[March 06, 2014]Tuesday evening, the Johnston
Center at Lincoln College was the setting for a public forum between
Steve Nichols, incumbent Logan County sheriff, and candidate Michael
Geriets, deputy chief of the Lincoln Police Department. The event
was sponsored by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce
Legislative Affairs Committee and the chamber's Young Professionals
The evening began with chamber director Andi Hake taking the stage
to welcome guests and introduce the two candidates. She acknowledged
Lincoln College for providing the space for the forum and Mark Houpt
for managing the sound system for the night.
Hake said the
questions to be answered by the candidates were selected by a
special panel out of public submissions. On the panel were members
of the chamber's Legislative Affairs Committee and Young
Professionals Network plus herself. She introduced the panel
members, Ron Keller and Angela Daniels, and said that Blinn Bates
was also on the panel but unable to attend the forum.
The moderator for the evening was Greg Basford, and the official
timekeeper was Vic Martinek.
After introducing the candidates, Hake turned the program over to
Basford. Each candidate was given five minutes for opening
statements and the same for each question. Martinek would give the
speaker cues on his time, and if he exceeded the five minutes, his
microphone would be turned off. The candidates were also told that
if they wanted to rebut a statement from their opponent, they could
do so as part of their five-minute answer time on the next question.
The first person to answer a question rotated between the two
In opening statements, both Nichols and Geriets stayed close to
the script of the position papers they submitted, which are
available to read in the Where They Stand section of Lincoln Daily
Nichols was the first to speak. He discussed his education and
experience and acknowledged his wife, Cindy, and daughter Whitney
for their continued support in his career in law enforcement.
Geriets also spoke of his lifelong residency in Lincoln, his
experience and training, as well as his four children.
The first question of the night asked each candidate to identify
his strengths and how those strengths set one apart from the other
for the role of sheriff.
Nichols was the first to answer, saying he is a straightforward
person who speaks plainly. He has respect for his staff and works
well with other agencies. He said he has varied abilities. He added
that he does speak his mind, but is respectful and listens to
He talked about being a social worker and cited an incident just
prior to the forum where he had to get involved with a young person
and DCFS, the Department of Children and Family Services. He said
his department was able to get that young person some immediate
Geriets said he has excellent communication skills and is
well-trained. He talked about knowing his officers on duty and off
and said it is important to recognize when an officer is going
through a personal problem. He explained that if there is a personal
problem, it can keep an officer from being at the top of their game,
so being attuned to these things is important.
Geriets said that as sheriff he would not just be active, he
would be proactive.
Basford asked the two: What are your goals for the future of the
Geriets expressed concern over the turnover of personnel in the
department, saying that Nichols had acknowledged many officers come
and then move on to work in other places. Geriets wants to change
that by hiring officers who will stay with the county long-term.
Geriets discussed a need to establish a better relationship
between the sheriff's department and other law enforcement agencies
in the county, saying he would establish monthly meetings with those
outside departments so they could communicate and work together
Geriets noted that the sheriff's office does not use the Internet
and social media, and he believes they should. He discussed how the
city police department uses Facebook to share important information,
such as suspects at large.
Finally, Geriets said he wanted his deputies to carry Tasers. He
explained that using a Taser to subdue a suspect makes for a safer
situation for an officer and reduces workers' compensation claims.
Nichols took advantage of his time to rebut some of Geriets'
statements. He said the hiring process for the sheriff's department
is an intricate process. He said, yes, some had been hired and then
moved on to other departments. He added that most of the time those
officers left for financial reasons, and he couldn't fault them for
wanting to do better. He also noted that over his 12 years, he has
worked to increase the wage of deputies from approximately $22,000
per year to $40,000.
The men were asked: What do you feel is the biggest threat to
public safety in Logan County?
Both agreed the biggest threat is drugs.
Both recited their drug arrests over the past year as evidence
they are on top of the situation.
Nichols said that in Logan County there have been dozens of
heroin overdoses and heroin deaths. He would also comment later that
since the large drug bust this past summer, there have been no
Geriets said the city has also had a large volume of drug
arrests, to be exact 23 in the last 12 months. He noted that in the
battle to stop these crimes, one key component is to stop
recidivism. He said the issue needs to be addressed with programs to
help prevent criminals from repeating their offenses. He said that
if this could be done, it would reduce the crime rate and reduce the
number of incarcerations.
The next three questions ran together. The first asked about
officer training; the second addressed the new concealed carry law;
and the third was on medical marijuana.
