ASHE COUNTY — During the 2018 midterm elections Tuesday, Nov. 6, the people of Ashe County will vote for their next sheriff, choosing between two candidates.

Up for election are Republican B. Phil Howell and Democrat J. E. “Bucky” Absher.

The Ashe Post & Times fielded 10 questions to each of the sheriff candidates via email, whose responses are as follows:

Tell us a little bit

about yourself.

B. Phil Howell:

Born and raised in Ashe County, I am a 12-year veteran of law enforcement. I have and always will consider Ashe my home. My family has lived and worked here in Ashe County for generations. I grew up attending West Jefferson Elementary, Beaver Creek High School as well as Ashe County High School. I graduated from North Carolina State University and began my law enforcement career with NC State Parks. While attending Basic Law Enforcement Training I met my wonderful wife, Amanda Howell. She was attending the same school as a SBI Special Agent.

In 2010, we returned to Ashe County where she became a professor at Appalachian State University and I began work at the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office as a Narcotics Detective. During this time, we have raised our two daughters, Emma and Norah. I gained my Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate on my sixth year of service and followed by attaining my General Instructor Certification for instructing Law Enforcement. I followed suit with my Specialized Firearms Certification and soon began teaching firearms to Law Enforcement officers. I also began High Country Conceal Carry, teaching citizens conceal carry to obtain their certification. The opportunity to instruct legal issues, safe handling of firearms, firearm safety, storage and issues revolving around firearms has been very rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to spend time with the citizens of Ashe County, gathering their thoughts and concerns for our county.

I believe the various positions I have held in law enforcement, coupled with the administrative experience have prepared me well. Each day is a learning experience and better prepares us for tomorrow.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

I am an Ashe County native, living in the Crumpler community all of my life. I graduated from Ashe Central High School in 1979, and Wilkes Community College, Criminal Justice Program 1981. I was raised on a small farm, where my brother and I still raise beef cattle. I began working for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office in 1981 where I remained employed for 36 consecutive years and then returned in Feburary 2018.

Why did you decide

to run for sheriff?

B. Phil Howell:

We have all witnessed the chaos of our sheriff’s office in Ashe County over the past several years. Our county has been through a lot, from a national TV show being aired for three seasons to the turmoil of our sheriff’s office that has occurred over the past two years. I felt strongly that I could make a difference. I know how to treat our citizens with respect and respond to everyone appropriately without making knee jerk decisions which negatively impact most of our citizens. It is time to restore the county to a level of professionalism that is even greater than previous administrations.

Having held different positions from different/various agencies, I bring a long list of experience, which allows me to address multifaceted situations. My last assignment as director of the 911 dispatch center enabled me to expand my leadership role within the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office must also become a central player in bringing all county agencies to the table to better the lives and living conditions of all the citizens of Ashe County. All of our public agencies must work together to protect the well-being of our friends and neighbors. No one person can travel this road alone; whether it be working with the school system to grow our students to be productive adults or with the social services agencies to protect the lives of those less fortunate, we must work in cooperation for the betterment of Ashe County. It is time to bring the sheriff’s office back to the people and the needs of the community where respect, ethical behavior and moral values prevail. In doing so, the sheriff’s office needs to open to the public and get feedback from each community and provide an atmosphere of transparency.

It’s with my history, experience and my ability to network with various entities from the law enforcement sector, to private businesses, to schools as well as with the citizens of Ashe County, I believe we can make a positive impact within Ashe County.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

Between January 2017 and Feburary 2018, I saw a great sheriff’s office totally dismantled. It went from an office of trust and confidence, to an office of disrespect. The citizens of Ashe County lost all trust and confidence in the office. You did not know who your sheriff was or who you could go and talk to. The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office was making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I know we are better than this.

I am someone you know, trust and can have confidence in to serve you, the citizens of Ashe County, in a professional matter. I started my law enforcement career working night shift patrol and have worked my way up through the ranks and divisions, with the last 10 years serving as Chief Deputy. It is of my opinion, that with my leadership and professionalism, we will continue to fight the county’s drug problem, continue to provide school safety, all while maintaining a high level of trust and respect from the Ashe County citizens.

