown over the last 12 years,” he said. “Therefore, with the number of deputies the Sheriff’s office has this should allow for better coverage and greater visibility for the citizens of this county.”
Farmer: “Sheriff Ashe and his administration have provided the patrol officers with updated technology,” said Farmer.
Lillard: “The current sheriff has made some strides in the areas of providing law enforcement services within the elementary schools in Jackson County,” said Lillard. “This adds a level of protection that many students did not have until this program was increased. Having supervised school resource officers in the past, I understand the need for officers in the schools and if elected sheriff I would continue to make efforts to expand this program and look for ways to provide safety measures for you children.”
Hall: “One point of praise for the current sheriff is his persistence in school related safety and efforts to provide resource officers for each school,” said Hall.
What is something you think can be improved upon?
Gunnels: “There are many areas which currently need improvement, but one is the patrol division,” said Gunnels. “I believe that the patrol division can be improved by increasing patrol on secondary and back roads in our communities to make a more visible presence known. Therefore, the would be thieves would be more aware that deputies are subject to being in the area at any given time. This would deter them from committing crimes.”
Farmer: “Community relations, community policing and patrols, professionalism and training, officer morale, and staffing issues,” he said.
Lillard: “One concern that has been shared with me revolves around communication and transparency,” he said. “It seems that many citizens have questions regarding issues within the Sheriff’s Office and they feel that their questions are not answered and their concerns are not addressed. As the Sheriff of Jackson County, I will strive to be the sheriff for all citizens and be open to discussing the issues of the community with those whom are affected most, the residents. I will create an atmosphere where the needs of those we serve are met and I will be accessible to those who need my attention. The county commissioners have a time set aside for the general public to address them at every meeting. This should be a benefit that the citizens enjoy from their sheriff as well. I understand the concerns of those who live here and will be available to work with them to solve the problems that exist.”
Hall: “As the next Sheriff of Jackson County I would ensure the Sheriff’s Office follows new directions and has an effective working relationship with all media outlets,” he said. “I understand the current working relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and several media outlets has been strained over the past few years. As the sheriff I will work closely with our media partners to make certain the citizens we both serve stay well informed and up to date with crucial and pertinent information. I also believe I can improve public trust by increasing the transparency of the Sheriff’s Office by providing an open door policy to my personal office and being more active in our communities by personally listening to citizen’s concerns.”
What do you hope to accomplish during your term?
Gunnels: “It is my ultimate goal to make Jackson County a safer place to live,” he said. “I want the citizens to be able to appreciate the law enforcement community and feel good about supporting them. I also want the citizens to feel that their tax dollars are benefiting them and that their voices are being heard.”
Farmer: “I plan to add SRO’s to schools that currently do not have one, add more officers and K-9’s to patrols, and increase patrols within all our communities,” said Farmer. “I plan to set training standards and provide more training to all officers. I will establish working relationships with other departments throughout our county and with surrounding counties. I plan to establish a volunteer program to assist in areas within the department that could use additional manpower. I will build strong community relations that will assist us in doing our job and identifying problem areas within the county.”
Lillard: “During my term as sheriff I want to provide more protection to the youth of our communities in the form of School Resource Officers and increased collaboration with non-profit organizations that will ensure that at-risk youth are provided the services they need,” he said. “I also plan to increase the level of communication that exists between the citizens and the Sheriff’s Office so that concerns that are raised are addressed in a timely manner that allows problems to be dealt with before they become out of hand. Lastly, I am committed to addressing the current drug problem that exists within our communities. I will monitor reports of drug activity and ensure that the officers assigned to work narcotics are prepared to meet the rising needs so that the problem of drug sell and distribution can be met and reduced. This problem is always associated with other crimes and by working hard to address this issue we will create a better environment for everyone.”
Hall: “As the Sheriff of Jackson County I hope to accomplish a stronger partnership within our law enforcement community,” said Hall. “I know it will take a strong working relationship within the law enforcement community to combat illegal drug problems. Working closely with other local law enforcement, state law enforcement, tribal law enforcement, and federal law enforcement agencies is essential. Additionally, a trusted partnership with the citizens within our communities in Jackson County will be key in providing the Sheriff’s Office with necessary information which will help establish and investigate drug crimes efficiently. As drug trends change on the federal, state and local levels, Jackson County has followed the trends of prescription drug abuse. As sheriff, I plan on working diligently with other community groups already established to help prevent, educate and address the increasing problems associated with prescription drug abuse.”
