The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

April 24, 2014

Stanly County sheriff candidates discuss campaign issues

By Ritchie Starnes, News Editor

Thursday, April 24, 2014 — Incumbents typically have the advantage. But, in the race for Stanly County sheriff, the badge might as well be a target.

By most accounts Sheriff Rick Burris sports the upper hand in continuing to run an office responsible for 100 deputies, the jail, courthouse security, county law enforcement with an annual budget of $6 million.

However, in a county where elected Democrats are an endangered species, any advantage appears tenuous at best.

The GOP has seemingly taken siege, judging by the onslaught of Republican candidates running for local offices this election year. And efforts of a political takeover remain in full swing.

Other than the District Attorney, which until Dec. 1 is part of a multi-county prosecutorial and judicial district where Democrats maintain a stronghold, Burris is the only remaining elected Democrat in a county office.

In 2010, Rick Burris narrowly defeated Republican George T. Burris by 142 votes, which called for a recount.

Between a political shift and a contemporary trend that Stanly County sheriffs seldom last longer than two terms, Burris’ tenure could be in jeopardy. Not since Ralph McSwain, with 28 years as the county’s top cop, has a Stanly sheriff lasted beyond two terms.

George T. Burris is among the logjam of candidates gunning to become the next sheriff. Four Republicans will duke it out in the May 6th primary while two Democrats duel for the other party.

Joining George T. Burris as GOP contenders are Tony Frick, Melvin Poole and Michael Whaley. Because of the number of Republican candidates, a runoff is likely.

According to N.C. elections law, a single office seat must have plurality of 40 percent. If two canddiates obtain 40 percent of the vote, the top votegetter wins nomination. If no one garners 40 percent, a second primary is called. The more candidates running, the greater chance no one reaches 40 percent.

In the last primary, George T. Burris emerged as the GOP winner. Frick was also one of the three Republicans then vying for the nomination.

Frick, Stanly’s former sheriff, served two terms before losing to Rick Burris in 2006. This marks Frick’s second go-round at trying to get his job back.

Along with their professional feud, their relationship has also endured personal animosity since Rick Burris married Frick’s former wife.

The two worked together as police officers for the city of Albemarle.

Frick is the most critical of Rick Burris’ administration, specifically calling out the sheriff for what Frick deems a softness on crime as well as ethics. Frick claims Rick Burris fails to enforce the law, specifically drugs.

Rick Burris and Frick are the only two candidates to have served as sheriff. The sheriff cites 30 years of law enforcement experience, compared to Frick’s 25 years.

GOP candidates George T. Burris and Whaley are also experienced in law enforcement.

After having worked in four different departments within the sheriff’s office as well as the N.C. Department of Corrections and Oakboro Police Department, George T. Burris appears to have the most relative experience.

Whaley, also a former deputy in the sheriff’s office as well as police officer for the city of Concord, touts his education. He’s expected to graduate with a degree in criminal justice next month, the only one of the candidates with a B.S. degree related to law enforcement.

Whereas George T. Burris touts direct experience, Whaley counters with a combination of experience and education.

Melvin Poole, who threw his hat in the political ring on the last day of the filing period, offers no specific law enforcement experience. Instead, he confronts the void head-on, citing an extensive military career chock full of responsibilities greater than those of the Sheriff’s Office.

A college graduate with a degree in political science, Poole promises to immerse himself in the job the way he has for 18 years on the Board of Education.

Like Frick, and even Whaley to a lesser degree, Poole questions the integrity of Rick Burris’ Sheriff’s Office, suggesting its standards have diminished to the point of necessary change.

Like Rick Burris, Poole served in Vietnam.

Rick Burris will not breeze through the primary uncontested.

Cameron Speights, also experienced within the sheriff’s office, hopes to defeat Burris in the primary. A former registered Republican, Speights switched party affiliations just prior to the filing period.

Speights is also a veteran, having served in Desert Storm. He maintains an associate’s degree in criminal justice with plans to complete his B.S degree this summer.

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email

Editor’s Note: Candidates for sheriff were emailed a list of questions and a limit of 200 words per question. Here are their answers, which have been edited for length and clarity.

1. Why are you running for sheriff?


Rick Burris: As the current Stanly County sheriff, I’m seeking re-election because the Sheriff’s Office is accountable to the citizens of Stanly County, and you deserve a sheriff who serves every citizen and upholds the law without regard for political affiliation or who you know. I am unwilling to compromise myself and the integrity of the sheriff’s office, and I understand that you want your family to be safe and your home and workplace to be secure. As your Stanly County law enforcement agency, we have a job to do, and serving the people and the community is my priority.