What qualifications make you a good choice?

B. Phil Howell:

For one, I am not a political person. I want to serve our entire county to the best of my ability no matter what sex, race, ethnic or criminal background. Regardless of who or what, everyone deserves fair and equitable treatment.

My work and life history are an extremely diversified, multifaceted story. I haven’t just worked a couple of positions for one or two agencies. I have attempted to challenge and educate myself every single year. I believe that it has made me the best candidate for the job.

I became a Computer Science Lab Administrator while attending NC State University, supervising up to 30 teaching assistants. Upon graduating, I started my law enforcement career with North Carolina State Parks. This is where I learned that law enforcement and education can go hand in hand as a profession.

After leaving NC State Parks, I became a narcotics detective with the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office in 2010. During this time, I was exposed to investigative tactics that many people do not see. Working as an undercover officer allowed me to view drug activity in person and in real time. With this experience, I understand how to prosecute drug dealers and educate our citizens in the identification and prevention of drug abuse. This also gave me the opportunity to be involved in state and federal investigations that led to serious offenders receiving substantial sentences for their crimes.

After being promoted, I was Director of Dispatch from 2015 to 2018 and believe that I accomplished my goal of proven leadership as director. I managed our dispatchers while successfully handling our budgets, training, certification and the establishment of a new 911 Backup Center.

I worked for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office from 2010 to 2018 in several positions. My last assignment was a position that enabled me to learn the administrative side of our sheriff’s office. With my experience of our sheriff’s office budget, funding, employee schedules, addressing the public and internal issues; I believe that alone makes me the most qualified for the position.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

Experience. I have more than 35 years, all of which has been serving the citizens of Ashe County. I will be a sheriff you know and recognize on a first name basis.

I started my career working night shift patrol and worked my way up through the ranks of the department. I have seen a lot of growth and changes throughout my career. I worked patrol for approximately eight years earning the rank of Lieutenant. For the remaining of my career, I worked in investigations as a Lieutenant and Captain before being promoted to Major/Chief Deputy, where I have overseen the everyday operations of the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office. I have investigated homicides, sexual abuse crimes, drugs, frauds, crimes against our elderly and larceny cases just to name a few.

I have attended many training classes over the years so I could better serve the citizens of Ashe County. In 1995, I received my Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate. This is only issued by North Carolina Sheriff’s Training and Standards to officers who have worked a minimum number of years and earned a high number of continuing education hours.

During Sheriff (James) Williams’ term and now Sheriff (Jim) Hartley’s, I have served in the position of Chief Deputy. I have overseen the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office while at the same time meeting with the public. This has provided me with great leadership skills. A good leader is one in which leads by example. It is important that a leader has previously experienced those circumstances that his employees are facing. I feel as if my experience has put me in similar situations that these officers will encounter on a daily basis.

What do you feel is the current public perception of the

Ashe County

Sheriff’s Office?

B. Phil Howell:

From exposing our county on “Southern Justice” for three years to watching our sheriff’s office change hands from three sheriffs within a 13-month period, everyone views our sheriff’s office negatively. This is extremely unfortunate for the employees who work hard every day.

For the first time since I can remember, the sheriff’s office became political last year and has continued this year. In December 2016, both ends of the spectrum were attempting to convince commissioners to vote for their favorite prospect. On Jan. 10 of this year, I announced I was running for sheriff of Ashe County. Immediately upon my announcement being released in the Ashe Post & Times, I was forced to resign from the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office. When our current sheriff was appointed this February, he stated he brought everyone back. At no point was I asked to return to work at the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office due to my campaign for sheriff of Ashe County.

