Hundreds attend Wautoma Rotary Club sponsored Sheriff Candidate Forum
Wautoma Rotary hosted a Waushara County Sheriff Candidate Forum to a packed house on July 19 at the WWII Memorial Building in Wautoma. Tom Lorenson moderated the forum and the three candidates, Lafe Hendrickson, Dennis Plantz, and Wally Zuehlke, answered questions prepared by Rotary and then took questions from the audience. The candidates have a total of over 60 years in law enforcement. The questions whether from Rotary or from the public were addressed by all three candidates. The election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Topics covered included qualifications for the sheriff’s position, how they would handle the budget restraints, school safety, the drug and crime problems facing the county, ATV trails, and the K-9 program. The first item on the agenda included a biographical statement from each candidate. First to address the crowd was Dennis Plantz. Plantz said he calls Waushara County home and that he had 15 years experience with the State Patrol, and has served 19 years as Chief of Police, presently he is the Berlin Chief of Police where he has been in that role for 14-1/2 years. This gives him 33 plus years in law enforcement. He said being police chief is a great experience. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from UW Oshkosh with emphasis on Business Management and Criminal Justice, and Post Bachelors Credits through Silver Lake College. Wally Zuehlke said he was born and raised in Coloma, went to Coloma Grade School and Westfield High School and graduated in 1981. He has been employed full time for the past 23 years by the Waushara County Sheriff’s Dept. and is a K-9 handler for the past 12 years and is on his second K-9. He also works part-time as police chief for the Village of Coloma where he has served for 23 years. He said he has budget experience and has done boat patrol for the Town of Coloma. Lafe Hendrickson is the Waushara County Deputy Sheriff and has 22 years in law enforcement, 18-1/2 years in Waushara County. He has been on snow and water patrol and does ALICE instruction; he has been the school resource officer for eight years as well as SRO and DARE officer. Hendrickson has an Associates Degree in Police Science, a Bachelor Degree in Pastoral studies, and serves as 1st Vice President of the Wisconsin Command College Alumni Association. What challenges will the sheriff encounter? Zuehlke: The most challenging is the technology needed, making advances in technology, avoiding hardships, and keeping citizens safe, said Zuehlke. He said he believes we need more law enforcement on our lakes and we will have to address the ATV trails. He said he would also like to see the Neighborhood Watch Program implemented. Hendrickson said he believes attracting and keeping quality employees vested in the community is key. In the next two years the department will have lost four top administrators, two retired in January of 2018 and 2 more retirements are planned for 2019. and they will have to be replaced. He believes in staff development and providing the most effective training possible. Hendrickson is looking for highly ethical and effective leaders without prejudice and raising the standard of professionalism and establishing a partnership. Plantz said he believed the biggest challenge facing the area today is the drug issue. He said talking to residents and asking what they believe the problems in the area are, 90 percent say it is drugs. He said that he believes in water enforcement and avoiding highway fatalities. Plantz also said that losing 4 top administrative position is difficult and this means loss of experience and leadership. He said, “Who will manage and lead? The difference between a sheriff and police chief is a line on the map.” Why do you believe you are the best person for the position? Plantz: “I am past president of the Chief of Police Association, and in 2013 Sheriff Peterson retired and I was appointed successor. “I had a plan and vision for Waushara County,” he said. Plantz turned down the appointment because his wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and he felt the timing wasn’t right. Every citizen needs to be part of the solution where drugs and crime are involved and they have to trust us to do our job, he said. “I have the skills, knowledge, enthusiasm and experience. At the end of the day I want to be sure I made a difference,” he said. Hendrickson: Hendrickson said there are many differences between a chief and a sheriff including statutory differences – jails and correctional –and how to supervise. The two biggest liabilities for sheriff are jails and civil process. He feels he is unique in how he can interact with people and dealing with victims of crimes. He added that it is often difficult and sensitive to deal with issues of conflict and he considers this one of his greatest strength. Hendrickson wants to bring people together and he believes trust is cohesive and powerful. Zuehlke: “I believe I have the background for solutions, I am creative and resourceful,” said Zuehlke on his qualifications. He added he works full time for the sheriff’s department and works part-time as the Chief of Police in Coloma. He said he learned the chief position and has experience in expenditures and services. He added his position in Coloma is a role model and is being used for the Village of Hancock. “I have been working on the streets for 23 