Duncan, Raymond square off in county sheriff forum

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The two candidates for Linn County Sheriff faced off Friday evening, Sept. 30, in a forum hosted by the Linn County Republican Party at the Linn County Expo Center.

Incumbent Michelle Duncan and challenger Jon Raymond spent some two hours answering questions from the audience ranging across the board: jail operations, department budgeting, morale, staffing concerns, Second Amendment rights, the sheriff’s duties as chief law enforcement officer for the county, and more.

Raymond introduced himself to open the forum. He moved to Linn County when he was 7 years old and graduated from South Albany High School.

At 14 years old, he volunteered with the Linn County Search and Rescue, and joined the U.S. Coast Guard after high school.

After four years, he returned to Linn County where he raised his family. He has been with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office for 23 years, working as a corrections deputy before moving into the criminal division, where he works as a mountain deputy.

“As a deputy and taxpayer, I am frustrated to see the path that Linn County is on,” Raymond said.

“We cannot continue to let Portland-style management run Linn County. As sheriff, I plan to fully open the 231 beds in jail. Since 2014, the sheriffs have used the jail as a reason to pass our operating levy. Yet, the jail has not returned to the pre-2012 operating levels.”

He also added his discontent with the level of crime in Linn County.

“We must hold criminals accountable,” he said. “As a sheriff, I will return our jail to full operation and cut out the red tape that bogs down our deputies.”

Duncan started with the Sheriff’s Office 25 years ago, working first in the Mill City area, where, she said, she learned about community policing.

In 2004 she moved into narcotics investigation, during which time she became passionate about drug control, citing it as a force that tears families apart and is much of the source for crime in the county.

After that, Duncan was promoted to patrol sergeant which gave her experience with the budget, and then moved on to lieutenant, managing all of the special teams. She later became under-sheriff and then, following the retirement of Sheriff Jim Yon at the end of last year, was appointed by the County Commission to take over the remainder of Yon’s term, which expires this year.

Duncan said she began training new recruits to take more care in their work in order to serve the public as if they were responding to a call from their mother.

“We were missing a lot of the investigative steps in some of our investigations just to get to the next call,” she said. “You should be doing everything you can to solve that crime. It’s not just about going to that next call.”

One of her priorities, she said, is to increase staffing levels. Another mission is to put malefactors in jail, but, she said, deputies are limited by laws.

“There’s a lot of laws and things that were passed by legislators that made it difficult on us,” she said. “I have to follow the laws in the county. I don’t make the laws; I don’t necessarily like the laws, but I do have to follow the law.”

Jail Issues

Jail space was among the topics posed to the candidates in questions from the audience. Duncan explained that, since COVID, the Center for Disease Control created guidelines preventing the LCSO from using all its beds. If an inmate was diagnosed with COVID, the jail would not be able to room them with others. Otherwise, she said, the LCSO would be at risk of lawsuits that would use up taxpayer money.

As a result, Duncan has been working on plans to consider other options such as adding bunk beds, as well as expanding bed space for females and creating a space for transgenders, she said. Until then, they still have to follow jail standards by separating inmates.

“I can’t put men in the women’s block, so sometimes there’s a bed that goes unused,” she said. “I also can’t put someone in the same cell that’s a high-risk offender, has severe mental health problems, (or) is a murderer, which we have more of now than we have ever had in Linn County history because backup of the courts.”

Currently, there are 15 murder suspects in jail, which means there are 15 second beds they can’t use, she said.

Raymond addressed the problem by saying he believes they need to look at the root of all the problems in the jail, citing the Oregon Health Authority as a big part of the problem.

“The sheriff has to run the jail; that’s the sheriff’s job, that’s what the statute requires,” he said. “So if the sheriff has to fight a few lawsuits here and there, I hope we don’t have to, but we need to stand up and fight or we’re going to be overrun.”

Before they start bringing in bunk beds, they first need to start filling the empty single beds, he added. Raymond went on to say a law allows them to keep pre-trial offenders, yet there are currently about 1,400 convicts sentenced to community service because there are no jail beds, and about half of those are not even following through on their sentence.

