Hillsdale County will elect a new sheriff in August, and three candidates are vying for the position, including a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office, a veteran officer of the sheriff’s office, and a staunch Constitutionalist military veteran.
While the three candidates — Lt. Tim Parker, Tammy Dow, and Jon-Paul Rutan respectively — all have plans for improving the county, each has a different strategy.
Parker has worked at the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office since 1985 in animal control, road patrol, marine patrol, and dispatch and is now a lieutenant, where he oversees the dive team and the day-to-day of road patrol officers.
“The sheriff is very unique, since anyone who is a resident of the county can run for sheriff. If you have great popularity, and win the election, the state will certify you as a police officer to run the sheriff’s department,” Parker said. “I, however, believe the chief law enforcement officer in the county should have law enforcement experience. A good sheriff, in my opinion, has to have experience.”
Parker said he believes his experience across a broad range of duties within the sheriff’s office makes him a strong candidate. He spoke highly of the current Hillsdale sheriff, Stan Burchardt, whose nearly 30 years of experience in law enforcement Parker said made his 20 years as Hillsdale sheriff marked by strong leadership.
“It takes experienced leadership in law enforcement to know how to use that money and what crimes we have to investigate,” Parker said.
If he is elected, Parker plans to improve communication throughout the county, in order to keep citizens aware of what is happening. He works with many community groups, keeping them up on trends and what’s happening throughout the county. According to Parker, the sheriff’s department only has one means of communication with the county, which is through the website.
“I want to improve that, whether it is through a Facebook or Twitter page. The state as a whole has made that better, through things such as Amber Alerts, and the sheriff’s department should establish a means to keep the public informed with what’s happening,” Parker said. “Communication is everything.”
Though not in law enforcement now, Dow previously worked for the Branch and Hillsdale County sheriff offices, as well as in Bronson, Michigan, as a police officer, and has served as an EMT.
She has associate’s degrees in law enforcement and corrections. Most recently, she worked as an animal control officer in the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department, and now she owns her small business, Dow Kennels.
“I am well-rounded, and I have been a part of the community all over the county for many years. I’ve talked to people and I know what they like,” Dow said. “I have a lot of background with people, and I know how departments are run. I would like to see it done.”
Dow said her goal if elected is to improve coverage by road officers. She said Hillsdale’s small-town atmosphere reduces the number of officers available in the case of an emergency.
“People truly feel better if they have enough deputies on the road,” Dow said. “We don’t have a lot of state police on the road, and everyone feels safer if there is enough coverage. There should never be a time when someone says ‘I need an officer’ and there’s nobody there to help.”
Dow said some small cities where she has worked lacked 24-hour police coverage, which resulted in dispatch going to other law enforcement divisions.
“If we don’t have that coverage, that isn’t a good feeling. It wouldn’t give you a good feeling if you had to ‘call back tomorrow,’” Dow said.
In contrast to the other two candidates, Rutan has never worked in law enforcement, but he believes that gives him an edge and is indicative of how the sheriff’s office should run.
“What the job of sheriff is all about is that it is the only elected law enforcement position in the U.S. All others are appointed,” Rutan said. “The Founding Fathers knew it was important to have that one elected guy whose first constitutional job is to protect the rights of the people from incursion of the government.”
Rutan served in the military for 12 years, working as a weapons instructor for the state of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections Emergency Response Team. He has also taught classes at Jackson Community College.
Rutan is a passionate supporter of the Constitution, and uses the Hillsdale College Constitution classes in a community education program. He said he believes the sheriff should be someone who is more directly a representative of the citizens, instead of a representative of law enforcement.
“The Founders wanted to make sure the sheriff understands the Bill of Rights and that the sheriff had the authority or power to protect those rights,” Rutan said. “When we elect law enforcement officials as our sheriffs, we don’t see that. You don’t want someone protecting your rights who is part of that law enforcement brotherhood.”
Rutan has run for sheriff before, and said he has been called “radical” for his support of the Constitution, which is something that confuses him.
Hillsdale County residents over the age of 18 without felony charges can sign up to be on the ballot for Hillsdale County sheriff at the Hillsdale County Courthouse. Local residents who still want to run for sheriff may submit their names to be featured on the ballot on April 18 and 19. The election will be held Aug. 2.