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CSAD hosts three debates for upcoming primary elections

CSAD hosts three debates for upcoming primary elections

Weckesser, Shaffer and Noggle during the Knox County Sheriff debate. | TADHG SAHUTSKE

On Tuesday, the Knox County Young Republicans sponsored the Knox County Commissioner and Sheriff Republican Debate, hosted by the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) in Oden Auditorium. Joseph Klesner, director of CSAD and professor of political science and international studies, moderated all three debates. The debates covered a variety of topics, ranging from the use of medical assistance in combating opioid addiction to the ongoing debate over solar farms in Knox County. 

Three candidates for Knox County Sheriff faced off in the first debate: Chief Dan Weckesser of the Danville Police Department, Captain William Shaffer of the Mount Vernon Police Department and former Deputy Wayne Noggle of the Mount Vernon Police Department. To begin the debate, each candidate was asked about what they think the biggest threats to public safety in Knox County were. All three referred to drugs and low police retention rates, but they differed in their proposed solutions.  

Noggle took issue with medical opioid addiction treatments, such as Vivitrol, that Weckesser and Shaffer argued in favor of. “We give people a drug to combat a drug problem and then [when] they get out, we make them stay on some of that stuff because of court orders,” Noggle argued. “I don’t think that’s a good program to have.” 

All three candidates expressed support for measures addressing the mental health of police officers. In particular, Shaffer argued for mandatory mental health training for deputies, de-escalation techniques and critical incident debriefings. “We send these men out to awful things. They have to get it out, they have to talk about it, they have to be able to have a safe space to be able to decompress,” he said. Schaffer also advocated for peer support systems and seminars for officers and their families to help identify early warning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Noggle, on the other hand, argued for the promotion of existing organizations like the Mount Vernon Association of Police Chaplains. He also expressed his support for encouraging officers to see medical professionals if necessary. 

Weckesser defined his policy on mental health in a short statement: “I believe policy should be fostered in an atmosphere of well-being. Those would include work-life balance, family mentoring, fitness, nutrition and mental wellness. We need to create an environment where it’s okay to not be okay.”  

After a short break, the debate reconvened with two of the four candidates for the Knox County Commissioner seat: Barry Lester and Scott Zimmerman. Lester, an army veteran and a sales manager at the Mansfield Motor Group, holds 40 years of experience in business management and is currently a member of the Masonic Lodge in good standing. Zimmerman, the owner of Complete Maintenance LLC, previously worked 13 years as a therapeutic worker for the Mount Vernon Developmental Center. His prior history in public work includes 10 years in the Mount Vernon Parks Department. 

Questions for the second debate primarily revolved around the major concerns for the future of the county’s development. Lester defined his platform early on regarding the county’s infrastructure and preparedness for growth. “With expansion comes crime, and I don’t think our sheriff or our city police are prepared. Crime follows low-income housing so we have to be very, very careful there,” Lester said. 

Lester and Zimmerman diverged on the subject of the recent installations of large solar farms throughout the county throughout the debate, especially when asked what set of circumstances would lead them to approve a large-scale solar project.  Lester responded simply: “Absolutely none.” In contrast, Zimmerman argued for a more individualized and laissez-faire response. “I said I am for property rights, I believe that to my core,” he said. “Now when I say property rights, everyone says ‘he’s pro-solar.’ Personally, I am not. Policywise — as a commissioner — I don’t want to make decisions for you.”

The third and final debate of the night was over a second Knox County Commissioners seat. The candidates were incumbent Thom Collier, Bob Phillips and Drenda Keesee. Collier, who has over 40 years of experience as a business owner, has held his seat for 12 years. Phillips is an entrepreneur, investor and broker. Keesee is a pastor, author and business owner, who has a masters in Christian Counseling and a doctorate in Divinity. 

Keesee spent a majority of her time in this debate arguing against solar investment in Knox County. Both her opponents stated they were personally against the solar investments. Collier took a stance that the county should not infringe on farmers’ property rights, which drew attacks from Keesee. 

Phillips also took a firmly anti-solar stance, based on his opinion that the nation needs to prioritize agriculture. “I’m not going to eat glass this Sunday. I’m going to eat a steak. I can’t eat glass,” Philips said. 

Toward the end of the third debate, Keesee extrapolated her own platform to foreign policy objectives. “We actually have, for the first time last year, imported more food and agricultural products than we exported [for] the first time in American history,” she said.  “We need to wake up and realize there are things happening at the big picture. There are people that want to bring America down.”  


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