Duncan responded to that statement, saying it’s the judge who determines the sentence, and if a judge sentences a convict to jail, then she fulfills those sentences.

“You can say we have to suffer a few lawsuits, but there are millions of dollars in lawsuits in the state that have been lost,” she added. “If I’m not careful with your money, that is going to be deputies off the road. That’s going to be a shutting-down of wings in the jail because we can no longer fund manning those blocks. The separation is a real thing, and it’s in every jail across the state.”

Department Morale, Staffing

Another issue of concern brought up at the forum related to morale and staffing shortages being experienced in law enforcement.

Raymond said his No. 1 focus would be on retention, because LCSO has been “hemorrhaging” employees. He believes employees are feeling burnout due to the staffing shortage. LCSO needs to work on things, he said, like getting more people involved who can take patrol calls and work in dispatch, as well as do things to make the staff’s job better.

Duncan said the LCSO has lost some employees because they were unhappy, while others left due to retirement or personal reasons.

To encourage an increase of employees, LCSO recently completed a one-day hiring event that was “hugely successful,” she said. She also pitches in to help staff and work patrol when she can, as well as promote recruitment efforts. Staffing shortages are not unique to LCSO, Duncan said, and applicants today have a number of job opportunities they can choose and pick from.

Raymond rebutted, “We’re still banking on trainees instead of retention.”

When asked what steps they would take to unify the office and bolster morale, Raymond said he will give voters the sheriff they’re asking for.

“It’s gonna be a sigh of relief within the agency to get the leader that they’ve been asking for,” he said. “That’s gonna unify the Sheriff’s Office. It’s just getting with them and getting to work; that’s gonna bring us together.”

Duncan responded by pointing out 57 union members voted in his favor, but that’s out of 175 to 192 positions.

“This campaign in itself has created division on both sides,” she said. “There’s one side that has been very negative, and there’s one side that is encouraging them to continue the mission, continue the job we’re doing, and remember why we’re doing it. It’s for the community.”

Since taking over as sheriff, Duncan has met with employees to find out what they love about LCSO and what their biggest frustrations are, she said. The top frustrations included staffing and communication. To address these issues, she regularly communicates and explains what they’re doing to hire staff, she said.

The staffing shortages, she reiterated, are a statewide problem, not unique to Linn County.

In rebuttal, Raymond said what he hears most is a message of, “Help us. We’re miserable. We don’t want the Sheriff’s Office to fail. We need help and it’s falling on deaf ears.”

And he’s there to answer that call, he said.

Budgeting and Resources

Another question brought up the issue of how inflation will make levy requests difficult, and asked how the elected sheriff plans to manage the current resources in the budget.

Duncan said the sheriff has to be able to project what the next years’ budgets will look like, taking into account unexpected costs while also making sure there’s money available for where it needs to be.

Raymond said the budget has some constraints, but is “robust” and “very well planned out” for the operations, but it’s the county treasurer who does all the work with the numbers.

“We need to be serving the community and be out there with great service so that we pass levies immediately,” he said. “We just need to have that service in place and we will be passing our levies and we’ll be getting that money.”

Homelessness/Mental Health/Drugs

An attendee asked the candidates what the LCSO’s role is in addressing homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness.

Raymond said just a few years ago it wasn’t considered the sheriff’s problem because they would just “pass the buck” to the state hospital or elsewhere, but now it is their job because “the mental health crisis is falling in our lap and we need to face it and deal with it,” and the jail currently is housing the mentally ill but is not serving their needs for recovery.

He’d like to see a “marriage” of agencies across the country that address the problem of mental health, and make sure the Sheriff’s Office is a front-runner by having a mental health response team.

Duncan said a part of the problem involves the fact the state hospital has been closed or limited, in addition to the fact there’s no crisis center in Linn County. Those services need to happen, she said, and she’s already in discussion with Linn County Mental Health to determine how they can push forward with a plan, which, she said, shouldn’t be funded through LCSO.

