Gordon, Nelson shoot for sheriff
Sheriff has been busy past 4 years
Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon, 51, can point to a number of accomplishments in his four years in office.
The key, he says, is the minimum security "workhouse" located near 5407 Furniture.
Not only did the county avoid spending million of dollars on a new jail, The new workhouse allowed authorities to end a problem long plaguing Becker County -- a waiting list of more than 100 people who had been sentenced to jail, but couldn't serve their time because the maximum security jail was full.
Adding to the county's woes, the jail was not operating at full capacity and was under threat of being closed by the state for multiple violations.
Deputies were spending a lot of time transporting inmates to and from other county jails, and Becker County was spending more than $250,000 a year to board inmates elsewhere.
By leasing the building from a private builder, the county didn't have to increase its jail levy.
And by being a jump ahead of other counties, Gordon was able to secure contracts for over $240,000 annual income for boarding inmate for other agencies.
That all adds up to a $500,000 a year savings to Becker County taxpayers.
"That's a substantial allocation," Gordon said. "We were finally in the driver's seat financially."
With room for prisoners, Becker County has been able to implement several programs at the jail. One allows state prisoners from Becker County to serve the tail end of their sentence in Becker County, hooking up with church sponsors and employers.
"As they conclude their sentence, everything is in place for them to be successful ... as opposed to just throwing them out the door," Gordon said.
Other non-violent state prisoners work on house-building crews throughout the region, in a partnership program with the county EDA. The program provides work for local plumbers, electricians and others, while putting affordable homes on the market.
Gordon worked with the state to fix 11 violations at the maximum security jail, bringing it up to full capacity of 47 beds and creating a medium security barracks-style area, while keeping maximum security beds for "hard core" criminals, Gordon said. There are now about 20 security cameras helping jailers keep the peace in the jail.
"We've really improved the safety issue up there. Everything is recorded -- we use it for evidence in court."
The state required a jail administrator, separate from the head jailer, so Gordon restructured personnel to replace a chief deputy with two captains, one of whom is certified to be the jail administrator, among other duties.
"In our last jail inspection, in May, every one of those (major state) mandates and requirements had gone away," Gordon said.
Solving the jail problem freed up deputies for road patrol, since they weren't so busy transporting inmates. Gordon also shifted investigative shifts to cover weekends.
The result was a reduction in crime, from 7,875 in 2002 to 5,979 crimes in 2005, a reduction of 1,896.
At the same time, the county's clearance rate of crimes solved by arrest improved dramatically -- from 38 percent of crimes in 2002 to 63 percent last year. The state average is 46 percent, Gordon said.
"We've looked at serious problems in innovative ways -- that's what I said I'd bring to the table four years ago," Gordon said.
Gordon said his relationship with federal and White Earth tribal authorities has helped the sheriff's department be involved in major narcotics operations.
"We've taken out some major players here in the last few years," he said. Money and property seized from dealers helps the department stay ahead of the situation.
Gordon supported the joint policing agreement with White Earth, restoring regulatory enforcement powers to deputies.
"Because we're working with White Earth, the feds are willing to work with us," he said. "Now when somebody steps up to the plate to take over for a major (narcotics) player, we're there waiting for them. These are complicated, expensive cases -- without federal help we couldn't do it."
Gordon also has implemented a domestic violence policy in conjunction with the tribe and Mahnomen County.
"No matter what officer shows up, the victim will be treated the same -- the same interview, prosecution and response process ... we wanted to make sure no victim was left behind."
Gordon organized a volunteer mounted posse, made up of "35 very dedicated people" to help with searches, and he oversees the sheriff's auxiliary, consisting of 29 licensed part-time officers. He is one of the 14 members of the dive and rescue team, and oversees a sheriff's chaplain service that works with officers in notifying families of deaths and similar duties.
He oversees two captains -- Kelly Shannon and Joe McArthur -- three general crime investigators -- John Seiling, Kathy Nguyen and Scott Blaine -- two narcotics officers, 14 patrol deputies and a civil process server. Another officer will shortly return from Iraq duty.
Gordon's wife, Patty, works in sales at ACS. They have six children between them, and two grandchildren. They live in Lakeview Township.
Gordon serves on the United Way Board; Mahube's emergency food and shelter board; the County Food Pantry Board; the Child Abuse Prevention Council; the dive/rescue team, and the mounted posse. He does volunteer 4-H projects and speaks frequently before civic, church and senior groups.
Challenger points to experience
Jay Nelson, 41, of Lake Park is challenging Tim Gordon for the job of Becker County sheriff.
A Detroit Lakes native (he graduated from high school in 1983), Nelson has 21 years experience in law enforcement. He earned an associate degree at Alexandria Vocational College in 1985 and landed a job with the Pelican Rapids Police Department.
In 1987, he moved to North Dakota, going to work for the Richland County Sheriff's Department (Wahpeton is the county seat) for about a year. He then went to work for the Stutsman County Sheriff's Department in Jamestown, where he worked for just under five years.
"In North Dakota, I worked closely with the BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation) and FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service," Nelson said. "It was a smaller state, so there was more of that -- you don't get that experience here as often."
Jay and his wife, Sheila, have lived in Lake Park for the past 15 years and have two boys -- Jake, 15, and Jon, 14.
They moved to Lake Park in 1992, when Jay became the city's police chief.
"I was offered a job with the North Dakota BCI," he said. "I turned that down to move back to Minnesota."
He served as police chief for eight years, and was then hired by former sheriff Tom Hunt as a patrol deputy. He worked there until this year, when he served as boat and water deputy.
He landed an $18,000 grant for the county to purchase a new patrol boat, its first in 10 years and something that was much-needed, Nelson said. At one point before he became boat and water deputy, the county had to borrow a private boat from the victim's family during a search for a missing man because both county boats weren't working.
"That didn't make us look good," he said.
After he filed for the sheriff's race, he requested a leave of absence to campaign, and was denied by the county.
"I thought it best for the department if I were granted a leave of absence -- it's tough for me to tell my boss he's doing something wrong when he's still my boss," Nelson said.
"I knew I didn't have enough time off to run an effective campaign, so I resigned," he added. "That kind of backfired when Lake Park needed a cop right away."
He now works as a Lake Park police officer and self-employed carpenter.
After nearly four years, he had to resign his position on the Lake Park city council, where he had served as vice mayor, when he accepted the police officer job.
Nelson is a 14-year volunteer with the Lake Park Fire Department, and has been active in the community, serving as a youth mentor and youth football coach and helping out as a volunteer in a variety of ways, he said.
Nelson says the sheriff's department is top-heavy with administrators, and money could be saved by reverting to a chief deputy system.
He'd like to hire two additional patrol deputies for better 24-hour coverage, and emphasize weekend coverage. "Our power shifts now are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays," he said. "It would be a lot better for the county to have them on weekends."
Nelson believes the minimum security jail should have been bid-out for construction by the county, rather than leased. And he would change the way inmates are placed there.
"Some violent people end up there -- it's based on the current charge. If you have a history of being bad, that should be taken into account."
With just one jailer watching nearly 50 men, drugs are often brought into the workhouse, he said.
"There should be more than one person there. They get away with that because of the camera system in dispatch, but dispatch doesn't sit and monitor the screens all the time."
He'd like to see better communication between jails, and more put into technology and equipment -- dashboard computers in squad cars, for example.
"A positive for me is that I've seen what works in other places -- it gives you a better perspective," he said.