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Sheriff Candidates Press Issues at Debate
By Tammy Daniels,
02:45AM / Tuesday, August 17, 2010
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The two candidates hoping to rope the job of Berkshire County sheriff came out swinging on Monday night in their second debate. The 90-minute face-off at Conte Community School drew cheers and a few jeers from the crowd of more than 100 as the two Democrats tried to convince voters what a sheriff should be made of.

Thomas N. Bowler and Daniel E. Bosley last met in June in the first of four scheduled forums before the Sept. 14 primary. The candidates covered familiar ground on Monday night, hitting hard on the themes they've developed over the past few months. But it's been clear from the start that voters will be deciding what kind of sheriff they want — a public safety official or a law enforcement official.

"After 32 years, with the same sheriff, a lot of people aren't clear what the sheriff does," said Bosley, a 24-year state representative, describing that role as "the crux of the issue." "This is a human services job ... it's not a law enforcement job."

It was muggy in the Conte Community School gym and those on stage quickly doffed their jackets; it got more heated as the evening wore on.

Bowler, a Pittsfield detective with more than 20 years in law enforcement, disagreed strongly. 

"If you were on a school committee, and you were going to hire a new superintendent for your schools, would you hire somebody who did not have a background in education?" he asked. "If you had a hospital administrator you were looking to hire, would hire somebody that does not have any health care experience — absolutely not."

The debate was sponsored by the Morningside and West Side neighborhood initiatives and moderated by Berkshire Eagle Executive Editor Tim Farkas, who noted the importance of electing the "first new Berkshire County sheriff since 1978." The candidates each were allowed opening and closing statements. Bosley took the first question by coin toss; the second candidate then was given a chance for response before it went back to the first candidate for rebuttal.

The two men did agree on a few things, including support for the revival of inmates growing produce for themselves and continuing to provide academic and trade skills education, working closely with local human service organizations and law enforcement agencies and alternative sentencing for juveniles, depending on their crimes.

In relation to the Morningside neighborhood, both said they would not consider selling off the property near Morningside School because of its current use for teaching trades and potential for further programs.

But they disagree heartily on three main issues — the role of sheriff, the need for a regional lockup and the expansion of programs beyond the House of Correction.

Bosley has called for a regional lockup similar that of Hampshire County. Located in the House of Correction, it would free up local police from transporting and guarding suspects and bring in much-needed revenue to the jail, he said. He estimated the cost for Pittsfield at about $35,000 a year that would translate into more police on the street.

"It makes fiscal sense for the town, it makes fiscal sense for the jail," said Bosley.

Bowler called the idea "completely irresponsible" and a waste of money at a time with the sheriff's budget is already pinched. "From my expereince, my 24 years, I can't remember at any point in time when all the 32 towns and cities had to lock up anyone at the same time."

But the sheriff has to come up with innovative ways to bring in revenue streams to expand programs, said Bosley, who called for the sheriff's department to take on a greater role integrating former inmates into the community after they were released.

"I think we need to be better coordinated to create a 'continuum of services' that would save money and help people to not re-offend," he said. Bosley frequently pointed to Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, which he helped found, as a model for working at the neighborhood level. "We need to follow them out into the community."

Bowler, who spent more than a year working in the House of Correction as a supervisor, said it was important for the department to work with community organizations, and be involved with the schools and Boys' and Girls' Clubs to forge bonds with youth. But there were already good programs in the House of Correction and no need to expand them; rather, the effort should be made through community outreach programs.

"There are adequate programs in education and trades," he said. "I'd talk to inmates and get their input into how we can make it better."

In response to question on the budget, the detective said he'd call for an audit and an assessment by the department's finance staff before making any decisions. The representative quickly responded, "I'm not going to rely on somebody else I'm going to look at the budget myself."

The debate got heated toward the end, with some boos from the back following Bosley's statement that Bowler "is very good at what he does and I think he should stay there." He later chastised the Bowler supporters for catcalls: "This is the way you've conducted this campaign." (The June forum also turned testy when a Bowler supporter tried to debate Bosley.)

Bowler retorted that "This is a true professional versus a politician." Bosley countered, "I prefer to think of myself as an elected official."

The candidates will meet again tonight, Tuesday, at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center. A final debate is planned for early September on WUPE/WNAW.

 

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