Sheriff's debate focuses on leadership skills, experience
The race for Olmsted County sheriff appears to be more about personality than law enforcement issues.
The two candidates for the position spoke for more than a hour Wednesday night during a public forum at the Rochester Public Library. The debate was one of several being sponsored by the League of Women's Voters.
Incumbent Sheriff Dave Mueller said the department has made significant improvements since he was elected four years ago. He said crime is at a 12-year low and accidents without injuries have dropped in each of the past three years.
"As an elected official, I made promises and I delivered on the promises," said Mueller.
Recent media reports, however, have shined a light on some of the internal problems within the sheriff's office. In August, the Olmsted County Deputy Sheriff's Association voted overwhelmingly to endorse Captain Torgerson for sheriff. It was the first time in more than four decades the Association had endorsed a candidate.
"Morale and communication in the office is something that needs to improve," Torgerson said. The 34-year law enforcement veteran has spent 28 years in Olmsted County, where he has "served in every facet of the sheriff's office that's humanely possible."
Mueller started his career in law enforcement around the same time as Torgerson. But in 1996, he left the field to take over as the county's human resources director.
"It was a beneficial part of my career to step outside the sheriff's office and do work from an administrative role, as well, and bring that back to the sheriff's office," said Mueller.
But Torgerson argued that Mueller's time outside law enforcement was one of his weaknesses. He pointed to two life-changing events that happened while Mueller was away from the sheriff's department that forever affected how law enforcement operates: the Columbine High School massacre and the attacks on 9/11.
"While you were in human resources, I was a school liaison officer," said Torgerson. "I helped our schools get through the fear after Columbine [by] creating crisis plans and crisis teams so they could all better understand what's going to happen."
- Mueller defended the department's random drug testing program the he implemented. Torgerson said he would reevaluate the program if elected.
- Torgerson repeatedly asked why Mueller has not hired a deputy sheriff. Mueller said he would make a hire after the election.
- Both agreed on the importance of allowing officers to take home cars.
- Both would work to improve response times to rural communities.
- Torgerson called out Mueller for not taking a fitness test, but Mueller said he plans to take it Thursday.