Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ottawans say they’re running for sheriff post

By CRYSTAL HERBER and DOUG CARDER, Herald Staff Writers | 10/24/2012

Republican primary winner Jeff Curry might have thought he had the sheriff’s election in the bag since no Democratic candidate filed against him. But Philip Brown and Byron Goracke said they plan to give the incumbent sheriff some competition.

Brown, 51, Ottawa, officially announced his intention to run as a write-in candidate in the Franklin County sheriff’s race Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Goracke, 43, a Homewood resident and former law enforcement officer with 17 years’ experience, told The Herald Wednesday evening he too was entering the race as a write-in candidate.

Republican primary winner Jeff Curry might have thought he had the sheriff’s election in the bag since no Democratic candidate filed against him. But Philip Brown and Byron Goracke said they plan to give the incumbent sheriff some competition.

Brown, 51, Ottawa, officially announced his intention to run as a write-in candidate in the Franklin County sheriff’s race Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Goracke, 43, a Homewood resident and former law enforcement officer with 17 years’ experience, told The Herald Wednesday evening he too was entering the race as a write-in candidate.

Both men talked about the need for the sheriff’s office to build a better rapport with the public.

“I believe a lot of people have lost trust and faith in their sheriff’s office, and we need to get that back,” Brown said Wednesday.

Brown previously served 13 years as a reserve officer for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. During that time, he said, he aided with case investigations and overnight surveillance, worked school events and helped with extra security work. As a reserve officer, he said, he was trained much like a full-time officer.

For the past 21 years, Brown has worked as a territory sales manager for an auto parts company. If elected, Brown said, he would have to resign from the company. His experience in many aspects of business management — from managing staff to dealing with the public ­— would serve him well in the sheriff’s position, Brown said.

“I’ve had to do a lot of different things. Just because it’s in the private sector doesn’t mean it doesn’t go into the sheriff’s office,” Brown said. “The way I look at the sheriff’s office is it’s a big business, and you have to work with different agencies and also with the public, people that vote.”

Goracke is no stranger to the sheriff’s race, having been defeated by former Sheriff Craig Davis in the 2008 general election. Even though Goracke, a Democrat in 2008 but now a registered Republican, was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Davis, the Franklin County native said he decided to announce his write-in candidacy after supporters asked him to run.

“I had several people ask me why I wasn’t running in 2012 and said they would cast write-in votes for me,” Goracke said. “I had planned to run, but about the time I needed to file to get into the race for the August primary, my wife (Deanna) was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Goracke said his first concern at that point was his wife’s health, and the sheriff’s race took a backseat. At the same time, Goracke said, he already was working a full-time job as a barber at the family barber shop — Jim’s Barber Shop, 1521 S. Main St., Ottawa, which his father, Jim Goracke, started in 1972.

“Dad died in 2000, and now it’s just my mom [Susan] and me at the shop,” Goracke, who has worked at the shop for 17 years, said.

To complicate matters further, Goracke said, he also is a full-time student at Washburn University in Topeka, closing in on obtaining his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. A dual major, Goracke said he’s also working toward a bachelor’s degree in physics.

“Deanna got through her chemotherapy treatments and is doing really well,” Goracke said as to his decision to enter the race, now that his wife’s health has improved. He added he would give up his role at the barber shop if elected.

Goracke said his 17 years of law enforcement experience made him qualified for the job. He said he spent several years with the Kansas Highway Patrol in the motor carrier division between 1991 to 1994. Goracke also worked as an officer for the Wellsville Police Department and the Haskell County Sheriff’s Office before joining the now-defunct Richmond Police Department in the late 1990s, he said.

Goracke left the Richmond post, he said, because he was missing too many of his children’s events. Goracke has five children, ranging in age from 10 to 22.

“I was working two full-time jobs as Richmond’s only police officer and at the barber shop, and I was missing out on too many of my kids’ activities, so I decided to leave the force and remain at the family business,” Goracke said. Brown announced his write-in campaign on The Ottawa Herald’s Facebook page Tuesday evening. A registered Republican, Brown hopes to garner enough support in the less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 general election to unseat the current sheriff, who is unopposed on the ballot. Curry, who was appointed to the sheriff’s position in 2010, defeated his two competitors in the Republican primary by winning more than 50 percent of the more than 4,400 ballots cast.

Write-in campaigns are not common in Franklin County, Shari Perry, the county’s elections officer said, although they have been attempted locally in the past. There were 214 Democratic party write-in votes cast in the August primary election.

“It’s not real popular,” Perry, who also is the county clerk, said. “It’s a hard thing to do, a hard thing to win.”

Write-in candidates do not have to file with her office, Perry said. But a write-in candidate might be contacted by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, she said, if the candidate accepts donor money or spends more than $500 on the campaign.

“[Brown] will have to file a campaign expenditure report if he takes in donations just like every other candidate,” Perry, who said she has seen Brown’s campaign signs in Ottawa, said. Pre-general election campaign reports are due to the ethics commission by Monday. Last-minute contributions must be reported no later than Nov. 1.

Goracke didn’t announce his candidacy until early Wednesday evening.

Brown said he debated throwing his name in the sheriff’s race before, but after information came out about the sheriff’s office being investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, that was the tipping point.

“After the KBI came in, I decided that I needed to get moving, and I only had about 30 days left,” he said, adding that his reason for not running in the primary was a lack of funding and his desire to not divide the votes between four candidates.

The KBI’s reason for investigating the sheriff’s office has not been disclosed, with the state agency citing its ongoing status. While Brown said he understands the investigation might not deal with Curry directly, the investigation was a large motivating factor in initiating his write-in campaign.

“I’ve not been happy with the office and the direction it was going, and I think it needed to be changed,” Brown said. “[The investigation] was a good determining factor.”

The KBI investigation did not play into Goracke’s decision to seek the office, he said.

“I realize write-in candidates don’t usually win,” Goracke said. “But I wanted to enter the race because I think the sheriff’s office needs to get its spending under control, and I think officers need to be more visible in the county. I don’t know what the KBI investigation is all about, just like everyone else, but I can say that was not the deciding factor for me. I was planning to run before the KBI investigation was announced — but the timing just wasn’t right [for the August primary].”

 Brown’s campaign has been going well so far, he said, having received positive feedback from those to whom he has spoken. Brown is banking on gaining votes from people who perhaps are not happy with the current state of the sheriff’s office, given the investigation, he said, or might be on the fence about voting at all.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there, with what’s going on now with the department, who are concerned and are hesitant maybe to vote. They may not vote for anybody,” he said. “I’m hoping that I maybe get some of those write-in votes, and it will be enough to get me in office and get things back to where we should be.”

As a write-in candidate, Brown said, it’s anybody’s guess whether his campaign will end in a victory. His main concern, if elected, he said, is to present to people a candidate who will listen to constituents and have an office that people can respect.

“I take the time to listen and get everybody’s perspective and then make a decision,” Brown said. “I want people to respect not only the officers and the department, but I also want our officers and the department to respect our people.”

Goracke said he’s just getting started on his write-in campaign. But, like Brown, Goracke said he also is hoping to gain votes from people who are not happy with how the sheriff’s office is now being run.

And he said he wants to open better lines of communication with other agencies.

“I think the sheriff’s office needs to do a better job of building a rapport with other law enforcement agencies in the county and area,” Goracke said. “That rapport doesn’t exist right now.”

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