Archive for Thursday, July 29, 2004

Primary to decide sheriff’s race

Sheriff’s department’s Zoellner faces former LV officer Tomrell

July 29, 2004

There's room for only one sheriff in Leavenworth County and two Democratic candidates running for the position will settle the issue mano-a-mano next week with the Aug. 3 primary serving as high noon.

Leavenworth County undersheriff Dave Zoellner and Gene (Geno) Tomrell, a former Leavenworth police officer, are the sole candidates bidding to become the county's next top cop. Because there is no Republican opposition, whichever candidate receives the most votes in the primary will secure the post.

Sheriff Herb Nye is not seeking re-election.

Zoellner and Tomrell are both 57 years old and lifelong residents of Leavenworth. They have a combined 65 years of law enforcement experience but none in the political arena.

Generally, the similarities end there as each has different ideas on how to run the sheriff's department.

Both candidates pitched their campaign platforms to voters during a forum Monday night at the Riverfront Community Center in Leavenworth.

Zoellner said his goals are to provide strong leadership, fiscal responsibility and sound policy while keeping crime rates low. He also said because of rapid growth in the county -- particularly in the southern portion -- he would establish additional patrol districts.

"I feel like I'm the best candidate for sheriff," Zoellner said.

Tomrell said his ideas are to battle crime, reduce expenditures and improve relations between the public and the sheriff's department. He said the Leavenworth County Jail can be made self-sufficient by making it available to other agencies to house criminals and by making inmates cook meals for themselves instead of having food catered.

"I think it's time for a change," Tomrell said.

During a brief question-and-answer session, the sheriff's candidates weighed in with opinions on bargaining rights for deputies and coordinating law enforcement efforts to combat the threat of terrorism.

Zoellner said he has no problems with contract negotiations as long as it benefits all employees. The rules must apply universally, he said.

Tomrell agreed and said deputies "deserve a chance to sit down and talk."

Regarding the threat of terrorism, Zoellner said meetings currently take place between county, government and city agencies concerning safeguards. He said that decisions, however, must be considered carefully because "what we do has to be the best thing to do for everybody."

Tomrell said he's interested in developing a terrorism task force and a plan to coordinate efforts in case of an attack.

While both candidates combine for more than six decades of law enforcement experience, their career paths are different.

Zoellner has served the sheriff's department since 1968, when he began work as a deputy. Since then, he has worked in various capacities for the department including the jail, communications, patrol, investigations and administration. He has worked under three different county sheriffs, was promoted to the rank of major in 1999 and is currently the second-highest-ranking officer in the department.

Nye has endorsed Zoellner, a 2001 recipient of the Leavenworth County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award, as his replacement.

Tomrell patrolled the streets for 29 years as a Leavenworth city police officer before retiring in 2002. He is a former president of the Fraternal Order of Police and is currently employed as a paraeducator and driver's education instructor in the Leavenworth School District.

He said he has a "very big imagination" and would "give you 100 percent if you make me sheriff."

"I want to make the criminals suffer, not the people," he said.

Zoellner, who said he's an officer of the law and "not a politician," said he's a staunch supporter of civil service and would "treat all citizens fairly, equally and with respect," as sheriff.

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