Candidates for Williams County sheriff

Williams County sheriff candidates Tom Kochert, left, and Gary Mohre faced off Thursday evening in a public forum sponsored by the Bryan and Montpelier chambers of commerce.

Williams County sheriff’s candidates Tom Kochert and Gary Mohre have different agendas but it’s clear that neither had much regard for the other’s experience during Thursday’s public forum sponsored by the Bryan and Montpelier chambers of commerce.

Kochert stated he was an Edon resident and spent his entire career as an Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Officer in Williams County, averaging 75 criminal arrests per year and investigated more than 70 shootings from property damage to homicide. His focus is on training, transparency and accountably.

Gary Mohre is a lifelong resident of Williams County with a family history of service. His father, Mose Mohre, was the county’s civil defense director before there was an Emergency Management Agency and “We’re local business owners passionate about Williams County.” He has also served as the police chief of Blakeslee and has been a private investigator for 24 years. He intends to launch a new child safety program and county response team as well as rebuild the sheriff’s office special deputies program, posse and 4x4 all-terrain vehicle teams.

When asked about the biggest threats facing county residents, Mohre said drug addiction and drug trafficking continue to be huge problems in the county and state while Ohio ranks fourth in the nation for sex trafficking. That is what makes child safety an “essential task” he said. His program would focus on getting the right people in the right place to “make change” and “help from the beginning instead of just making arrests” by meeting with stakeholders from multiple agencies on a monthly basis to identify and address problems and design solutions.

Kochert identified the greatest threat as “a general trend toward lawlessness” that could put anyone in danger at any time and his “utmost priority” is to train and develop professional officers able to respond to that. He agreed that a new child safety program was a good idea but, “Any new program takes time to analyze who’s involved, what they will actually do and their purpose for doing it, but funding is always an issue. We need proof that it’s worth the time and effort of people involved before we make a logical decision,” he said.

Neither candidate was in favor of additional oversight from a community-based task force. Kochert said such oversight already exists when citizens vote on the sheriff every four years and county commissioners oversee the sheriff’s annual budget. He liked the idea of community members offering insight but insisted that the county’s chief law enforcement officer still needed autonomy to do whatever was needed. Mohre was firmly opposed to the idea, responding “No, sir” to the question. His position is that sheriffs have power and resources to make decisions and they are hired for their training and experience which others neither have nor understand.

When asked about the use of body cameras, Kochert said they were a “double-edged sword, useful in reporting exact information” but that information “can and has been used against officers.” Mohre said he was in favor of them and would use them if he had the budget. “It helps us and others get the right information out,” he said. “The price is salty, though.”

When asked about K-9 units, Kochert said they were “a valuable asset if used to their full potential” because of the expense involved in maintaining them. His focus would be to balance K-9 training with the rest of his force while integrating with other agencies. Mohre said he planned to bring a third K-9 unit to the office to ensure all three shifts were covered.

Kochert defended his choice to bring a chief deputy back to the sheriff’s office, stating “It’s a union shop” and a chief deputy was “absolutely critical and essential” to managing day-to-day operations and developing new policies in conjunction with the union while acting as second-in-command to make decisions in his absence. Mohre was not asked to give an opinion on the subject.

The candidates disagreed on the value of detectives, however: Kochert said he brought the positions back at the request of road patrol deputies, which “We heard over and over and over, like a broken record.” Major felony investigations require additional time and effort, and appointing two deputies as detectives takes that burden off the road patrol, he said. Community concerns regarding the unsolved murder of Grace Kennedy on Dec. 23, 2009, in the City of Bryan, and the disappearance of Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton on Nov. 26, 2010, from their home in Morenci, Michigan, were also “major considerations,” he said.

Mohre said the need for detectives “never came up” while he was interim sheriff and he would have to analyze the situation to understand why they were appointed since the road patrol “was already five people short.”

“We went from zero to two overnight when we have none for 10 years,” he said.

In their closing remarks, Mohre said, “You have two opponents: One with 41 years of experience in law enforcement, one with none; one the backing of eight county police chiefs and one with none; one with supervisory experience and proven financial responsibility during 13 weeks as interim sheriff.”

He pointed out his 13 weeks included the COVID-19 outbreak, a $93,000 budget reduction and an internal investigation that led one officer to resign. “The bottom line is I’ve shown you in 13 weeks what I can do for Williams County. Can you imagine what I can do in four years?”

Kochert, who was appointed sheriff and replaced Mohre after winning the county’s primary election in April, responded that, “You do have one candidate that for 13 weeks said that he wanted detectives, said he wanted several things, said he wanted training and yet none of that happened. I have shown in the time that I have been there that we have two detectives.”

He also pointed out he has implemented quarterly training events, written Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant applications to acquire five new vehicles and countered Mohre’s assertion that wildlife officers were not actually law enforcement by stating it was “an outright ... not true.”

“Clearly my actions speak louder than words,” Kochert said. “What I said I would do in the primary I have already done and I’m moving on into the second phase. I’m the clear choice for Williams County moving the sheriff’s office forward.”

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