The sheriff’s race may be more than a year away, but two prospective candidates are already loading their guns.
Chief Deputy Daron Hall, who’s been Sheriff Gayle Ray’s good-hearted Dick Cheney for the last seven years, already has launched his candidacy. “My slogan is ‘Daron Hall Sheriff,’ ” he says. “It’s what I do for a living.”
At-large Metro Council member Leo Waters may not have such a catchy slogan in place, but he’s seriously looking at running for the office. His friends say he’s a definite candidate and that they expect him to announce formally within the next week.
“If I think I bring certain strengths and a certain type of leadership to that office that I don’t think others can, I’ll run,” Waters says about the largely administrative office. “What I have always advocated is effective, efficient government that communicates well with the people. I’ll bring that same mind-set to the office if I run for it.”
A native of Antioch, Hall has worked in criminal justice for 14 years, including three years with Corrections Corporation of America. He majored in criminology at Western Kentucky, and he freely admits he’s been interested in the administrative side of law enforcement since his teen years.
His boss unabashedly supports him, noting that her chief deputy “knows jails and knows how to run them.” Hall, however, does not know discretion quite as well, at least in the political sense. Friendly and honest, Hall may be a little loose-lipped about his opponent. Recently, Hall had a late lunch with would-be candidate Waters. Hall would have been wise to keep their conversation confidential. Instead, he reveals a few of the things Waters allegedly got off his chest.
“He told me that he would be a Council member at-large the rest of his life if not for term limits,” Hall says. “He also said he’d like to be mayor one day.”
Why did Waters say all that? “I view it as he wanted to be mayor, and the sheriff’s office was a way to get there,” Hall says.
For the record, no sheriff has ever become mayor of Metro. Sheriff is also an arduous jobnot a law enforcement position, by the way, but an administrative one overseeing 1,800 inmates ranging from Paul Reid to that Bellevue housewife caught swiping a pair of gloves. Given the seriousness of the position, Waters wants to make it clear that he’s not just another calculating pol who eyes various electoral offices to pad his résumé. “I don’t see [this] as a stepping stone,” he says. “I see it as an extremely important office. I don’t know what impression Daron got. He told me about his ambition to be sheriff, and I told him I was interested in it. But I made no statements of ulterior motives.”
The two candidates offer a classic political duality. Hall is the insider’s insider, having toiled for the last three sheriffs. Waters is no stranger to criminal justicehe’s worked in both the juvenile courts and the sheriff’s office, and has a graduate degree in criminal justicebut he’s nevertheless running from the outside. Naturally, the two candidates have different perspectives.
“I’ve been second in command for the last seven years, and during that time we’ve taken the jails from where the federal courts were running them to where we have jails that are nationally accredited,” Hall says. “The department is on the right track, and I want to continue that.”
Hall says he wants to expand programs that divert nonviolent prisoners from jail to strict probation courses. He also discusses expanding existing programs that help generate money for the sheriff’s office, including a recently implemented initiative charging inmates for clothes, shoes, and hygiene products. But in general, Hall is running on his boss’s record, something even she doesn’t dismiss.
“I was an outsider when I came in, and I think periodically an outsider is a good thing,” Ray says. “But in this instance when things are running extremely well and we have a department everyone in the city can be proud of, it doesn’t make sense to switch horses in the middle of the race.”
Saying that he’s still evaluating a possible candidacy, Waters declines to detail what, if anything, he sees wrong with the sheriff’s office. But when asked about the department’s escalating budgetit’s jumped nearly 20 percent from $35 million when Ray took office to $43.9 million todayWaters says, “Fiscal management is definitely something that needs to be looked at.” (Ray counters that while her department’s budget has increased, so have the number of inmates on its watch.)
Waters also says that the sheriff’s office needs to take a more active role in treating the many alcohol and drug offenders that it houses. “We need to have a drug court on the General Sessions Court level, and the sheriff needs to be part of that cooperative effort to make that happen.”
Council member Don Majors plans to support Waters if he runs for sheriff. He notes that employees from the sheriff’s office recently circulated a petition complaining about low morale and poor working conditions. It might take a new kid in town to change that, he says. “Obviously there are some problems there,” Majors says. “Surely a new administrator will have input on whatever changes will be made.”
No story about a political contest would be complete without an observation on the political favorite. Smart money has to be on Waters, who has been elected twice countywide to his at-large seat and commands wide support everywhere from Music Row to the local union halls. In contrast, while Hall’s dad, Durward, was a popular three-term Council member, the longtime government employee is still about as well known as an XFL offensive lineman.
Still, Council member Don Knoch suggests that Hall might well want it more. “It all comes down to having the right plan,” he says. “Sheriff is the only thing Daron’s ever wanted to do. He spent his college years studying how to do the job and spent most of his professional life preparing to do the job.”
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