Candidates for sheriff answer questions at forum

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2014

1030 Hill & Staggs









Polk County Sheriff Don Hill (left) is running on the Democratic ticket for reelection to the office he has held since 2008. On the Republican ticket, Pat Staggs, retired state highway patrol trooper (seated), is challenging Hill for the next four-year term. 

By Claire Sachse

The two candidates for sheriff of Polk County, incumbent Donald Hill and challenger Pat Staggs, answered questions Tuesday night about law enforcement priorities, accomplishments, jail needs, female inmates, and school safety.

Attended by approximately 100 people, the forum was held at Polk County High School’s auditorium. It was sponsored by the Tryon Daily Bulletin and Millard & Company.  Andy Millard served as moderator.

In opening remarks, Staggs said that he came to Polk County as a 21-year-old trooper with the highway patrol, 30 years ago. He retired a year and a half ago as a district commander.

“I believe in accountability and transparency to the citizens we serve,” said Staggs.

In his opening remarks, Hill, 45, stated that he started with the sheriff’s office when he was 20, and has served under several sheriffs in his 24-year career. Sheriff since 2008, Hill said that his proudest accomplishments include the school resource officer (SRO) program and the RUOK program for seniors.

Hill said that the combination of larceny and drugs is the biggest threat to Polk County today. With the county’s proximity to the South Carolina border, larceny and the tracking of stolen goods across the state line, is a priority.

Staggs agreed that drugs are a large criminal threat. In his work with inmates, he said that the majority has substance abuse problems, leading them to commit crimes. Staggs said that his priority would be to use “the best technology and the best training” to attack the drug issue.

Hill said that his priority as sheriff is to “get more community involvement, get into the schools, and get drug education back into the schools.”

“Our priority is our youth, and we need more community policing in the county,” said Hill.

Staggs said that he has trained thousands of officers during his career. As sheriff, he said he would bring his training abilities, which include officer survival training and emotional survival training, to the job.

Both candidates agreed that the jail is a high priority for the county to address.

“The jail was top of the line in 1973,” said Hill, who added that the county spends thousands now to send overflow inmates to Transylvania County. Staggs said that the payments Transylvania County receives for housing other counties’ inmates is their second largest money-maker behind their landfill.

In addition to lack of space, the jail is not equipped to house female inmates separately from male inmates. Both candidates agree that the situation is not ideal and should be addressed.

Millard’s last question to the candidates was whether county schools are safe. Hill said that while no school is completely secure, he believes the SROs are important and that guidance counselors and mental health are key to the safety issue. Staggs agreed that it is important to have officer in every school.