Together with the district attorney and LCMH, the agencies plan to implement what’s called The Yellow Line Project: Those committing minor offenses will be given a choice to go through the criminal justice system or commit to two months in mental health treatment.

Duncan said she would also like to support the establishment of a brick-and-mortar crisis center in Linn County that serves alcohol, drug and mental health.

Candidates’ Top Goals

Raymond and Duncan were given an opportunity to share what their most important goals would be for their first year in office.

Duncan said one of her first goals when she took over as sheriff has been staffing and retention. Her second goal was to have an open jail, which is currently realized (although Raymond stated “open” is different than “operational”). Another of her priorities is to work on some of the mental health issues, and figure out how to navigate new laws that are coming down the pike that will determine when, if and for how long some individuals can be put in the state hospital.

“Those are people that are going to be put back in your community, and it’s not because the jail is not open,” she said. “It’s because the state is failing you.”

As such, she’s working with some judges and Linn County Mental Health to prepare plans.

“You have to have actual plans in place, not just say, ‘I’m going to do these things,’ but not have any plan of how you’re going to get that done,” she said.

Raymond said his No. 1 goal is to bring employees back to being happy and get back to retention levels, including holding exit interviews to determine why employees are leaving. His second priority is to ensure the citizens know where their sheriff stands, knowing the sheriff’s job is to protect the rights of the people and make sure the jail is operational by utilizing the beds.

Raymond said Linn County residents should vote for him because he’s served 23 years with a reputation for having a good work ethic. He’s not a politician looking to get the title, he said, but is instead looking to get the job done.

“We just need to find ways to get the job done,” he said.

Duncan said she’s worked up the ranks during her 25 years with LCSO because she wanted to make a difference.

“I wanted to learn more about why we were doing things because, as a deputy, I had a lot of the same frustrations, and I still do even as the sheriff. But I needed to learn more about why we make some of the decisions that we make, and there are some decisions I’ve changed since I’ve been sheriff because I didn’t agree with them.

“I bring that experience of knowing what is going to protect your budget and protect the taxpayer dollars, but also ensure you guys get the best service that you expect from LCSO. Retention and hiring are all a part of that, but I can’t retain people if I haven’t hired them.”

She’s found other sheriff agencies in the state are experiencing the same discontent that’s felt at LCSO, she said.

“It’s not a unique problem to Linn County. But it is a big task to take on that you have to have plans in place, you have to have the experience to implement those plans.

“You can’t just say ‘I’m gonna make things better,’ and not actually have a plan on how you’re gonna do it. I have those plans, and I have those plans because I have that experience and I’ve listened to the staff around us.”

In closing, Duncan said the difference should be clear in how the Sheriff’s Office would be managed under either her or her opponent.

“I have that experience in knowing how to manage those taxpayer dollars,” she said. “I’m not gonna say that I’m just gonna look for the treasurer for those answers. I know what those answers are, I know what the fiscal needs of our agency are.”

There are employees on both sides of the division (between the candidates) in the office, she said, and she’s asked the DSA to not get involved, in order to avoid further division and problems.

Raymond started his closure by saying, “I’m not a budget guy. I’m a crime-fighter. I work on the streets. I’m a patrol deputy. I listen to your concerns. I take your problems when you call in the middle of the night; I’m the guy that shows up. I’m the guy that’s worried about those things in your life, how I can help you get through those things. We have people who do budgets in our office.”

It’s not the sheriff who manages the budget, he said, but rather the captain and county treasurer. Citizens need to be concerned about staff and deputies showing up to work, and about LCSO having a place to put “the bad guys.”

The rest of it is up to the courts, he said.

Watch the forum at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1Ccagby5zo.

More questions posed included:

♦ Would the candidate enforce Measure 114 if it is approved by voters? Measure 114 would, in part, require gun buyers to get a permit to purchase firearms that would be in a database, and would prohibit certain magazines.

