Sheriff's race: Dalton, Fagan in; Forbis on fence

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marshall County could have a three-way race for sheriff this summer depending on what one of the men decides in the next few weeks.

Two long-time Marshal County lawmen - Norman Dalton, the sheriff's detective captain, and Roger Fagan, a former Cornersville police chief and sheriff's chief deputy - say they're in the race even though they haven't issued an official announcement.

Meanwhile, Lewisburg Police Chief Chuck Forbis has obtained a petition to have his name on the printed ballot in the Aug. 5 sheriff's election. Monday, Forbis confirmed he's thinking about throwing his hat in the ring, but hadn't decided to file, yet.

Just because people obtain a petition doesn't make them a candidate. The signatures of at least 25 verifiable Marshall County voters are needed on a petition for candidacy in a countywide race. Once they're verified, a petitioner for the sheriff's race must meet several other qualifications relative to law enforcement.

After nearly two decades in office, Sheriff Les Helton isn't running again, and his chief deputy, Billy Lamb, has reportedly decided against running.

"I care about the citizens of Marshall County," Dalton replied when asked why he wants to be sheriff. "I'd like to see a continuation of the proper management of the Sheriff's Department.

"I want to run it and make sure everybody is treated fair, the detective captain said. "In this line of work we have to take risks, but I want to make sure everyone is treated fair, even the ones we arrest."

Dalton was wounded in a shoot out several years ago. Three men had been burglarizing homes in Marshall, Maury, Bedford and Williamson counties.

"We got them stopped in the parking lot at the Berlin Store," Dalton said. "They had stopped at the store and officers came up on them."

One culprit died from another lawman's bullet, Dalton recovered.

"I've been thinking of running for sheriff for the last eight years," Dalton continued. "I didn't run against Sheriff Les Helton because he's been good to me and I wanted to be loyal. Chief Deputy Billy Lamb had spoken about running, but when he decided against running, I went ahead."

Roger Fagan had been chief deputy under Helton's predecessor and could have remained a county lawman, but Helton selected Lamb as his chief deputy.

Fagan wants to be sheriff because, "I'm just dedicated to law enforcement and I love to help people. Then, I like to feel as though I've accomplished something when I go home at night."

Four yeas ago, Fagan ran for sheriff against Helton and he lost by 73 votes.

"There were over 7,800" votes cast in that race, Fagan said with a chuckle. "So I lost by less than one percent. Pretty good run, but I lost."

Now, he works part-time as a funeral director at London Funeral Home and has worked for the Marshall County Emergency Medical Service.

Candidates for sheriff must: be a U.S. citizen, at least 25 years of age; never convicted of a felony; have a high school diploma or a GED; be a certified police officer, or be certified after elected. If a candidate for sheriff has been in the military, they must be honorably discharged, although they might be National Guardsmen.

They must also pass a recent mental evaluation, to which Fagan comments, "Everybody's praying for me on that one."

Fagan most recently worked as a lawman in April 2006 as police chief in Cornersville where then City Manager Eric Brangenburg embezzled some $85,350.

"I was the one who escorted him out of City Hall," Fagan said of Brangenburg who pleaded guilty and, because of the betrayal of trust and theft charges, won't be eligible for a second Parole Board hearing until July 2011.

As for Lewisburg's police chief, a decision on his candidacy will probably be made in the first half of February.

"I think I need to decide within the next couple of weeks to develop the campaign and get the ball in motion," Forbis said.

As for why he would run, Forbis said, "We have a good relationship with the Sheriff's Department and I personally have an excellent working relationship with the department, the sheriff, Billy (Lamb) and Norman (Dalton).

"I've gotten to know the staff. They're all good people, just like here," he said during an interview at his office.

"I had been approached by a few folks a couple of months back about running and at the time I believed Billy Lamb was going to run for sheriff and I decided not to, out of respect for him. When he decided not to run, that's when I began to consider it...

"As far as qualifications for that particular office, I think they speak for themselves," he said of his 27 years with the Sarasota (Fla.) County Sheriff's Department where he's either worked in, supervised or managed every aspect of the department.

Forbis was selected nearly two years ago to become police chief in Lewisburg. Since his first day in April 2008, he says he's led the department through a variety of "accomplishments."

But politics is a recurring issue for the department. His predecessor was demoted after a confrontation with a city councilman. New conflict surrounding the Police Advisory Board was leading toward a decision Tuesday, and while there had been speculation that three of five councilmen want another chief, three of five councilmen interviewed by this newspaper said they thought he was doing a good job. The other two refused to comment on the subject.

"Whether or not a couple of councilmen don't want me as chief would not be the reason for me to run for sheriff," Forbis said.

Candidates' petitions are due at the elections office by April 1. Thereafter, the candidates have one week to withdraw. Then, qualified candidates' names remain on the ballot even if they withdraw, die, move from the district or are disqualified.

The incumbent sheriff isn't running for office because, as he puts it, "I just feel like it's time for somebody else to run."

Helton, 65, will have been in office as sheriff for 20 years after his term expires at the end of August.

Asked about his accomplishments, Helton started a list with jail equipment such as a computerized fingerprinting and booking system, state and federal computer connections to crime databases, and "We may get computers in cars."

He attributed much of that to members of the county commissioners' Budget Committee.

"Training every year is important because we don't want to make a wrong decision," Helton added.

His decision to retire would appear to include family reasons. His wife, Jean, has been declared cancer-free, the sheriff says, smiling.

"I'm tickled to death," said Helton, obviously pleased for the woman he married more than 30 years ago at Judge Sam Clark's home in Ostella. "Her birthday is Feb. 11, close to Valentine's Day."