Washington resident and current Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston addressed some campaign issues alongside his opponent Ron Davis of Pekin at the East Peoria Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Par-A-Dice Hotel Friday morning.
Economic efficiency of the Tazewell County Jail operations was the No. 1 issue addressed, including the possibility of privatizing the jail and dealing with budget and workforce reductions and costly lawsuits.
Both candidates voiced opposition to the idea of privatizing the jail.
“I don’t think the county needs to create a situation where taxpayers are on the hook for even more unnecessary costs, which, by the way, does absolutely nothing to address the financial cloud that is currently over the Tazewell County Jail,” Davis said.
Huston’s opposition was more tempered. He said that while the option of privatizing the jail was ruled out because of costs and service obligations before the jail was built, if newer studies find privatization to be a viable option now, he would not stand in the way.
“What is different this time is that we own the jail and would simply be contracting with a private company to operate it. ... I don’t like the concept of privatization. But if, and only if, it is clearly a great deal for the citizens of Tazewell County, I will give the idea careful consideration,” Huston said.
Fiscal responsibility, he said, has been his goal for the last 12 years he spent as sheriff. He cited a number of grants, which have paid for increased personnel costs, a 2000 referendum that brings in $6 million per year, rental of jail beds to other counties and the public safety sales tax as revenue sources that have alleviated Tazewell County’s financial problems.
Davis said he would scrutinize the budget looking into ways to eliminate overtime, cut costs with green technology and reduce fuel costs by reducing “unnecessary travel outside Tazewell County.”
Both candidates also touched on the hot-button issue of costly lawsuits and employee difficulties.
“I believe that this is the defining issue in this election. Tazewell County taxpayers have, in fact, experienced unnecessary exposure to liabilities,” Davis said referring to the 2008 case of Becky Behm. Three corrections officers were recently reinstated with back pay after a lengthy legal battle over their physical treatment of Behm, 48.
He espoused updated policies, improved training programs and employee evaluations to reduce liabilities.
Huston sees it differently.
“This question provides a clear contrast between me and my opponent. ... My opponent has adopted the defense line blaming others for the actions of these officers. It is clear that (the officers) were wrong and should have been fired,” he said.
The Tazewell County sheriff election will be Nov. 2.