What do you see as being your greatest challenge?
Gunnels: “The greatest challenge in the Sheriff’s office I see is changing the current attitude of the Sheriff’s office,” he said. “The Sheriff and his deputies are public servants and as such should have the attitude that they are here to serve the public.”
Farmer: “My greatest challenge will be stopping the flow of drugs into our communities,” he said. “I will use an aggressive targeted approach and seek other agencies’ assistance to combat and reduce the problem.”
Lillard: “One of the greatest challenges will be seeking ways to accomplish new ideas and meet an increasing need while being aware that local budgets don’t currently have a lot of room for additional funds or expansion,” he said. “Looking for new innovative ways to utilize resources so that more services can be provided as well as looking to other funding streams such as grants and collaborations will be necessary so that the rising concerns can be addressed. More emphasis on educating the public about ways to prevent crime will be important and relying upon updated training and technology can also assist without a large increase in the budget.”
Hall: “As the Sheriff of Jackson County I see my greatest challenge as finding funding to provide each school with a resource officer,” he said. “I feel it is extremely important to continue our partnership with our school leaders to provide our students, faculty and staff with a safe learning environment.”
What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Gunnels: “I have been a sworn law enforcement officer for 17 years and a business owner for 12,” said Gunnels. “My service to the public is not one dimensional. As an officer you tend to view things like a horse with blinders on, you see things one way. As a business owner, serving the public I have learned to be open minded by listening to their needs and opinions. I believe I can offer a broader range of understanding the citizens of this county and their complaints and as such be more productive in finding solutions to their issues.”
Farmer: “What sets me apart is the fact I have not worked in the same place under the same administration my entire career,” he said. “I have witnessed the successes and failures of administrations and learned from their experience. With my knowledge and experience I can help the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to thrive. I will accomplish this by leading from the front which will inspire my staff to do so as well.”
Lillard: “My combination of experience and training will benefit me as the next Sheriff of Jackson County,” said Lillard. “I have worked closely with other county departments and understand the role that each area is responsible for and how we must work together to meet the goals of the county as a whole. I understand the process that takes place within budget requests and will work with the county leaders to make sure we have what we need to operate without placing an increased burden on the taxpayers. I will be open to the views of the citizens and will work with communities and individuals to make sure we are meeting the standard that they expect. I have a great understanding of the security aspects of operating a local facility as well as protecting sensitive criminal information. I will ensure that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office remains compliant with local, state and federal guidelines and will be transparent to the public about financial and policy matters. My desire to serve every citizen is sincere and I will work hard for the residents and strive to make Jackson County a better place to live.” Hall: “Being the only candidate who holds a certification through the North Carolina Sheriff’s Training and Standards Division as a certified detention officer and beginning my career in law enforcement as a detention officer, I have a better understanding of the real aspects of the needs associated with operating a jail,” he said.
Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
Gunnels: “It’s time for a change. In order for change to be effective in the Sheriff’s office we need a new attitude in order to go in a new direction,” Gunnels concluded.
Farmer: “I look forward to serving the citizens of Jackson County if elected Sheriff,” he said. “I will make every effort to ensure you receive the best service and assistance from our officers. I would appreciate your support on May 6, 2014.”
Lillard: “I would like the citizens of Jackson County to know that as the Sheriff, I plan to be accessible and will listen their needs and concerns,” he said. “I plan to have open lines of communication with the people and I will be available to talk about matters that are important to them. I will be responsive to concerns about the drug issues and criminal activity as well as the needs of the victims. I will be the Sheriff for all citizens and will take my responsibilities seriously in order to maintain the trust of the county. During my 19 years of law enforcement in Jackson County, I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve the public and my community. I remain committed to making a difference in the county that we all share. As the only law enforcement official elected by the voters, your Sheriff must be someone who is effective and experienced. I will bring leadership, experience and values to the office as your next Sheriff. I would be honored to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Jackson County.”
Hall: “Under my administration as the next Sheriff of Jackson County, I will move the Sheriff’s Office forward under new leadership, with new ideas to better serve all citizens of our communities,” said Hall. “I ask each citizen, if their commitment to Jackson County is as strong as my commitment is to Jackson County, to elect me to serve as Jackson County’s next Sheriff.”