Author Archives: Matthew

Peoria Journal Star Endorses Our Sheriff

The Peoria Journal Star endorsed Sheriff Huston today.  It is clear that Sheriff Huston has the qualifications, experience and integrity to continue to serve as the Tazewell County Sheriff.  Exaggerations of qualifications, experience and ability to supervise by the Sheriff’s opponent almost were certainly a factor in the Sheriff receiving the endorsement of the Peoria Journal Star.  As the article makes clear, there is no question about the Sheriff having greater experience with dealing with budget issues and the other important responsibilities the Sheriff has.

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A copy of the text of the article is below:

Two guys who don’t seem to like each other much are squaring off for sheriff in Tazewell County. Bob Huston is the 60-year-old Republican incumbent, seeking his fourth term. He is being challenged by Democrat Ron Davis, 54, a retired State Police trooper and former Tazewell deputy.

The crux of Davis’ campaign is that the Tazewell jail has been poorly managed; that employee training, evaluation and supervision have been lacking; that the absence of updated policies and clear-cut disciplinary procedures has cost taxpayers dearly in legal costs following some highly publicized acts of alleged jailer misconduct.

The most notorious of these were the 2009 beating of inmate Becky Behm by corrections officers Jeffrey Bieber and Justin Piro; the chronic-neglect-of-duty charges against Deputy Jeff Bass in 2007; and the extreme physical force jailers used to control inmate Charles Chandler in 2006. In the first two cases Huston sought the dismissals of those involved. (Ultimately the Merit Commission, where both candidates advocate changes, did not see things the same way.) The latter resulted in indictments.

Davis suggests his previous union work with the State Police, where he helped negotiate two contracts, taught him how to handle labor-management relations. He cites a “fatigue factor” with jailers working too much overtime; he’d ask the County Board for additional funds to hire more of them. Beyond that Davis says that there should be a progressive punishment system for personnel, that firing should not be a first resort, that in the Bass case Huston should have intervened earlier. Davis indicates he’d replace Jail Superintendent Earl Helm and has a few people in mind outside the department. As sheriff, he will “take responsibility,” not “point the finger” when things go wrong.

Huston defends himself vigorously, saying the jail has handled 55,000 bookings in the last dozen years with only the rarest of missteps. The feds have housed or considered keeping some of their most difficult pre-trial detainees, including Ali S. al-Marri, in the Tazewell facility, and Huston produces documentation from the Central District U.S. Attorney’s Office describing “one of the most, if not the most, professionally administered jails” in the 46-county district. Helm, Huston says, is one of only six certified jail superintendents in Illinois, with perfect scores on seven annual jail inspections. He’d keep Helm around.

Noting the endorsements of his opponent by the two unions representing local law enforcement, Huston says some of the disciplined officers are working on Davis’ campaign, that his opponent is a friend of Bass in particular and that sometimes you have to be the boss, “not the employees’ lodge brother.” He proclaims that on personnel matters, “everything I do is after careful consultation with legal counsel,” and charges that Davis himself improperly interfered in the Bass case by instigating a bias complaint against the Merit Commission that proved unfounded.

Huston emphasizes that the jail is but half his operation. In terms of staffing, he says he could use five additional deputies on a force of 40 but at the lockup, allowable manpower has gone from 30 in 2003 to 48 now, a 60 percent increase. Contrary to Davis’ assertion, more jailers are not needed, says Huston.

The sheriff expresses pride in his role in the passage of the public safety sales tax that permitted construction of a new jail “on time and under budget.” Other accomplishments he cites are the methamphetamine task force, the Tazewell Teen Driving Initiative in a county that has seen a dramatic drop in those traffic fatalities since 2006, and the Generation Rx prescription drug education program.

This race is getting a lot of attention in Tazewell, with both camps drawing the battle lines. Some folks who’ve backed the incumbent previously are not now. We’d say this:

In 1998 Huston inherited a considerably less-than-ideal situation at the sheriff’s department. The above episodes notwithstanding, he has made strides in cleaning up and professionalizing the place. Multiple sources tell us time management is an issue and overtime costs could be whittled. Nonetheless, Davis cannot match Huston’s education, supervisory or budget experience.

From where we sit, Huston’s pursuit of the dismissals was absolutely justified. Those who claim otherwise, who’ve seen the video of the jailers knocking Behm’s head against a concrete wall and punching her in the face with closed fist, are defending the indefensible. Davis, who was at first reluctant to discuss those incidents – “What matters is how we go from here” – gives us little confidence that he isn’t one of them. Some of his personal relationships within the department do give us pause.

All in all, the current sheriff should remain sheriff. BOB HUSTON is endorsed.