BLOOMINGTON - Mike Emery and Mike Essig have different philosophies for how to run the McLean County Sheriff's Department.
Emery said those differences, not underhanded political attacks, should be the focus as each man campaigns for the Republican Party's nomination for sheriff on March 21.
"Deceit, deception, dirty politics and negative campaigning, I do not buy into that and I don't believe this party buys into it," Emery said Monday during a Republican Party candidate forum at the Doubletree Hotel, formerly the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center.
While not singled out by name, Essig took those comments as a shot at him stemming from Emery's dispute with current Sheriff Dave Owens about Emery's work record. Essig and Emery both work at the sheriff's department.
Essig said Emery is right to say the race should focus on departmental issues.
"I agree with him on that 100 percent. I don't think at any time we've run a dirty campaign," Essig said. "That issue is between my opponent and the sheriff, and I'm ready to move on. I'm focused on winning this election."
Owens n who is publicly backing Essig and is his campaign chairman - and Emery have butted heads in recent weeks over the circumstances in which Emery moved from chief deputy (the department's second-in-command) to lieutenant in 2000.
Owens has said Emery was demoted for neglect of duty because he failed to report a rules violation by another sheriff's office employee. Emery said he voluntarily stepped down because of philosophical and policy differences between himself and the sheriff.
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Emery has also accused Owens of improperly revealing information to the public from his personnel file, but Owens said he never looked at the file.
On Monday, the candidates waged a civil debate on who is best equipped to lead the sheriff's department.
Essig said increasing the number of deputies patrolling the county and creating an adopt-a-school program where officers visit rural schools would be two of his major priorities if he's elected.
By requiring sergeants to conduct patrols - currently they sit at desks - two more officers could roam the county each shift, Essig said, and cheaper civilian labor can do the desk work.
Emery disagreed, saying it's necessary to have sergeants at the sheriff's department in case citizens call to report problems.
"I think our sergeants are being utilized in the proper perspective," Emery said. "When I call the sheriff's department, as a citizen I want to talk to a law enforcement officer."
Creating a full-time deputy to patrol rural schools and another to solve Internet-related crimes are two priorities Emery said would be implemented if he's elected.
Essig's program of having deputies visit schools while also responding to day-to-day calls just won't end up providing enough interaction between the sheriff's department and the schools, Emery said.