Cameron Speights:  I am running for sheriff because I have always enjoyed public service and I have been a public servant for most of my adult life. I am concerned with the direction Stanly County is headed and I would like to be a part of the decision-making process. Stanly County faces many challenges that are relative to the sheriff’s office and I would like help lead our law enforcement officers in the right direction.


George T. Burris: I am running for sheriff to help make Stanly County a safer and more secure place to raise our families and work. I want to provide the great citizens a professional, hard worker, proactive Sheriff's Office that the citizens can be proud of. To work hand and hand with our school administration, communities, businesses, county leaders and our fire and EMS workers. To have a vision for our county and set the foundation for years to come. To battle the drug problem in our county and keep drugs off our streets and out of our schools. To protect our kids from all types of bullying, whether its physical, verbal, emotional or social media. To lay a positive foundation for years to come and provide a Sheriff's Office that is seen in our communities and that the public know they can rely on. To provide more training and education for Sheriff's Office staff and keep them positive and moving forward. To be a sheriff that will always be available for questions and concerns and show our great citizens that they are appreciated.

Tony Frick: When I was in office before, I had a plan for things that I wanted to see happen in Stanly County and I feel like some of those things did happen and there were some that could be improved upon and some that still need to be done. I would like the opportunity to do so. This county and its citizens have been and will always be important to me.

Melvin Poole: Reason for running is to give the voters a wider choice since some previous candidates failed to be chosen for sheriff. And simply put, I can do the job.

Michael Whaley: Stanly County has been my home for over 20 years. My wife was born and raised here.  We have raised our four children here in this county.  I want to take my law enforcement experience and education that I have been blessed with and reinvest it back into our community.  It’s here in this county that our children are now raising our grandchildren. My concern is for their safety and quality of life. Times are changing with technological advances and new social trends. I’m running for sheriff because I’m confident I can meet these new challenges to safeguard and protect all of our families.

2. Why are you the best candidate for sheriff?


R. Burris: I’ve spent over 30 years in law enforcement, and I know the commitment required of those that serve. I also know and have the skills needed to manage a sheriff’s office with more than 100 employees and a budget that exceeds $6 million per year. I recognize that one of my most important functions is supporting the deputies and employees who are working hard. We now have more patrol officers on the street than ever before, and we’ve secured a grant that will enable us to add one additional school resource officer. We will then have a Stanly County SRO in every single county high school and middle school.

For eight years, I’ve been making the difficult decisions, and I’ve shown that I’m unwilling to waste money, time, and resources on inefficient, quick, flashy, and temporary fixes that fail to meet the long-term objectives. Instead of spending seized drug money on flashy signs or cars, we’ve made investments to better equip ourselves to fight crime. We’ve purchased sophisticated forensic technology and equipment, computer forensic training and technology for our detectives, a new electronic filing system to better organize and track our cases, and two highly-trained drug and tracking dogs.

Speights: I possess the type of personality and communication skills to lead the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office in a positive direction. I have experience in all areas of the sheriff’s office. I have many hours of education and training.


G. Burris: I am the best candidate to be sheriff  because I care about the citizens of Stanly County and their well being. I worked with the Department of Corrections for three years and have experience dealing with inmate custody, housing and transport. Also dealing with day to day supervision of inmates and the administration part of the operations working with the canteen, clothes house, warehouse and mailroom.  I have served the citizens of Stanly County while I worked previously  at the Sheriff office. I have experience in four different departments of the office which include working in the jail, courthouse, patrol and as a detective sergeant. I have worked alongside  deputies and know the job and what the citizens expect. I have served warrants and civil papers along with conducting license checkpoints and being out in the county and speaking with citizens. I  have  worked cases from start to finish and testified to Grand Juries and also testified in court in a jury trial. I know how it feels to have a victim or family depending on me to see that justice is served. I was an administrative lieutenant for the Oakboro Police Department for six years and assisted with personnel, training, budget, community policing, patrol and grants.

Frick: I have an understanding of what it takes to be the sheriff and that it is more than just a title. I am familiar with the day to day operations in and out of the office and how the budget needs to be handled along with the rest of the duties that are all apart of the job. There are many people ranging from administrative staff, deputies, county officials, officers from other agencies and the public that have to be dealt with  on a daily basis. It takes someone with not only experience but integrity and ethics to do the job the way it should be done.