We should not be negative or political but do the job equally for everyone no matter what their beliefs are.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

Between January 2017 and February 2018, the citizens of Ashe County had lost all trust and confidence in the sheriff’s office. In February when Sheriff Hartley agreed to come back and serve the remainder of the term, the trust and confidence level was immediately restored. Sheriff Hartley and I have had countless citizens thanking us for coming back and congratulating us. We are someone you know and trust to serve you in a professional, non-partisan manner. Under my leadership, this service will continue.

Given the recent high rate of turnover and litigation, within and around the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, how will you bring stability to the

department?

B. Phil Howell:

I am going to stand up for the sheriff’s office and show how great our sheriff’s office can be by leading them within our community.

In recent years, our office has been in tremendous chaos. In 2017, the appointment of a new sheriff led to firings, forced resignations and movement of employees that led to a lack of trust within the office. In 2018, the appointment of a new sheriff resulted in the exact same thing. Turnover doesn’t have to happen, but it has under both administrations, resulting in unexpected loss of many careers, family stress and distrust in every aspect of the sheriff’s office.

My goal as sheriff will be to keep as many employees as we can. I want to have the least turnover of any sheriff in the last three years. My goal is to keep the employees that will display and gain the respect of the public and I believe we can accomplish this once in office. There will be internal movement that puts employees into positions where they can maximize their potential. Let’s stay away from what has happened at our office during the past two years and move forward.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

I feel you need to look at when the high rate of turnover and the litigations took place. This happened between January 2017 and February 2018, while we had an appointed sheriff whom was not from Ashe County and was inexperienced. During this tenure, almost 50 percent of the local, trained employees were forced out of the department. The pending litigation occurred also during this time due to poor leadership and inexperience.

I have the experience and working knowledge of the sheriff’s office. I am someone the citizens know and trust, but I am also someone who my employees trust. I have always had an open door policy and they know I am that person they can come and talk to about any incident.

What changes, if any, need to be made in the Ashe County

Sheriff’s Office?

B. Phil Howell:

I think we need to move our sheriff’s office into forward thinking. We shouldn’t just sit on the way things have been and accept that it’s the way it is.

Our first change is going to be how we hire employees. Instead of hiring our officers based on name and family, we will employ them based on whether they are the best candidate. I started this as director of the 911 Dispatch Center at our sheriff’s office. Every person who wanted to be hired in our department went through a panel interview. They were ranked, tested and met the employees. As sheriff, we are going to take it a step further and require multiple background and physical checks. And then we are going to have them complete a psychological exam to eliminate candidates who may be biased in unethical situations.

I also want to change the way we think about things. Our office is that of the people of Ashe County, we should be focused on our community as well. We want to begin community outreach education by visiting all the areas of Ashe County on a quarterly, rotating basis. The programs will be focused on the area, presenting crime statistics and prevention methods. I presented one of our programs to a group at the library last month, Drug Recognition and Clan Lab Awareness. Our communities want to see what the drug trends are and how they affect us.

Inside the office, we want to do several things. Implementation of new policy and structure gives our officers guidelines and something to fall back on while also giving our citizens consistent results. We will also create a Career Development Program as well as a new training program to ensure that our employees are the best they can be while also preparing them for new positions in the future.

I want to put the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office in a position to be respected and trusted by everyone. We can do this, it just takes a plan and time.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

One area I’m very big on is increasing the training for our officers. Since February of this year, we have sent a large number of our detectives and patrol officers to hundreds of hours of different training classes. Officers have attended classes ranging from First Line Supervision, the Field Training Officer Program, school resource officer training, narcotics conferences, K-9 training, intermediate weapons usage, court room security and procedures, property crimes investigations, fraud investigations as well as completing the mandatory yearly in-service training hours.

Another area I want to increase is community outreach. I want the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office to educate and work hand in hand with the public. I want to educate the public of narcotics use, make them aware of what to look for and how to address these issues. This education and awareness may take place in the schools, businesses or churches.

We are already in the planning stages with the local FOP and Walmart to participate in the “Cops and Kids” at Christmas time. A list of names is provided to the sheriff’s office by the local schools and then officers will pair up with these children to enjoy an evening of shopping. This is an excellent way for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office to give back to the community.

