COVINGTON -- Republican candidates for Newton County Sheriff faced off last week, both touting their experience and stating the need for a change in leadership.
Philip Bradford and Bill Watterson participated in a forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and The Covington News and held at The Center on Thursday.
Both said their experience makes them the best choice for the job.
Bradford said his 26 years of experience with the Covington Police Department allowed him to work in every division, including working on federal cases in drug enforcement and testifying in federal court.
"Tenure is not experience; it's what you've done during your tenure," Bradford said. "I'm a hands-on guy. I've done it. I didn't spend my career sitting behind a desk."
Watterson said he has a vested interest in the community, and his 23 years with the Newton County Sheriff's Office allowed him to work in the patrol, drug and investigations divisions.
"I want to make Newton County safe for my family and yours," he said during the forum.
If elected, Bradford said he would implement more training for School Resource Officers, since currently only one out of 12 of them are certified. He said he would have concerns with a proposed alcohol referendum, but "it's here in the community and we have to deal with it."
Watterson said that he would bring in more community education to deal with any issues that arose from new alcohol ordinances, including DUIs and domestic violence. He also would like to see a Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a Students Against Destructive Decisions program brought into the county. He added that NCSO also would need to enforce the rules with more checkpoints and more trained officers.
Watterson said he's managed budget issues like overtime and comp time and maintaining a fleet of cars as an assistant patrol commander with NCSO, and Bradford said he managed a $300,000 budget when he was commander of the East Metro Drug Enforcement unit from 2005 to 2007 and deals with budgets now as captain of the Criminal Investigation Division.
Bradford said he would hold his departments accountable and not overspend on his budget set by the Board of Commissioners.
"It's very simple — we can only spend the money we have," he said, adding that he would be transparent with the public by allowing an open-door policy like he does at CPD. "We need a cultural change in the department."
Since Watterson has worked with three sheriffs, he said that allows him to know what to spend money on and how not to spend money. He said priorities would be with the required salaries and jail costs, and if any other funds are available he would allow for things like equipment and technology upgrades.
"We've had so much excessive spending," he said, adding that more deputies need to be put back on the roads instead of being kept in administrative jobs that they have moved to recently. "The current administrative has gone off track."