MACHIAS, Maine — Two men — one an incumbent and both with law enforcement backgrounds — are vying for the position of Washington County sheriff.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has a $3 million budget and 49 employees, including support staff, corrections officers and deputies.
Independent Donnie Smith of Lubec, 57, is seeking a second term as sheriff. He is being challenged by Republican Dale Earle of Calais, 50, a former Maine state trooper.
Earle would not participate in a face-to-face interview and instead e-mailed his platform to the Bangor Daily News.
Earle grew up in Calais and was a former firefighter EMT, Eastport police officer, Washington County sheriff’s deputy and Maine State Police trooper, according to his e-mails. He also is a pilot and provided aerial services for the Sheriff’s Office.
Earle wrote that he has managed a construction company for more than 20 years, overseeing a large number of employees that specialize in hazardous material situations.
“With this diverse experience, I have a solid background in public safety, and the management experience to successfully operate the sheriffs department,” Earle wrote. “I have proven leadership abilities that have been tried and tested in many years of actual emergency situations. That is why I therefore feel that there is not any area that I can’t improve upon in the sheriffs department.”
Earle wrote, “The challenges facing the department have not changed much in the last 15 years. Drugs are a major problem in Washington County. We need to get to our younger people at an earlier age. I am working with many people to develop a new drug education program to help our younger people that are our future. There are of course budget problems but those are being felt everywhere. There are grant monies that can be applied for.”
Earle wrote that he could help combat crime by bringing more part-time deputies on board. “There should be at least one in every town. People trust these officers as they live and work in the same communities day in and day out, they pass along valuable info that can be of help to full-time deputies in solving crime.”
Earle wrote that his many years of law enforcement service make him the best candidate.
“I will not make empty promises,” he wrote. “I guarantee face-to-face contact with a deputy when citizens call. I will also be out and about patrolling and supervising. The present sheriff has said that there have been no complaints that have gone unanswered, or mishandled. Well, the people that it has happened to know differently. And the current manpower shortage is self-inflicted by the current sheriff.”
In a recent interview at his office, Smith said his four years of experience as sheriff makes him the best candidate and he intends continuing building a partnership with Washington County residents.
“I understand the responsibility of this office,” Smith said. “My greatest assets are the people of this county. When the people help us and get involved, we succeed.”
Smith said he came to law enforcement after a stint in the U.S. Marines. He worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy, started his own trucking company and then returned to the Sheriff’s Office in 1990. He moved through the ranks and was elected sheriff in 2006, starting his tenure in January 2007.
Smith said one of the most valuable experiences of his law enforcement career was his tenure as a school resource officer.
“It was so valuable,” he said. “It gave me a different perspective and really taught me how to work with people. It forced me to be proactive, rather than reactive, and gave me a real respect for what the communities need.”
Smith said the greatest challenges facing the Sheriff’s Office in the next four years is the budget and funding. Despite being fiscally conservative and never overspending the bottom line, Smith said, the department needs to do more with less, because of the economy.
“We need to look at the running of this department as a business,” he said. “We cannot spend what we don’t have.”
In the first year of his term, Smith said he cut 20 percent from overtime and 20 percent from part-time.
“I have nothing left to cut, only people,” he said.
Smith said his dream would be to provide 24-hour coverage to the county but that economics prevent that. Six officers — some from the Sheriff’s Office and others from the Maine State Police — now cover the county from 8 a.m. to midnight in two shifts.
Smith said he feels uncomfortable calling the Sheriff’s Office a patrol division.
“It is really a complaint division,” he said. “My deputies have no time for patrol. They are going from complaint to complaint.”
Drug crimes continue to make up the lion’s share of complaints, Smith said.
“Overprescribing is still a major problem,” he said.