I want to also meet with the elderly to better inform and remind them of the different frauds and scams taking place. Too many times our elderly fall victim to the many fraud tactics. Thousands of dollars each year are transferred to accounts overseas by pressure tactics or scare tactics of the callers.

What is the number one law enforcement issue facing the

county? How will

you address it?

B. Phil Howell:

The number one issue facing our law enforcement today is the misuse of prescription drugs. To the average person, an illegal narcotic is thought of as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, etc. After being a Narcotics Detective for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office from 2010 to 2014, I have seen first-hand how prescription medications can cause the exact same side effects with devastating outcomes.

Prescription medication is abused more than any other drug in America and Ashe County is no exception. In my time with the sheriff’s office, I have seen people selling their entire pill bottle immediately after getting it filled. I have watched them sell their medication piece by piece in order to sneak by their doctor’s pill count. And for the worst scenario, I have watched a parent sell their children’s ADHD medication, only to use the money for their own choice of illicit drug use.

While much of our witnessed abuse of prescription medication comes from their own doctor, we also have a huge problem with people stealing their elderly family members medication for their own use. We have seen this commonly with our younger generation.

While the sheriff’s office in 2010 had completed one prescription medication collection, I was given the opportunity to take over the program and expand it. Over three years, I established a no questions asked, prescription medication container at our sheriff’s office. People of Ashe were able to bring their unused medication to the sheriff’s office and dispose of it properly.

I would like to expand this program and bring our prescription medication take back days to areas of the county that typically don’t have ready access. Just like our Community Outreach Programs, we can come to different areas and offer this service for a day.

I also want to work closely with the SBI Drug Diversion team for our state. Their resources reach much farther than ours. I have worked with them before on several cases and they are of tremendous help.

While our role is enforcement, we also want to be part of the solution. By teaming with Project Lazarus, Daymark and other organizations we can help. There are a lot of educational roles that we can play. One of those is bringing back an education program to our schools. There are many out there, choosing one that fits our school system best is key. Our school resource officers will be the face of our program, educating our next generation before they find it on their own.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

Illegal drugs and narcotics use is the number one issue facing the county. This has led to an increase in domestic issues, along with the rise in breaking & enterings and thefts. Since coming back in Feb. 2018, the sheriff’s office has already yielded more than 280 total drug charges.

It’s only common sense, people steal to support their drug habits. I have my general crimes investigators and narcotic investigators working closely together and sharing information to combat the drug problem.

We must work closely with the District Attorney’s Office, SBI, DEA and U.S. Attorney’s Office to successfully investigate and prosecute these cases. We must fight this problem at the local, street level all the way up to the main source. This can be accomplished by co-operation between agencies, court orders to obtain various records, documents and co-operation of defendants.

With Ashe County growing every single day, it is essential that we are proactive instead of reactive. It is my goal to expand the narcotics division by adding officers to that division who will strictly work our streets on a patrol level with one goal in mind; to arrest and charge every individual involved in the trafficking and use of narcotics in Ashe County.

Why would the people of Ashe County be safer

with you as sheriff?

B. Phil Howell:

Our citizens should feel safer because I am a forward and proactive thinker. None of us are expected to know all the answers, and I sure don’t. Training and education are the 100 percent proven method to prepare ourselves for the next event, whatever that may be. My mindset is to protect our county by lowering crime and reaching the community. We can find the right programs and projects and put them to work here in Ashe County.

I am going to be implementing a new notification system coming from the sheriff’s office. This notification system will be a phone-tree style program. In the event an emergency occurs in your neighborhood or surrounding area, we are going to send automated calls to the selected areas. “Lock your doors, there is a bad guy on the loose.”

I will also be returning DWI/Drug/Safety Checkpoints to our county. These checkpoints will be pre-planned and focused on the outer areas of the county. Our citizens want us to be in their area and be active.