Poole: If one considers my civilian and military education along with my command experience of units larger than the sheriff's department it should be obvious that I can handle the responsibilities of the office. It would seem that I am the best qualified in many respects.

Whaley: I am confident that my law enforcement experience and formal education will be an asset to the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office.  I started my law enforcement career with the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office and finished my full time tenure with the Concord Police Department.  I have been trained in the divisions of civil process, detention, and investigations as well as road patrol.  I have numerous hours of in-service training and certifications as mandated by the state.

My formal education started at Stanly Community College where I obtained an associate of applied science in criminal justice. On May 10, I will receive my baccalaureate degree in criminal justice/administration from Western Carolina University. I know that in addition to experience and education I will be bringing resourcefulness, insight, adaptability, and sound common sense to the office of sheriff.

3. What changes, if any, need to be made at the sheriff's office? If no changes are necessary, what do you perceive to be the office’s greatest strength?


R. Burris: The greatest strength of the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office is our continuity and stability. That has given us the ability to change and adapt to the needs of the community and the criminals that seek to victimize the innocent. We are working smarter and making more advancements than ever before. We now have a computer forensics lab with high-tech equipment so we can process evidence and make arrests within a matter of hours and days, whereas before, we would have waited anywhere from months to two years to receive evidence and results from the SBI. We’re going to continue to train and educate more detectives and deputies in the computer forensic technology, and we’re going to continue to invest in those technological tools. Our undercover detectives and narcotics officers are a part of a multi-agency drug and gang task force. We are building an intelligence network of drug users and dealers so we can put an end to the drugs for good. We’re actively working to end illegal drug activity, and I’m not a man who’s willing to trade the work of our undercover detectives and the end-goal of ending the drug traffic in this county for a notch on my belt and 12 lines on the back page of the newspaper.

Speights: The sheriff’s office needs to be more proactive and community oriented. Every effort to be involved in the schools should be explored with a partnership from the sheriff’s office.


G. Burris: The Sheriff's Office must have positive, focused and determined leadership. To improve the morale of the department and let personnel know that they are appreciated. To strive for more education and training and to have everyone on board for the years to come. The greatest strength of the Sheriff's Office is its staff and personnel. To lead and stand behind the dedicated men and women at the Sheriff's Office that work everyday for our great county.

Frick:  I see many things that I would like to do differently. The one that is most important to me is getting the drug programs back in full force and have the department maintain a larger more proactive presence on the streets and in our neighborhoods.

Poole: In light of some things that have occurred over the past few years the culture within the Sheriff's Office needs to change and that starts best by having someone head the office that sets an example and demands the highest level of professionalism.

Whaley: There needs to be a change in accountability from the Sheriff’s Office to each citizen of Stanly County. At the end of the day, the citizens want to know and need to know what is happening in their community and how it may affect their families both positively and negatively.  We need qualified people in that office in order to write applications for grant monies.  Grants offset budgetary constraints by supplying salaries, equipment, and training for officers.  Many changes need to occur, but I will limit my list so that I may focus on the one positive aspect of the office.  From the courtroom to the jail and to each deputy on the road or in the office, these folks are the Sheriff’s Office greatest strength.  They are the front line and backbone that preserve and protect our community.  They need a sheriff that will set the bar of excellence and then lead them to it by example.  I’m thankful to each and every one of them for their dedication and sacrifice in their service.

4. What makes a sheriff successful?


R. Burris: A successful sheriff recognizes that it is his job to allocate our limited resources and prioritize the needs of the community. It’s his job to lead the way in finding, locating and securing additional funds to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. A successful sheriff sees the strengths and abilities of his deputies, and he places them in positions where they can be successful while also maximizing their potential.

A successful sheriff is willing to respond to victims and their families who want justice and is willing to share in the burdens that they carry. He has to be willing to make the difficult, unpopular decisions that are unsatisfying in the moment, but result in effective solutions and change for the greater good.

Speights:  A sheriff can be successful if he or she can listen to the people of the community and what their needs are. It is imperative that a good sheriff be involved in community outreach and any programs that can assist in the overall safety and security of its communities.


G. Burris: The sheriff must be professional, have common sense, and be able to represent the citizens in a positive manner. The sheriff will be successful if there is a team effort within the office and a team effort and good working conditions with all other law enforcement agencies, fire and EMS departments. We must have team workers and a common goal between all personnel for our county. I bring experience, leadership, education and training to the job and look forward to working with others. To spread the vision to all citizens and have a trust and respect relationship to better our county.

