Four men are competing on the Democratic ticket for sheriff of Wetzel County: John Brookover, Mark Eller, Rob Haught, and Jeff Montgomery
Brookover, a working deputy for over 26 years, graduated from Magnolia High School. He then attended West Liberty before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served four years, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, before being honorably discharged.
Brookover has served under four sheriffs and he believes he has learned from all of them. "Combining the knowledge I garnered from them, my experience as a deputy, and the training I received, I believe I will be a knowledgeable and efficient manager of our county's assets," said Brookover. "I know the county and its needs. I have travelled all of the roads and worked in every area of Wetzel County."
One of Brookover's main concerns is providing safety for all the citizens. He says his interaction with several judges and attorneys has provided much knowledge and prepared him to better serve the citizens. "I have kept current with the changes in Wetzel County and the state, including tax changes, property re-evaluations, grants, and drilling activities," said Brookover.
He is married to Linda Hohman and they have four sons. Brookover is a member of Moose Lodge #931 of New Martinsville, the VFW, the American Legion, and he attends the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
Eller is son of the late, Yonsell "Jay" Eller Jr. and Mary M. Eller of New Martinsville. He is the grandson of a former Sheriff of Wetzel County, Yonsell "Yontz" Eller. He is a lifelong resident of Proctor where he resides with his wife, Diana (Potts). He is a graduate of Magnolia High School and is currently employed at PGT Trucking for over 17 years. He has received recognition as a One Million Mile Plus Safe Driver.
(Editor's Note: The Wetzel Chronicle mailed questions to all political candidates in races of local significance. Their responses are printed in the April 25 and May 2 editions of the Wetzel Chronicle in a simple question and answer format.)
Eller is a member of several organizations including the West Virginia Sheriff's Association, National Rifle Association (NRA), Moose Lodge #931, and the Wetzel County Lodge #39 A.F. & A.M. His other affiliations include: International Defense Pistol Association (IDPA), American Radio Relay League (ARRL), Mountain State Commandery No. 14, Grand Chapter of West Virginia R.A.M. Sistersville No. 27, and Independent Order of Odd Fellows (Magnolia No. 42).
For the past 20 years, he has served as the 1st Lieutenant of the Grandview Fire Department. He is a Christian by faith and is a member of the Antioch Christian Church.
Eller has completed numerous hours of instruction offered by Homeland Security, FEMA, WVU Extension, National Fire Academy, and the Emergency Management Institute.
Haught is a 52-year-old lifelong resident of Wetzel County. He is the son of Kenneth and Shirley Cozart Haught and resides in New Martinsville with his wife Gail. A 1977 graduate of Magnolia High School, Haught attended West Liberty State College and graduated from the West Virginia State Police Academy in 1987.
Haught has 25 years experience in law enforcement. He has been a supervisor for 23 years and have served as the Chief Deputy of the Wetzel County Sheriffs Office for the past six years. Haught has performed all the daily duties of a Deputy Sheriff which enables him to understand them. He also has experience in the day to day management of a law enforcement agency such as scheduling, budgeting, employee issues, equipment procurement, state accountability, and training. "Having experience on both sides will make me a more effective sheriff," said Haught. "I bring experienced leadership to the Office of Sheriff.
"The Office of Sheriff is not an entry level position. It requires experience and training to be an effective sheriff. I know the job and can do the job immediately upon taking office."
Montgomery has been a union member in the construction industry for 28 years. The last 14 years I have been a supervisor, working for the United States military, all branches of the federal government, state government, commercial, and industrial work. For the past 10 years, most of Montgomery's work has been for the military and federal government. As a supervisor, his job duties consists of contract negotiations, writing contracts, working with grants, financial budgeting, directing manpower, safety, and clerical work.
Montgomery is also a Certified Safe hunting and Gun Instructor for 18 years with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, a member of the West Virginia Sheriff's Association, and is currently working toward a degree in criminal justice at Colorado Technical University. He has been endorsed by the United Steel Workers of America, Local 14614. "If elected sheriff, I will be fiscally responsible, work to save the tax payers money, and to serve and protect the citizens of Wetzel County," said Montgomery. "As sheriff, I will be dedicated to the citizens and I appreciate your support on May 8.
Mental hygiene transports are a big drain in time and finances for the sheriff's department. Do you see any way to relieve that situation? Please explain.