Duncan responded that her deputies would not make arrests on capacity limits because courts have already determined that similar laws were unconstitutional. As for permitting, she doesn’t agree with that requirement, but she would have to comply with the law. If they didn’t issue the permits according to the law, then it would ultimately hurt gun owners because they’d be unable to acquire firearms. However, Duncan said she has been very vocal against Measure 114.

Raymond responded that the measure is unconstitutional, but if it passes, as sheriff he would use SAPO to protect the rights of Linn County residents. As for permits, he will find the most efficient path to get there.

♦ How will the candidate make sure a recent approved bond to upgrade the 911 call center would be complete.

Raymond said he would use the funds as they are intended. Much of the issue, he said, lies in the radio infrastructure where there are many dead spots throughout the county that need to be revitalized.

Duncan said her staff is already working on plans for the upgrades. She elaborated on her answer by sharing that part of the levy icluded expansion of the jail for female inmates. Both plans are in process, although post-COVID inflation has tightened available funds.

♦ Candidates were asked what experience they have to be both a manager and a leader.

Duncan said she’s trained people on multiple levels and has been through every rank in the LCSO.

“That was not handed to me,” she said. “It was something I had to learn.”

As sheriff, she’s managed 192 employees and a $44 million budget. She was also part of the teams that had to make decisions about COVID and the Willamette Music Festival.

Raymond cited his early enrollment at age 14, and working his way up the ranks to staff sergeant in Search and Rescue, which gave him management experience. In the Coast Guard he led troops, and search and rescue operations. As a field training officer, Raymond trained people, which is “a true leadership, management position,” he said.

Working in the jails, he learned inmates cannot be told what to do, but they can be lead by convincing them to stick to the rules, he said.

“I’ve spent my time in the community earning the respect of the people in the community to be a leader, and earning the respect of my peers to be a leader,” Raymond said.

♦ The candidates were asked whether they will complete their term, or resign and allow their term to be completed by their replacement.

Raymond said he would “absolutely not” resign early and allow another to complete his term. As an elected sheriff, he will be making a four-year commitment to that position, and does not intend to leave early due to a better offer somewhere else, he said.

Duncan’s plan is to do two full terms, if elected both times. She added that she didn’t ask to be former Sheriff Yon’s replacement, but he had his reasons for leaving early and, if citizens are concerned, they should ask him what those reasons were.

“Three of our last five sheriffs have been opposed and the voters, every time, have voted for that experience and that continuity of the way the LCSO has been run,” Duncan said.

Yes, crime has increased, she noted. Some pockets have decreased in crime, but Albany recently has had “huge” increases lately, she said, but much of that has to do with Measure 110 and other recent laws that dismiss consequences for hard drugs.

♦ A young person in the audience asked where the candidates went to school.

Duncan said that, as “the product of a teen mom,” she was moved around a lot in Corvallis and California. After obtaining an Associate’s Degree in the neighbor state, she returned to Linn County to work at LCSO.

Raymond graduated from South Albany High School.

♦ How will the candidate fight and protect voters’ constitutional rights while also enforcing state and local laws?

Raymond said it’s the sheriff’s job to protect citizens’ constitutional rights, and he will fight to protect them.

Duncan said that, as sheriff, she’s taken an oath to uphold the entire Constitution.

♦ How will the candidates handle transgender situations in the jails?

Duncan said that is part of their current planning process. Whether or not citizens agree with those type of situations, the sheriff still has to plan for them to avoid lawsuits that would be funded by taxpayer dollars, she said. The plan for enlarging female bed space takes transgender situations into account.

“I can’t put them with the males, and I can’t put them with the females, or however they identify, because you’re just gonna have bad things happen and I have a duty to protect all of the inmates in that jail,” Duncan said.

Raymond said transgender issues are not a new topic to deal with, and by now there should have already been a plan in place. He agreed a lawsuit is waiting to happen. As such, it is a priority to have a plan and get the jail up to speed.

“Transgender housing and mental health housing are a perfect example of the neglect that our jail’s been in,” Raymond said.