Frick: Having ethics, moral standards and integrity that can be seen in the sheriff himself and his entire department. Being able to manage all the responsibilities and any obstacles that may come with the job.

Poole:  Lead by example, demand professionalism, and respect all members of the department.

Whaley: Having law enforcement experience and education in the criminal justice system are paramount to the success of any sheriffs tenure. For example, when my automobile breaks down I don’t call a plumber.  A sheriff’s success will be found in professionalism. He has the ability to stay on the cutting edge with advanced technology. To know and understand social problems as they are trending in the community and knowing how to proactively and effectively resolve them.  Then I believe there is another level to his success.  This level can’t be taught or learned. It’s who the sheriff is on the inside of his spirit.  A successful sheriff will be one who remains open yet steadfast, compassionate, and has a true heart for the people to whom he serves.  I could lead the department with an iron fist or I could lead by example in a spirit of servitude. No amount of education or experience can create a servant's heart.  Any sheriff without the servant’s heart will suffer in areas of management.  

5. Describe your management style.


R. Burris: There’s no place for micro-management in an organization as large and complex as the Sheriff’s Office. I do everything I can to ensure the best possible training and resources for the deputies. My place is one of support, and I’m willing to let them do their job. I put those in leadership roles who are experienced and capable of making informed, intelligent, difficult decisions. I push and challenge my employees to produce results, find solutions, and maintain discipline. I expect my employees to act with integrity, character, professionalism, and put service to community before ourselves.

Speights:  I am a hands-on person. I do not mind getting my hands dirty, but delegation of responsibility is a necessary characteristic that a successful sheriff should have. There should be rewards for positive job performance and counseling for negative job performance. Clear policies and procedures should be in place to direct your team.


G. Burris: I believe that my management style is like that of a coach. To lead by example and show the personnel that I will be firm, but fair and consistent. That I will not ask any deputy to do a job that I'm not willing to do myself. To give them a job well done and a pat on the back. To not demand respect, but to earn it and give it so the Sheriff's Office as a whole with be a positive place to work. To be the leader that the county expects and listen to citizens' concerns and always have an open door policy. To stand up for staff and citizens and treat all fairly. To set the foundation for the Sheriff's Office for years to come.

Frick: I think it is important for the sheriff to stay involved in what's happening in the department. One key to that is having strong people in place as department heads and keeping constant lines of communication open with them. I feel like it is very important to stay active within the operations of the daily business as opposed to just being a figurehead.

Poole: Delegate with strict accountability for areas of responsibility.

Whaley: There will always be a hierarchy of command.  Each officer will answer to the next level officer above him.  Accountability works its way up the chain to the sheriff.  Each staff member at the higher level is responsible for the production and activities of their subordinates. For a sheriff to micro-manage a particular division or process stifles the creativity of officers and weakens their personal growth. I want to see an environment where officers are allowed to critically think for themselves.  In my leadership, I am confident as a team, we will build a department that is effective, efficient, and professional by criminal justice standards of today.  

6. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the overall judicial system in Stanly County? Explain.


R. Burris: Our judicial system is not perfect, but our office works with the judges and the DA’s every day to improve. We’re all focused on reducing crime and improving the backlog of court cases, and communicating with each other is essential. There are a lot of moving parts, and we don’t always see eye to eye. I work hard to maintain those relationships because each of our successes depends on the other’s. With our becoming a stand-alone judicial district, we’re going to be the smallest judicial district in the state. I’m committed to making adjustments so that we can continue to work together to serve Stanly County and meet your needs, but it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll stay the smallest district for long.

Speights: The judicial system, like all government systems, has shortcomings, but often those circumstances are not changed by one individual, but through the legislative process.


G. Burris:  The judicial system may not always be what I or every citizen wants it to be. We as citizens look for all cases to be handled by the law and seek justice to be done. I want to do my best in all cases and all investigations being completed by the Sheriff's Office. I will make sure that we, as an office, do our job correctly and provide a solid case to send to court. There can always be improvement in all areas but I will hold the Sheriff's Office accountable to do our job and hope that the courts can do theirs. To provide the District Attorneys office with a case file to present to the judge and/or jury and do my best to make sure the victims are heard and fought for.

Frick: No. I'm not really satisfied with the current judicial system in Stanly County and I would like very much to see some changes within the sheriff’s department as well as the DA’s office.