Brookover: Although something needs to be done about mental health transports, nothing can really be done at the present time. It is the duty, by West Virginia Law, that the sheriff's department is responsible for transportation of mental health patients to a treatment facility. Previous sheriffs have tried to develop a solution, to free their deputies for regular duties, but none could be found that was approved. Using a private contractor carried many liability issues; Emergency Medical Service transports deprived the county of needed staff and equipment, because they, too, were involved with the patient for several hours. The county commission has charged surrounding counties for officer overtime when patients from other counties had to be transported, and have had some success. Truthfully, for the sheriff to be able to change this task, the state legislature needs to work on a solution or rewrite the current law.
Eller: As a candidate for Sheriff, I realize that mental hygiene transports to out-of-county facilities involves a lot of man hours and expense to Wetzel County. WV State Code 27-5-10 dictates that individuals who have to be involuntarily admitted for mental illness or addiction must be transported to a facility by the sheriff. It also outlines that the sheriff's office can, under certain circumstances, arrange for alternative transportation. Based on this West Virginia Code, we as a county should pursue the avenue of "alternative transportation." I would also like to investigate other possible solutions, by looking to other counties in West Virginia.
We should be focusing on the possibility of using technology such as teleconferencing in hopes of eliminating unnecessary travel back to the county for competency hearings to determine treatment. The last two proposals would involve obtaining more fuel efficient vehicles in order to keep cost to a minimum. The hiring of part-time personnel to assist with transportation would keep the Sheriff's Department accessible to the citizens of Wetzel County.
Haught: Mental Hygiene transports are regulated by State Code and are the responsibility of the Sheriff's Office. We have seen a significant increase in these transports in the last few years with the arrival of mental health facilities in New Martinsville. We did nearly 150 transports last year and they are a significant drain on the Sheriff's resources. Unless the Legislature amends the code or assigns responsibility to another state agency such as DHHR, the Sheriffs Office will continue to be solely responsible for them. We can, however, attempt to recover some of the costs for out of county patients from the counties they live in. We can also use a reserve transport officer to cut down on overtime and thereby keep a law enforcement deputy in the county to do other duties. Other counties are already doing this. I will work with the West Virginia Sheriffs Association to lobby for legislative change and the County Commission to continue to recover fees from other counties.
Montgomery: Mental hygiene transports are mandated by the state, requiring the Sheriff's Department to do the transports as needed. At the present time, Wetzel County gets reimbursed for mental hygiene transports for patients that are not a resident of Wetzel County. For the transports of Wetzel County residents, the options I would look into are being reimbursed by the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) under their Mental Hygiene Fund and work with the county commissioners on getting reimbursed through the General County Fund by utilizing the Sheriff's Allowance for Expenses, WV Code 7-7-13. The other problem would be the manpower issue and, according to the West Virginia Law, any person who does Mental Hygiene Transports must be a Certified Police Officer. So, the option of using volunteers or reserve deputies wouldn't be possible. The alternative would be to hire a deputy for Mental Hygiene Transports, but sometimes there are numerous transports at the same time. To have a Mental Hygiene Facility in Wetzel County would not only help the Individuals in need, but create less stress on the Sheriff's Department.
If you are elected sheriff, what would you keep and what changes would you make in the county and why?
Brookover: There would be few changes made. Perhaps we could add a secretary to answer the phone and intercom. Currently, the citizens have a difficult time contacting an officer for non-emergency calls. If people come to the office, an intercom system is available, but there has to be someone to answer. Calls to 911 are routed to the on-duty deputy's phone. If an officer is there, the person can talk to him/her; if not, a message must be left, however, it may or may not be answered.
I don't foresee personnel changes. I believe there is a good mix of experienced deputies with deputies who are now getting to know the area, the people, and their jobs. Other aspects and intra-department work will be evaluated on need, feasibility, and job performance.
Substations throughout the county have been looked into by previous administrations. I will do the same, considering cost, manpower, feasibility, etc. In years past, the tax office personnel went to various locations throughout the county to collect taxes. This probably isn't practical now since records are computerized. There are other ways to pay taxes, especially since the office is open, and will continue to be, on Saturdays.
Eller: As a candidate for Sheriff, my motto is "It is all about Wetzel County!" I am hopeful that the citizens and the Sheriff's Department can work together to determine what changes may be necessary to increase the efficiency and productivity. I will be holding town meetings throughout the county to hear citizens' concerns. I hope that any future changes will be governed by the idea that we value and consider "people first!"
I think making Wetzel County safe is everyone's responsibility. I would like to establish an anonymous tip line for individuals to report crimes. It is my belief that by addressing the drug issues in our community we will also reduce other criminal acts. Collaboration is the key to managing this troublesome issue. Law enforcement must go on working with others to educate individuals about drug prevention.