We will also be taking a stronger approach to training at the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office. We will be establishing a dedicated training program where every employee is on track to better themselves within their position. In the past, officers only exceed the minimum mandatory training in rare situations, where they themselves have a desire to find and register for classes. We want to train our employees to have the best mindset possible for the position that they hold. This will prepare them for tough situations so they will make the best decision when that event occurs.

I am certain that our county will trust and feel safer with us in office.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

I am an Ashe County native. I know the people of this county and I know Ashe County. I am someone the citizens can trust and have confidence in to talk with about any concern they may have. My door will always be open to the public so that they may speak with me to ensure that they feel safe.

I will have trained and qualified employees under me who will thoroughly investigate any and all crimes and will see that victims get a successful prosecution.

What are some of the other problems Ashe County is facing, from

a law enforcement

perspective.

B. Phil Howell:

There are a multitude of problems facing law enforcement today. Over the past years we have seen an increase in crime while our employee shift sizes have remained the same. We ask all our employees from the detention center, law enforcement officers and our telecommunicators to do more as the workload around us increases. Compensation may increase each year, but the workload of what they do increases exponentially. This causes poor performance and a low morale in the workplace. We need to begin increasing our numbers on all shifts proactively which will allow us to be more proactive and better able to protect our county.

We follow this by celebrating the work that our employees do. It’s good to spread the word about the great job our employees do. Sometimes a simple pat on the back or “thank you” can go a long way to enhance job performance. They love our county as well and are working to protect and serve our county in an effort to make it a better place to live.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

Keeping up with the continuous changing IT equipment and funding is a concern and challenge. The body cams the officers wear are currently over five years old. There are newer, smaller versions available on the market. We are currently researching grant funds to help assist in the purchasing of new cameras for our officers.

The widening of U.S. 221 will increase the traffic into Ashe County. Our troopers do a superb job patrolling our roads and keeping them safe. The sheriff’s office will have to assist when troopers are unavailable.

What are you hoping to achieve by the end of your first term as Ashe

County Sheriff

?

B. Phil Howell:

First and foremost, I want the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office to be the most respected office in our region. Our office can and will be the most squared away and focused group to our county.

On our website, www.PhilHowellForSheriff.com, we have 18 projects listed with details. They all can be accomplished within our first four years, with a portion of them being building blocks for others. We are hoping to accomplish every single one. We will start with getting ourselves back into the community and reaching out to the citizens of Ashe County.

I would also like to replace the current negativity that our office holds. At the end of the first four years, I want Ashe County citizens to look back at 2017 and 2018 and think we did it. We made it through the worst possible scenario and look at us now, shining bright in the best corner of the state.

While we are focused on the community, some of our programs will be focused on lowering the amount of thefts we have in the county. While our Ashe County population rises and we get a new road to Watauga, I want to decrease the amount of crime we face.

All this comes with time, structure and the desire to make Ashe County a great place for our future generations. It will not be easy, but we will bear down and work extremely hard for the citizens of Ashe County.

J. E. “Bucky” Absher:

We are currently engaging in conversation to bring a Child Advocacy Center (CAC) to Ashe County. This center would not only serve Ashe but Alleghany County, also. This would be a great asset to law enforcement and the community. The center would have trained staff which would assist law enforcement during the investigation of any sexual assault cases. The center would have a forensic interviewer, a trained medical examiner and a counselor on staff to follow up with victims and families. The center would also be doing a variety of community outreach programs.

I want to expand the number of patrol officers. There are 429 square miles of roads in Ashe County, with a population of 27,000. With the expansion of U.S. 221 the traffic volume will increase drastically.

As I have mentioned numerous times already, drugs will be combated tirelessly. It will be my goal to have arrested and charged more offenders than ever before. Together, we will continue to make Ashe County a safe and great place to live and work.

(1) comment

Old Barn

Mr. Howell seems to think exposing Ashe Co on "Southern Justice" was a bad thing. I really enjoyed the shows and though it was a good commercial for Ashe Co tourism. Just one more reason to vote for Bucky Absher for sheriff.

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