Sheriff Allen Wittmer drops a bombshell during Mt. Pleasant News/Iowa Wesleyan College-sponsored debate
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Henry County Sheriff Allen Wittmer had the largest “ah” moment at Thursday night’s state and county candidate debate at Iowa Wesleyan College.
Wittmer, who faces challenger Rich McNamee in his re-election bid, will not be able to serve if re-elected.
That’s because he announced that he will be retiring from his position Nov. 10, 2012.
The Henry County native has accepted a position with the U.S. Marshal Service as a court security officer in San Antonio, Texas.
“Although the timing of the job doesn’t fit perfectly into my plans, I feel the change is in the best interest of my family at this time,” he said. Wittmer said he made his decision, not due to opposition in his quest for another term, but because of the opportunity the position provided.
The county sheriff said he was approached by the U.S. Marshal’s Service about two years ago and asked if he would be interested in working for them as a court security officer in the federal court system.
Working for the U.S. Marshal Service is a “plum” job he said.
“Knowing that the U.S. Marshal’s Service is very selective and that positions don’t open up very often…I applied in the hopes that a position would open up at a later date.”
He said he and his wife, Blanca, had talked about the possibility of moving to Texas after retirement but that he wasn’t ready to step away from his life in law enforcement.
Wittmer joined the Henry County Sheriff’s Office in 1981 and was elected to his first term as county sheriff in 2005.
“It has been an honor to work with so many outstanding men and women in serving the mission of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office,” he noted. “I have made so many wonderful friends. Although my future years will take me far from Henry County, I’ll always be a farm kid from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.”
He did, however, seize the opportunity to criticize what he termed negative campaigning in the sheriff’s race. Wittmer and McNamee also faced off in the June Republican Party primary, won by Wittmer, and McNamee is running in the general election as an independent.
Wittmer said the tone of the two campaigns has cast a negative light on his accomplishments as sheriff.
“What has taken place in this election in the last few months puts a bit of a damper on my otherwise awesome and rich 34-year law enforcement experience,” Wittmer said. “Just like the national election, my opponent and some of his supporters have chosen to attack my personal character (through letters, ads, social media, etc.) rather than focusing on his plans for the future of the Henry County Sheriff’s Department. My family and I have found this to be demoralizing. I do not understand the malice that some people will go to, to achieve their desire to be elected.
“I have given my all to this position and I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of,” he continued. “I am proud of what I have accomplished throughout my career. If wanting what is the best for the office and for the citizens of Henry County makes me too strict, demanding and a few other choice names that I have been called lately, then I will not apologize…I recognize that insisting on a high standard of professionalism and requiring staff to be accountable for their work and time will never make a supervisor popular…My job is not to please other departments or even my staff, but to handle the sheriff’s office to the best of my ability and keep true to its mission.”
Wittmer’s announcement came as a surprise and caused a slight hesitation before Wittmer suggested that the questions pertaining to the race be asked.
The questions brought considerable disagreement from the candidates.
Most of the questions dealt with the county’s drug problem and steps being taken to combat drugs in the county.
Wittmer said any report of drug activity “is supposed to be investigated. All my staff has the equipment and knowledge to do the investigating. I would recommend that people who see or have knowledge of drug activity contact us immediately. In my office, there are more crimes than just drugs. All crimes are investigated and prosecuted properly…I have been into quality, not quantity (of investigations).”
McNamee, who has been in law enforcement for nearly 20 years and a deputy with the sheriff’s office since 1997, said that not only should drug activity be investigated but it leads to other crimes such as burglary and theft. “I would make sure that the (law enforcement) departments in the county share information. If we share information, we can put a big dent in the drug activity.”
Responding to a question about improving the office’s working relationship with other law enforcement entities in the area, McNamee said he feels there can be an improvement in relations. “I feel that in speaking with other department heads, we can improve. I would like to have monthly meetings to collaborate (with other departments).”
Wittmer remarked that if other departments need help, they must contact the sheriff’s office. “If other departments need help, they can contact me. I don’t sit with my feet on the desk. If they need something, let us know. Somebody is trying to drag something up that doesn’t need to be dragged up.”
Until recently, the sheriff’s office had a canine officer and a drug dog. The officer, however, took a job with the Mt. Pleasant Police Department and the office no longer has a canine officer or the drug dog.
Wittmer said he is not in favor of having a canine unit in the department. “We had a deputy who showed interest, but that is no guarantee that the office and dog would work well together. I don’t think I would get another canine. The Mt. Pleasant Police Department expressed some interest in it, but decided not to do it.”
McNamee said he favored a canine unit being restored to the department. “We need to get one. It is essential in drug enforcement. I would use it as much as I could.”
Crime trends in the county point toward more scrap theft, both men said.
“There are a lot of scrap thefts,” McNamee stated. “Vandalism and harassment are also on the rise. Those are the three big areas in crime increase. I think if we get out and patrol more often, we can curb theft and vandalism.”
Wittmer agreed. “We are seeing a lot of people in jail that we don’t know. We see a lot of people in jail that could be working. Scrap thefts are showing the largest increase.”
The sheriff said he leaves office proud of his accomplishments. “I am very proud of my proven record and what we have done in my office. We have had a professional, efficient office. You are the bosses. If there are any questions about how my office is ran, get a hold of Shellie Barber in the auditor’s office.”
He also said he is looking forward to his new opportunity. “I am proud to have an (employment) opportunity with the U.S. Marshal’s office.
McNamee pledged to work hard and said he would appreciate the opportunity to serve the county.