Sheriff takes on crowded primary race after battling myeloma

Wyandotte County sheriff candidates, left to right, Charles W. Bunnell, Celisha Towers, Marvin L. Main, Victor Webb and Sheriff Don Ash appeared at a candidate forum on July 11 at the First Baptist Church at 5th and Nebraska. The forum on July 11 was sponsored by the Historic Northeast Midtown Association, NAACP, Heartland Black Chamber and other groups. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

by Mary Rupert

After fighting myeloma earlier this year, Sheriff Donald Ash faces four opponents in the primary contest Aug. 1.

Ash, 64, who has served eight years as sheriff, addressed his health in a statement at the July 18 candidate forum at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

“I am not dying of cancer, and reports of my impending death, I assure you, are greatly exaggerated,” Sheriff Ash said, echoing a well-known Mark Twain quote.

He began treatment for myeloma, a cancer, last June, with immunotherapy from Nov. 1 to Feb. 9. He said the treatments have been successful and he is now in a maintenance and monitoring phase.

Sheriff Donald Ash, running for re-election Aug. 1, recently dispelled rumors about his health. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

“I am running for a full, four-year term,” Ash said. He added that he is considering options for successors so when it is time to retire, there will be a plan. He added no one has been promised the sheriff’s position upon his departure.

The other candidates did not bring up the sheriff’s health during the July 11 and 18 candidate forums.

The four challengers all have experience within law enforcement, including some working currently in the Sheriff’s office.

Issues in the campaign

Candidate Marvin Main, at the July 11 forum, said the biggest issue in the campaign for sheriff was community involvement. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

When asked at the candidate forum July 11 at First Baptist Church, 5th and Nebraska, what was the biggest issue facing the Sheriff’s office, challenger Marvin L. Main said it was lack of community involvement.

“The Sheriff’s Department and the community are miles apart,” Main said. He said the community and the department need to face problems together. Main retired after 25 years with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department, where he was an investigator, motorcycle police officer and crime scene technician. He has recently been working security for the Unified Government.

Ash said, in answer to the same question, that staffing is one of the biggest issues. Sometimes staff members move on to other jobs in the field.

He also said the budget is an issue, as it is important to find a proper balance to be fiscally accountable, responsible and efficient, so it doesn’t cost the taxpayers more money.

Ash has implemented double-bunking in the jail, which has eliminated additional expense in sending the county’s inmates to other jails. According to Ash, the money saved by eliminating farm-outs to other counties will be used toward building the new Juvenile Justice Center, without raising taxes.

Celisha Towers, a candidate for sheriff, said the biggest issue in the campaign was a lack of involvement with employees. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Celisha Towers, a former employee in the Sheriff’s Department, until July 2016, said the biggest issue facing the Sheriff’s Department was a lack of involvement with the employees. She said leadership was stagnant with a hostile work environment.

In addition, she said there is a lack of practical training. She said the lack of engagement with the employees and community is a big issue. Towers has worked in the jail, has had SWAT training, and has served as a field training officer. She said she was the first African American woman on a tactical team in the state of Kansas.

Charles Bunnell, a candidate for sheriff, called for better pay for employees, and more employees in the Sheriff’s Department. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Charles W. Bunnell, who has 14 years’ experience in the Sheriff’s Department, said expansion is an issue, as there are not enough employees, and employees are not paid the amount they should be paid, compared to other agencies such as the Police Department.

If there were more deputies, the Sheriff’s Department would have more time to build rapport with the community, he believes.

Victor Webb, who is running for sheriff, said morale is the biggest issue facing the Sheriff’s Department. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Victor Webb, who retired as a captain from the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department’s operations division after 28 years’ service, said morale is the biggest issue facing the Sheriff’s Department. He said it’s possible that lack of staffing comes about from low morale, or low morale comes about because of lack of staffing.

He said his goal would be to get the entire command staff, including the sheriff’s deputies, involved in community events and activities. He would implement a community policing philosophy. His platform has an emphasis on community relations. He was a community policing commander for five years.

