Endorsement: Sheriff candidates differ in style, vision

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 25, 2002

Freeborn County this year must make a decision it hasn’t faced since the 1960s, with an open-seat election for sheriff. The best part about it is that with two excellent candidates, it appears the future, under either Mark Harig or Phil Bartusek, will be in good hands.

The candidates both offer enough experience and leadership ability to make them right for the job. Both are keenly familiar with the law-enforcement challenges Freeborn County faces. Both think the county should do more to get deputies involved in the towns and townships of Freeborn County. Both stress education efforts as a key function of the sheriff’s office. Overall, both promise to bring new energy and a breath of fresh air to the department.

The candidates differ most in two areas: In style, and in the scope of their vision.

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A retired supervisor/investigator, Harig has campaigned heavily on the principle that illegal drugs account for the vast majority of crimes in the county, and it is a premise that is easy to believe. Thefts, domestic disputes and other violence can all often be linked to drugs. With decades of experience as a narcotics investigator, he’s seen it all and has a deep understanding of the drug culture in southern Minnesota and how it can be infiltrated.

His proposal for law enforcement hinges on an aggressive approach to busting drug dealers, turning the county into a place where narcotics are harder to find, and an area new drug dealers will avoid.

Harig also stresses hands-on leadership, reminding us that he won’t ask a deputy to do anything he wouldn’t do himself &045; perhaps a reference to his last two years on the drug task force under Sheriff Don Nolander, when Harig, having lost a partner, wanted off the assignment but didn’t get his wish.

Instead of leading from behind a desk, he says he’ll get his hands dirty and teach a relatively young corps of deputies by showing them how it’s done.

Bartusek, a lieutenant for the Albert Lea Police Department, brings a more global approach to public safety.

He also acknowledges the central role of drugs in crime, and like Harig, says he’d make it a priority to get a sheriff’s deputy back on the regional drug task force &045; a position that’s been vacant since Harig retired. Bartusek takes his attack on drugs a step further: Drawing on his experience in tobacco and alcohol enforcement, he advocates more efforts to curb underage access to these &uot;starter&uot; drugs. He cites statistics showing a correlation between teen tobacco use and the use of narcotics and alcohol later in life.

Bartusek would practice a different style of leadership than Harig. Highly organized, a skilled planner and a careful researcher, he would set up the department to be the most efficient it can be and let his plans play out, using a more hands-off approach than Harig’s.

He has stressed partnerships with other agencies, like the police department and state patrol &045; efforts that would increase efficiency and enhance the safety of the community. Coming from the city police, he would provide an effective bridge between the police and sheriff’s offices, as well as bring a fresh perspective to a department that has been under the same leadership for decades.

While it’s clear both men would be a good Sheriff, we think Bartusek’s wider vision, communication skills and leadership style make him the better choice for the job, which we think demands more of an administrator than a hands-on lawman.