Poole: It is not my place to second guess a district attorney or judge — so no comment.

Whaley: I am very pleased judicially speaking that we are now a stand alone county. The incoming District Attorney’s Office will be able to focus their attention only on Stanly County.  The overall perspective of this change should be positive for all the citizens of Stanly County.  As sheriff my job is to provide a safe environment for the courts to dispatch business and to enforce the laws. Any changes in the judicial system shall originate in the legislature or court administration.

7.  Although the sheriff is an elected official, how would you keep politics out of the office and away from taxpayers served?


R. Burris: The same way I’ve kept politics out of the Sheriff’s Office for over seven years. We serve every citizen of Stanly County equally. Prejudices and personal judgments of other people and their politics have no place in our jobs. The people of this county are my responsibility. I don’t play politics with the law or with this office, and I don’t have the patience or the time for those who do. I’m experienced enough to know that politics don’t make a person, and it’s a mistake to base decisions that affect people’s lives based on personal opinions.

Speights: The politics involved in the sheriff’s office is very unfortunate and often a huge road-block for carrying out the responsibilities of being a sheriff.  However, the politics must be strictly scrutinized to ensure good moral, ethical, and sound decisions can be made.


G. Burris: I would provide and promote a fair, positive and respectful department. To treat all citizens fair and never make empty promises that cannot be kept. To let everyone know that their concerns and questions are important and I will treat everyone fairly. But since the Sheriff’s Office is an elected position their will always be some type of politics because the sheriff and all personnel work for the Stanly County taxpayers. The taxpayers deserve the best Sheriff's Office we can provide them and having a sheriff with a backbone and leadership skills will help with keeping things fair. The sheriff sets the pace for the office.

Frick: In my opinion it is not a political office, it is the responsibility of the sheriff and his office to serve the citizens of Stanly county equally regardless of political affiliation.

Poole:  The oath of office does not say to serve a party. My obligation as sheriff would be to serve all the people. Obviously, I have a conservative mindset but that would not keep me from upholding my oath of office.

Whaley: Ethics and integrity should be a cornerstone of any law enforcement office.  Our main purpose of existence is to serve and protect every individual equally.  When an emergency call is dispatched, we don’t ask what their party affiliation is, or the color of their skin or their socioeconomic background. I am indebted to no group or party affiliation when it is time to dispatch the business of the Sheriff’s Office. If it should be anyone’s intention to gain favor from me by a political party pressuring, their efforts will be in vain.  My job is to serve and protect and dispatch the function of my office to everyone equitably.  

8. Who is your favorite fictional character that played a law enforcement officer or detective?


R. Burris:  I don’t spend too much time reading fictional crime stories. We deal with enough real-life crime and serious situations that I try to take the opportunities I have to get away from it a little bit. Going for a walk always helps to relax me, which I think my wife appreciates. I enjoy playing with and taking care of our dogs. I’ve recently finished rebuilding a 1965 Malabu SS, and I’ve just started working on another muscle car.

Speights: I think one of my favorite fictional law enforcement characters would be agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of “NCIS.” He is firm, but fair, and has a great love for his country.


G. Burris:  I always like to watch all law enforcement shows and movies. Some are laid back, some are funny and some are tough and straight forward. It's difficult to choose just one out of the hundreds I enjoyed watching and growing up with. But if I must choose one then I'm going with Dodge City Marshal Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke.” He was there for the people and would stand up for them and what was right. He didn’t back down from a challenge and would tackle problems head on. He was a tough but fair man and as he progressed in life he learned and grew from his previous mistakes. The people of Dodge City respected him and knew he would stand up for law and protect the people. That’s the type of sheriff I want to be and for the good citizens of Stanly to know that I am here for them and always ready to protect them. To the criminals and people wanting to do harm to these same citizens need to know there is a sheriff that is ready for the challenge.

Frick:  Dirty Harry

Poole:  The team on “Dragnet” because they were only concerned with the facts.

Whaley: Gary Sinise as Mac Taylor on “NCIS New York.” His calm and cool demeanor, which allows him to critically think through every situation and case. He is always strictly on the side of the law, no exceptions. When a case is hard and there seems to be no solving it, he doesn’t give up, even if it calls for everyone in the department to start over and look at it from another angle.  He hangs in there until he gets his man or woman. As a boss, he is always fair and decisive and he always remembers that the people under him are warriors of the streets but they are people too with families.