Wyandotte County Sheriff candidates appeared at a community forum July 18 at Kansas City Kansas Community College. This forum is on the KCKCC cable channel, and also is on YouTube. This forum was sponsored by Business West, KCKCC, the Historic Northeast Midtown Association, and the Central Area Betterment Association. The moderator of this forum was Murrel Bland, top right, and one of the panelists was Elnora Jefferson, foreground. Victor Webb was unable to be present and sent a representative. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Sheriff and role concerning immigration

Will the local sheriff and deputies go door-to-door searching for persons who are not legally in the country? A question about the sheriff’s candidates’ stand on immigration policy and sanctuary cities was asked by Edgar Galicia, executive director of the Central Area Betterment Association, at the KCKCC forum.

Ash said there is not a policy in the Sheriff’s Department of stopping or engaging with people based on their immigration status. The only people they are interested in dealing with are those who are involved in crime, he said.

“I don’t think it behooves us to create communities where people can hide in plain sight, and sometimes engage in various criminal activities,” Ash said. “That being said, I’m not going to allow the federal government to come in and federalize the sheriff’s office, or deputize the sheriff’s deputies in order to be immigration officers. That is not our role.”

He said he had many meetings with the Latino community, as well as with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaders in the area.

“We are working very hard in developing policies in training that help us all understand this, and how to best deal with it,” Ash said.

Bunnell said he didn’t like the idea of a sanctuary city but he did like a safe city.

He said immigration is a federal agency’s responsibility, while the sheriff’s office’s responsibility is to make a safer environment for everyone.

“My concern is your safety,” he said. “That is something that the federal government will have to contend with, is your immigration status.”

Main said if he is elected sheriff, his deputies will not go knocking on doors looking for those who are in the country illegally – that is ICE’s responsibility.

But if someone not here legally is incarcerated in the county jail, he would notify ICE, he said.

“Immigration is federal unless it involves you as the community or somebody that is incarcerated in my jail,” Main said.

Towers said she doesn’t believe in sanctuary cities, or immigration coming door-to-door disturbing people in their homes.

“When you do commit a crime within this community, and you come into the Wyandotte County Detention Center, there should be accommodations for those that are out of this country,” she said. She suggested placing officers with specific training inside an ICE unit in the jail, and said she had experience with such a unit at the Cumberland County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Office.

“You have to be able to address these individuals in a particular way to find out where they come from, the needs that they need, why they’re in your jail,” she said.

She doesn’t think the Sheriff’s Department should step into the federal role and knock on people’s doors if they haven’t committed a crime. However, there should be a task force within the jail to handle people who have committed crimes and are not in the country legally, she said. Officers should be trained to address the situation inside the detention center, which the jail currently lacks, she added.

Experience and education

Ash has an associate of arts degree in criminal justice from Kansas City Kansas Community College, a bachelor’s degree in management of human relations, and a master’s degree in management and organizational leadership from Mid-America Nazarene College. He served in the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department from 1972 through 2006, and was a past division commander for the central, south and west patrols of the Police Department. He also is an elected member of the Board of Trustees at KCKCC.

Bunnell, besides serving with the Sheriff’s Department for 14 years, served five years in the Navy and 12 years in the Navy Reserves, obtaining the rank of master at arms, and his last years in the service were in the Navy’s security and police force. He has an associate of science degree from Kansas City Kansas Community College. He was listed as a detention deputy at the jail in 2016.

“I believe this time working with the Sheriff’s office has given me a closer view of the day-to-day operations and many of the needs of the Sheriff’s office,” Bunnell said.

Main, a graduate of Turner High School, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, working with recruits, and also was assistant warden of a jail for Navy and Marine inmates.

Main has received the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Medal of Valor with three stars for rescuing a man from a burning building.

Towers, 33, is a graduate of Schlagle High School who received an associate degree in pre-law, and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She said she is currently in the process of seeking a master’s of legal studies and is working on a law degree.

She previously worked as a sergeant with the Cumberland County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Department before moving back to the area to be a deputy at the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department. She was listed as a jail detention deputy in 2016. She is currently a student.

Webb, besides his 28 years’ experience with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department, has a bachelor’s degree in management and human relations from Mid-America Nazarene College, where he graduated magna cum laude.

After graduating from high school, Webb served seven years with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He has extensive experience working with community policing in Kansas City, Kansas. As a retired captain, he had the highest rank of all four challengers.

More information about the Sheriff’s campaign, and more about their positions on the issues, is on a video of the KCKCC forum July 18, posted online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXWfuRx33Ec.

The campaign forum videos also are showing on the KCKCC cable channel, Channel 17 on Spectrum, and Channel 146 on Google TV.

The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 1.

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