I would continue to get additional funds for the sheriff's office by applying for federal and state grants. Finding resources and funding for the community will be one of my top priorities. I will support existing emergency medical services, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and other community programs.
Haught: I would keep the successful programs such as the Prevention Resource Officer at Valley High School, the Officer in the School Program, the K9 and Special Response Teams. The Tax Office is running smoothly with a 98 percent collection rate and I wouldn't change anything there. I would establish a satellite office on the Short Line to increase our presence there and shorten response time to calls on the back end of the county. I would work with surrounding counties to establish a Drug Task Force to allow us to share resources in combating the drug problem in Wetzel County. I would improve the public's access to the Sheriff's Office facility. I will increase enforcement of traffic law as it pertains to commercial vehicles to help ensure safety on our county roads. I will establish a Senior Citizens Advisory Panel to help keep the Sheriff's Office informed as to the needs and concerns of our senior population. I will continue to seek state and federal grant opportunities to help with the costs of equipment and technology.
Montgomery: If elected sheriff, I will continue the PRO Program with the Schools and work with the Board of Education for the safety of our children. I will also continue the SRT Team and the K9 units. The changes that I would make are to start a Drug Task Force to work with other agencies to stop the flow of drugs into Wetzel County, create a Search and Rescue Team combined with a Reserve Deputy Program by utilizing Homeland Security Grants, offer the Towns of Hundred, Pine Grove, Paden City, and New Martinsville to contract their police services through the Sheriff's Department. This will save the towns money, have a deputy on duty in those areas of the county all the time, create a quicker response time in emergencies, and allow the Sheriff's Department to increase the amount of deputies to serve and protect the citizens of Wetzel County. I will also work to computerize the department records, continue to seek grants to save the taxpayers money, and establish a Crime Notification System in Wetzel County to notify the residents of the crimes taking place for the safety of the citizens.
Part of the sheriff's job is to be the county's treasurer by collecting all state, county, municipal, and school taxes; disbursing money to appropriate agencies; and maintaining all tax records. What makes you qualified for this aspect of the job?
Brookover: As a deputy over the past several years, and in years past when deputies accompanied the tax office personnel to other areas of the county to collect taxes, my contact with the employees in that office allowed me to ask questions about the daily operation of the office. Although the sheriff oversees the office and is directly responsible tax collection and disbursements, the employees are well qualified to carry out their duties. Therefore, the day-to-day operation of the tax office would be in the hands of these employees, under my supervision. I will see that they continue to receive the training they need and provide the equipment they need to complete their work in a professional manner.
Eller: As the sheriff, it is my responsibility to be a leader of a team of individuals who are trustworthy, dedicated, and qualified. It is my belief that the existing employees of the tax office have the necessary experience and understanding of the daily operations. The tax office will continue to perform its day to day activities. I firmly believe that a completion of a task is much more important than who gets credit for the work. I've had numerous opportunities in my current employment to participate on several advisory councils. My participation involved sharing my knowledge and skills in hopes of making positive outcomes in the lives of others. Since I have experience working with agencies that serve the citizens, such as a local fire department and other emergency services, I understand that the importance of collaboration with others is absolutely vital to getting tasks accomplished.
I have a strong work ethic that includes being devoted, conscientious, honest, and reasonable. I've learned this first-hand, from my father who was a local self employed business man.
Haught: I feel my 23 years of supervisory experience enables me to effectively manage the staff of the Tax Office. Our four full-time Tax Deputies have almost 65 years of combined experience in that office and have achieved a 98 percent collection rate. The Tax Office is subject to daily reporting requirements and frequent audits by the state. While Chief Deputy I administered federal and state grants totaling over a quarter million dollars. I have successfully undergone inspections and audits by the state on these grants and understand the accountability of handling these funds. I have experience in line item budgeting and administering the day to day operations of an office. My experience in procuring equipment and technologies will help keep the office running smoothly and my emphasis will be to continue the high standard of customer service and efficiency that the Tax Office currently provides the citizens of Wetzel County.
Montgomery: As being a supervisor for the last 14 years, working for the United States military and the federal government, my job duties consists of financial budgeting, clerical duties, working with grants, writing contracts, direction of manpower, and contract negotiations. With this experience and handling financial budgets far greater than the county's, I can and will be fiscally responsible in both the Tax Division and the Law Enforcement Division. This experience also enhances my qualifications for the collection of taxes, disbursing money to other agencies and maintaining the tax records for the county. I will also continue to update the Tax Division of Wetzel County to serve the citizens of the county.