Geriets talked about the continuing opportunities for training in
the city department and the train-the-trainer sessions in the
Nichols took advantage of the question to talk about the Adamax
training facility in Logan County and said training in his
department is ongoing all the time.
He noted there will be special trainings for the concealed carry
law, and he asserted the law itself is very gray where officers need
black and white. Both men also stated they were in favor of the
concealed carry law, but they knew it would be a big, new
responsibility for the sheriff's department.
Both agreed that the medical marijuana act and the concealed
carry law were going to offer challenges for officers, and
special training is required to assure those matters are handled
Geriets said one big issue is going to be with the residual
effects of marijuana in DUI arrests. He said the drug stays in the
bloodstream, but that doesn't necessarily mean the driver is under
the influence. He noted the challenge is that there is no breath
test for the drug, so officers will have to handle those situations
In answering a question regarding financial responsibility, both
Nichols and Geriets spoke of their current experience.
Geriets noted the city police budget was his responsibility and
that it was virtually the same dollars as the sheriff's budget.
Nichols countered, saying the sheriff's department budget had
more involved in it than the police department because he had to
work with courthouse security.
Nichols also took the opportunity to defend why his department
does not use Tasers, saying he wanted his officers to take the
approach of talk, take time and walk out.
Geriets rebutted on this topic, saying the city officers do not
just walk up and tase people; they also want to talk before taking
One question that seemed to catch both men off guard was when
they were asked to "define integrity" and explain how they have
exhibited it in their careers.
The two candidates looked at each other; then Nichols, who was in
line to respond first, quipped, "That is a good question," while
Geriets laughed and said, "I'm glad he has to go first."
Nichols began by saying integrity could be defined in a lot of
different ways. He said he knew he was not a perfect person, that he
has had his ups and downs in life, but he said he has also learned a
great deal from it. He said that he was satisfied with the way he
has lived his life since 1986, and he did not have to change himself
in order to run for office.
Geriets said he learned early in life that it is easier to tell
the truth than to wrap oneself up in lies. He said in his department
he won't hide anything from the public.
He noted the investigation of two city police officers that made
the local news earlier this year. He said his department had been
straightforward in providing information. He said he had conducted
that investigation and had been thorough in his report, leaving
How do you balance the public's right to know with an accused's
right to a fair trial?
Nichols said that question had to have come from the Beason
murders. He talked about the case, the investigation and said there
were details they knew about immediately, such as a particular item
removed from the house by the killer that told investigators the
murderer knew the family well.
He said it was obvious the investigators could not tell the
public all the fine details of the investigation, but press
conferences were held regularly, including within the first few
hours after the investigation began. People in the Beason community
were told they were not in danger. But he held fast that there were
details that had to be kept under wraps to assure a clean
investigation and a clean conviction.
Geriets said his department often yields to the state's
attorney's office, letting that office determine what can and cannot
be released to the public. He said the city police department wants
to be transparent, but it balances that with honoring the position
of the prosecutor. He noted that the city has always worked well
with State's Attorney Jonathan Wright.
In closing remarks, Geriets went first, saying he wasn't going to
boast or brag about doing his job. He spoke about drug arrests again
and being a proactive sheriff. He noted times Nichols has said the
sheriff's department is not broken and doesn't need to be fixed; and
When Nichols spoke, he said some of the facts Geriets presented
were true, but some were also misrepresented. He said the current
sheriff's office cooperates with all law enforcement and responds to
calls in Lincoln and out in the county to offer support and
He drew on Geriets' comments during the evening about the Logan
County Emergency Planning Commission, saying the county was also a
part of the LEPC, and in fact, they were the first invited to the
program by Dan Fulscher in 2004.
Nichols wrapped up by saying he was proud of what he has
accomplished in 12 years. He's proud of the endorsements he has
received from public officials, and he was proud of the work done in
the investigation of the Beason murders.
When the evening came to a close, Hake returned to the stage to
acknowledge Martinek as the timekeeper for the night as well as
Deron and Kristi Powell and Jennifer Kirby as greeters, and her
staff members Donna Smedley and Nicole Cox for their valuable
assistance in getting the program put together.
After the forum had adjourned, Hake commented that she felt it
had gone very well. A total of 30 to 40 questions had been
submitted. The selection panel had reduced the number to 13, and
during the forum the candidates actually answered a total of 11
within the time allotted.
The primary election will be on March
18. To read the candidates' position papers in Lincoln Daily News: