MACHIAS, Maine — Two Republicans are seeking to oppose Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith in the November election, but he is attempting to knock his would-be adversaries out of the running while they are still crouched in the starting blocks.
Smith, who has filed for re-election as an independent and is seeking a third term, is contesting the qualifications of his two GOP opponents, Dale Earle and Barry Curtis, who have filed to seek the office of sheriff and are bidding for the Republican nomination in Maine’s June 10 primary election.
Smith formally challenged their qualifications in a letter to the state bureau of corporations, elections and commissions dated March 21. State officials will hold hearings on both challenges on Monday and will make a decision soon after.
The challenge prompted a broadside by Curtis, who took Smith to task on several issues related to his office.
When filing to seek the office of sheriff, candidates must, among other things, affirm that they have at least five years of supervisory employment experience and provide contact information for those employers.
In a letter accompanying the filing documents submitted by Curtis, a state police human resources specialist noted that Curtis served as a field training officer “on multiple occasions throughout his career” and also as a shift supervisor “sporadically.” He also has three and a half years of experience supervising three employees in 4Cs DownEast Oyster Company, Curtis said in his filing.
In a handwritten note accompanying his filing, Earle indicated that he served in two volunteer fire departments for a combined five years, holding such positions as captain and assistant chief. He has been the owner-operator of an excavating and trucking business for more than 20 years, he indicated, a business that employed up to 39 people. Earle also noted that he served six years as a lieutenant in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
In his letter challenging both men, Smith reserved his harshest criticism for Earle.
Records of the sheriff’s office show that Earle was hired as a part-time deputy in August 1995 and was terminated in December 1995, said Smith. “It seems clear that Mr. Earle has made a false statement in an effort to satisfy his qualifications to run for the position of Sheriff of Washington County,” wrote Smith. “I respectfully submit that the statement alone should be sufficient basis to disqualify Mr. Earle as a candidate.”
Earle, 54, who lives in Calais, only briefly discussed Smith’s challenge on Saturday. When a reporter pointed out that Smith essentially called him a liar, Earle said, “Yeah, he did, and I will prove him wrong.” He invited the reporter to attend Monday’s hearing, but he declined to discuss Smith’s challenge further or to be interviewed for this article.
Smith also disputed Earle’s experience as a volunteer firefighter. “There is no indication that those were full-time positions or that during the course of those years he claims to have served that he ever supervised any other firefighters,” wrote Smith, who also contested whether Earle “actually had 39 employees” and that he supervised them for five years.
Noting that Curtis listed state police experience as a field training officer and officer of the day on a “sporadic” basis, Smith wrote, “Certainly that would not qualify as five years of supervisory experience.” In addition, he has less than five years of supervisory experience in the oyster business, noted Smith.
Curtis, 60, who lives in Cherryfield, retired in 2010 after 25 years with the Maine State Police. Since 2011 he has been a part owner of and manages 4Cs DownEast Oysters, a family business, in Brooksville.
“Basically, I’d like to get back in law enforcement,” said Curtis Saturday. “It’s hard to get it out of your system,” he added. He declined to comment on Earle’s candidacy.
“I think I could do a better job” than Smith, said Curtis.
“I’ve proven that already,” said Curtis of meeting the state requirement for supervisory experience. He held temporary supervisory duties during his last 10 years with the state police working in Washington and Hancock counties, he said, filling in at times for other supervising officers. “I think he’s [Smith's] challenging it because … he’s misinterpreting that law.”
Curtis issued a statement later, criticizing Smith’s ploy “as a means to try and keep everyone else off the ballot, thus giving the people of Washington County no other choice for sheriff.”
“This is unfortunate, but ultimately not surprising, with this sheriff,” said Curtis. “His history of attacking anyone who challenges him is well documented in both the media and his actions.”
Curtis also suggested Smith was against gun rights and referred to “all the other unfortunate internal investigations that [have] plagued his department,” adding, “I guess I can see why he would rather run unopposed in the upcoming election.”
In a December 2012 interview, Smith expressed concern about potentially dangerous accidents involving people who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. “I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment, but I’m getting a little nervous with all the concealed carry,” said Smith.
Smith suspended a jail clerk and administrator in December 2012 over alleged misuse of inmate funds, and both employees were fired by the Washington County Commission the following month.
Smith, 61, who lives in Lubec, has served as sheriff since 2007 and is no stranger to controversy and is known for being outspoken. However, he did not respond when apprised of the remarks by Curtis and was unavailable to discuss the challenges he mounted against both Republicans.
Smith issued a brief statement reiterating his contention that Curtis and Earle are not qualified for the office of sheriff. “I do not believe that Barry Curtis and Dale Earle meet the minimum qualifications for candidate for sheriff,” he said via email Sunday.
Hearings on both challenges will be conducted by deputy secretary of state Julie Flynn in Augusta on Monday. She will make a recommendation to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who has five business days after the hearings to make a decision.