years. I read people and come up with solutions,” he concluded. Candidates concluded with a wrap up statement on their candidacy for Waushara County Sheriff. Plantz: “I am not a politician, I am applying for a job. You are the hiring committee,” he said. I am the most qualified candidate and I will continue to grow, lead and manage. He added he believes that technology is important; the job is 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for 365 days. I will address the drug issue and said there are more grandparents raising grandkids than any time in history from drug problems. He said he knows how to work with a limited budget and he learns to do more with less everyday. Zuehlke: “We all have to start somewhere and I believe starting small and working our way up is the way to do it,” he said. Why should you vote for me? I have experience and the education. I solve everyday issues and I have a skill set and personality to be approachable to be the best candidate for Waushara County Sheriff, he concluded. Hendrickson: “I am the most qualified, experienced and capable,” Hendrickson said. I am accomplished in law enforcement and endorsed by Waushara County Sheriff, Jeff Nett. I have worked for the past year and a half to establish a firearm range for the county at the old dumpsite on County MM. Operating Engineers will build a top notch firing range with zero tax dollars and soon all officers will train at the same location. “I believe in leading by example in and out of uniform,” he added. Following the questions prepared by Rotary, questions from the audience were accepted and the only criteria is that the questions be addressed to all three candidates. The first question was “What made you want to run for sheriff?” Zuehlke said, “I always knew someday I would like to run for sheriff and the time is now. I have put in a lot of work to do this.” Hendrickson said, “I dislike politics, but I am passionate about what I do.” He added that he wanted to keep schools safe and protect the citizens of the county. He said he has heart and passion and a vested interest in the county. Plantz said, “My biggest was convincing my wife. I have the energy, experience, and education of 33 years. I have a God given skill to lead and manage.” He added he loves what he does. Another question is wearing so many different hats as sheriff – politician, law enforcement and business manager. How will you divide it to make it 100 percent? Plantz said, “I will spend your money the way I spend my money.” I will put the your tax dollars where they are best served. I will work with the county board and make the community part of the system. Zuehlke said, “ I am cordial, I work for everyone and I take orders from everyone.” I believe we must all work together and we all have concerns and by working together we will get the job done, he added. Hendrickson said, “We don’t make everyone happy as we work with a $5.9 million budget.” He added that a National Cops grant that he was involved in applying for gave a second resource officer in the county and he said Waushara was one of four in the state to get the grant. We need to make the best decision with the funds we have to protect our people. A question was asked about the limited resources in the state for school security and what are their plans for school security in the county? Zuehlke said, “How many can man the door, how can we pay for it?” He said that the sheriff has to sit down with school administration and work through it. It may mean retired police officers working on a part time basis. He concluded by saying, “I guarantee we will figure it out.” Hendrickson: “I believe with the grant money that former administrator, Jeff Kasuboski applied for and received $84,000 that can provide for an upgraded security system in the tech rooms…” He added that the ALICE training is necessary and effective and said our kids are our priority and w need to protect them Plantz said, “Limiting access to anyone getting into our school is key and there is nothing more important than our children.” He added there are 9 schools with only one school resource officer and that needs to be addressed. Another question was their views on ATV’s and K-9 units. Hendrickson said that he supports the K-9 program and it is a fully funded program overseen by Crimestoppers. As for the ATV’s he said it is a hot topic and he has ridden on the trail systems in the state and in Michigan. It is a safety issue and it has to be collaboration between the sheriff’s department and highway department and we do not have a rec officer in the county. Plantz said that he supports the K-9 program and just that week he had used Zuehlke and K-9 Argo on a search. On the ATV’s it comes down to engineering (safety first), education (safety courses, routes marked etc.) and enforcement. Zuehlke, a K-9 handler, said he certainly supports the program and if elected sheriff he will be taking his K-9 with him and will add another K-9 to the department. There is not cost to the county as is funded by Crimestoppers and private donations. As for the ATV’s he said, “We need to get along and decide how to police routes.” He also added that a rec officer would be most helpful. The election is Tuesday, Aug. 14 and Waushara County residents will be electing the next Waushara County Sheriff. Watch the Argus on Aug. 9 to learn more about the candidates. We urge you to take time to get to know the candidates and exercise your right to vote.