Thursday, October 26, 2006

FW Journal Gazette - Taviano for Sheriff

Taviano for sheriff


Allen County residents have a rare opportunity to weigh in on a real contest for the sheriff’s office. Each major political party has offered a well-qualified candidate, and both are running effective campaigns. Add political volatility on the state and national levels, a qualified, thoughtful independent candidate and an open seat with no handpicked successor into the mix, and this becomes the first sheriff’s race in decades that’s not necessarily an automatic win for the Republicans.

Any of the three candidates would run the office competently, and all have solid experience in law enforcement management. But Tina Taviano has the better understanding of what the sheriff should do to use available resources to make county residents safer. She would be Allen County’s first Democratic sheriff since 1936 and the first woman ever.

Many voters may have an image of the sheriff as a police officer who arrests criminals and holds them in jail until justice is rendered. But the Allen County sheriff is above all a top-level administrator who oversees more than 300 employees, manages a budget of nearly $20 million and has other administrative responsibilities that include collecting back taxes, selling property and serving court papers. The knowledge and experience of a street officer is vital background, but doesn’t necessarily make the best administrator and leader.

All three candidates – Taviano, 46; Republican Ken Fries, 47; and independent P.J. Smith, 45 – have built distinguished careers. Smith is a city police commander, and both Taviano and Fries are sheriff’s department veterans. All started as entry-level officers and rose to supervisory positions.

Taviano has a vision that emphasizes working more closely with city police to better use limited resources and to increase the level of communications.

Talks aimed at combining city and county communication departments ended last spring when the incumbent sheriff, James Herman, insisted that the sheriff must be in charge. Taviano rightly believes that combining communications is vital to improve service and coordinate disaster response. She has proposed that a board appointed by city and county elected officials oversee the combined departments, with control alternating between the sheriff and Fort Wayne’s police chief.

Taviano also presents a powerful case for making the former bank building on New Haven’s west side, which the County Council purchased last summer, a temporary stop-gap measure to replace the aging building on Lima Road rather than a permanent home. She rightly wants the city and county to house their law enforcement agencies together downtown.

Such a move would help citizens, who would have easy access to reports and other information from both departments. It would help the officers and taxpayers because it would reduce the driving time and costs for county officers to go to the jail, the Courthouse and the prosecutor’s office. And putting county and city police officers in the same building would increase communications between officers at all levels, giving them face time to discuss crime trends and common suspects.

Taviano believes the county’s policy of placing newly sworn officers on duty at the Allen County Jail for as long as five years before moving them to policing jobs causes many to seek jobs elsewhere. She vowed to move all 16 sworn officers now assigned to the jail to other posts in the department to better use their skills, hiring more civilian jailers who guard prisoners but do not have police powers.

In June, outgoing Sheriff Herman, prohibited by law from seeking a third term, named Fries his chief deputy after Fries topped three other candidates in the GOP primary. Fries started as a jailer, became a sworn officer and rose to become lieutenant in charge of the detective division and commander of the department’s SWAT team.

Fries is skeptical, at best, about efforts for more cooperation with city police. Fries insists the sheriff must control any emergency dispatch merger, and he is less enthusiastic than the other two candidates about co-locating with city police.

Independent candidate Smith, who commands the city’s northeast quadrant, has good ideas and is open to cooperating with city police. But he decided against mounting a serious campaign, refusing to raise money.

To their credit, all three candidates believe the sheriff should not receive windfall profits from collecting a percentage of back taxes, the longtime practice in Allen County until Herman and county officials agreed to a flat salary contract for 2006. All three candidates support a flat salary.

A 24-year veteran, Taviano began as a confinement officer and eventually became director of training for the department. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Saint Francis and a master’s in public affairs management from IPFW.

The sheriff’s department needs a strong administrator willing to work cooperatively with Fort Wayne police to come up with ways to share communications, space and other assets. Taviano has the administrative and political skills to do the job well.

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