Duncan rebutted that she believes the issue is still relatively new, but they are seeing more of it in the jails now and they are addressing the issues. The plans are being made now.

♦ Candidates were asked about their thoughts regarding civil assets forfeiture.

Raymond said forfeiture of civil property is a constitutional violation, but if the property is ill-gotten in a crime, that’s a different topic.

“But if they are your assets, if they are your items and somebody’s going to go in and take them, that’s not gonna happen,” he said. “The sheriff needs to stand a firm line on that.”

Duncan said civil asset forfeiture has to do with crime. Assets from a crime are seized, and she’s “absolutely in favor of” taking items and money that were associated with crime.

♦ Candidates were asked what they would do if a bus full of illegal immigrants stopped in Linn County and LCSO was called to respond?

Duncan said there are state laws that prevent the sheriff from doing certain things, which would put the LCSO and deputies in a position to be liable and sued.

“I don’t like the state law, but I have to adhere to that,” she said. “I don’t have to be in favor of it, but I’m not going to subject deputies to go enforce something that the state has said we can’t enforce.”

Raymond agreed, saying their hands are tied with the immigration laws, but they should still respond to the human side by helping provide resources, if needed, so they’re not left on the street.

Duncan rebutted by saying there are resources available, but they are already taxed and she believes the community would want those resources to be available first to those who live in Linn County.

♦ Candidates were asked what the blue line flag means to them.

Raymond showed his socks, which were in the blue line flag design. To him, he said, it means “family,” a family that helps others day and night.

Duncan said the blue line is the line between evil and the community. It’s the support of each other on the force, as well as the support of the community.

♦ Someone asked what the operations levy fund is and what other services it funds.

Duncan said the tax rate is $2.98. LCSO gets about 76%, the Juvenile Department gets 14%, and the District’s Attorney gets 10%. It funds the criminal justice levy and supports much of staffing.

Raymond said it funds support services, criminal service, and corrections. The general fund supports all departments.

♦ What is the undersheriff’s role and how do you determine the right person for the job?

Raymond responded that undersheriff means they’re “the next in line.” He chose who his undersheriff would be because they’re like-minded.

“Being like-minded is what we need,” Raymond said. “We don’t need two people who are gonna argue about your rights. We need two people who agree what the rights of the citizens are.”

Raymond went on to say that, as sheriff, he would get to be “good cop” while his undersheriff would be “bad cop.” His undersheriff will be more involved in policy and disciplinary actions within the LCSO.

Duncan disagreed with Raymond’s like-minded statement.

She chose her undersheriff, Micah Smith, because she didn’t want somebody that was exactly like her, having all the same views and perception of what they were looking at.

“I need somebody that’s gonna challenge me and look at things from a different direction so I can get a 360 view for making a decision,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we argue. It means we’re challenged, and those challenges bring you the best service. You need those challenges in your management and your second person in command to make sure you’re making the best decisions for the community.”

The undersheriff’s role is to talk to lawyers when lawsuits come in, organize the lawsuits to protect the county, approve employee performance evaluations, help with the budget, supplement the sheriff’s job and take over when the sheriff is out.

♦ Candidates were asked their thoughts on constitutional carry and how it relates to concealed carry permits.

Duncan explained that in Oregon, unless you’re a felon who meets state law criteria, you can get an open and concealed carry. Linn County has made it very easy to get a concealed carry, she said.

Raymond said he personally would rather have concealed carry so the public is not scared when they see them

“I firmly believe we have the right to bear arms, so the doctrine to carry should apply to all,” he said.

The concealed carry law was designed for criminals, to protect ourselves from criminals hiding guns, he said, “but we’ve found, especially in Linn County, that we have way more good guys with guns than bad guys. So I feel we should all be able to carry.”

♦ Candidates were asked about relationships they’ve built throughout the county.

Raymond said he has not had opportunity to build relationships with governments, organizations and other entities yet because he has not been in the role of sheriff.

Duncan said she meets regularly with municipal governments.