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Candidate Profiles for Jackson County Sheriff: Republican and Democrat

Voters in Jackson County will head to the polls starting tomorrow to cast their ballot for several important races, including the next Sheriff of Jackson County. Both Democrats and Republicans will be voting on a candidate, with the winner of the primary election appearing on the ballot in November. 

The Jackson County Sheriff Democratic race features three candidates, Robin Gunnels, Jimmy Ashe, and Rick Buchanan.The Republican race features two candidates, Doug Farmer and Andy Anderson. The Southern Scoop News sent questions to all candidates and received responses from Robin Gunnels, Jimmy Ashe, and Andy Anderson. Candidate responses are published below in their entirety. 

Democrats: Jimmy Ashe & Robin Gunnels 

Jimmy Ashe

Ashe: “I have served the citizens of Jackson County since 1981. My career as a dispatcher/jailor, Crime Prevention Officer and Patrol Deputy began after graduating Sylva-Webster High School and then acquiring his degree at Southwestern Technical Institute in Business Administration on a scholarship. In 1986 I was promoted to Detective and assigned to investigate Child Abuse. In 1988, I was promoted to Sergeant Detective and assigned supervisory responsibilities as well as working all major crimes such as Homicides and Federal Drug investigations. I continued my education at Western Carolina University and in 1994, my interest in becoming an instructor in Basic Law Enforcement and Fire Arms came true. During this time, I was given the task to create and facilitate Special Weapon and Tactics Unit, known today as the S.E.T.Team. It has existed since February of 1995 to present. My responsibilities grew as did my rank. I was promoted to Major over Operations, supervising all staff, Budget and Administrative decisions, Hiring, Internal Affairs, and Disciplinary Actions were also included. In 1998, I was again promoted to Chief Deputy. All promotions were over a period of 17 years and under three different Sheriffs. After completing my degree in business, starting a family, and reaching 20 years at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, I decided to resign. My resignation was the driving desire to run for Sheriff, after a short stint with the WCU police. In 2002, my goal was confirmed. I was re-elected in 2006 and again in 2010. 

3) Why are you running for office?

Ashe: “I have dedicated and sacrificed my entire career in serving and protecting the citizens of our county since I was 22 years old. This purpose is the passion that influences me to come out of retirement and run for re-election in 2022.”

4) Jackson County, WNC, and NC has a drug problem, an epidemic. How do you think law enforcement can strengthen its response to these problems?

Ashe: “The citizens have spoken to me to surface and fix what is broken. Their cries for help are now the pain families feel as loved ones are dying from overdoses. Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and Property Crimes will continue to rise if these challenges are not addressed.

The 3 most important areas to be addressed are the exact same areas I implemented as Sheriff in 2002. Seems others have used my system in the electoral process. 

Rehabilitation: A must to turn addicts into non-customers; if the desires end, so does the need. I will advocate in legislature through the NC Sheriff’s Association and others to remove the moratoriums from cuts on mental health rehabilitation services. I will also partner with the District Attorney’s office in offering alternatives in sentencing to promote mandated rehabilitation.

Education: Seminars, High School DARE, Jail Programs, and Chaplain Program with Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the detention center.

Enforcement: Form Drug Task Forces that focus on Federal and State Partnerships. These bonds are being developed now as I have reached out to those I have partnered with in the past. A Substance Abuse Task Force will also be developed. I have promised the citizens to bring the principals of Community policing to every area in Jackson County.”

5) What specific areas within the existing department can be changed in terms of budgetary items to fund additional officers in remote areas of the county which as Cashiers and Whittier, is it even possible?

Ashe: “Our deputies will understand the importance of the role that the public plays in prevention of the crime. I will implement Patrol Deputies in the 4 sectors of the County; North, South, Central, and South Central. This will cut response time and provide unified relationships between the public and the officers. School Resource officers were created under my administration in 2003 and will continue to strive with suited placement with certified officers.

6) What do you see as the strongest area currently within the department?

Ashe: “When asked the strongest area currently within the Sheriff’s Office, I can reply with confidence, the officers and staff. There are men and women with a strong desire to serve and protect all of us. I believe that leadership has fallen short in encouraging them to be their best. Guidance, Leadership, and Training can reassure the passion needed to excel along with pay incentives to match or supersede other agencies within Western North Carolina. The unfortunate experiences of elections prey on the ones that work the hardest and get paid the least. I want the officers to know that I believe in them and the commitment to serve. I look forward to growing together with all of you.”

7) What area can be improved? 

Ashe: “A complete review of the Detention Center will be absolutely necessary: Policies and Procedures, Nutrition, Supervision, Medical, Training, and Structure. I opened the current facility that was new in 2003. There have been “no” upgrades in 20 years. This will be a priority.”

8) Lastly, anything else you would like voters to know about you. 

Ashe: “Lastly, I would like to say that Law Enforcement is difficult. Our county needs a Sheriff with PROVEN LEADERSHIP who worked his way through the ranks in every position, including 12 years as the Elected Sheriff. There is NO other candidate that has my education, experience, and fortitude for being the Sheriff. 

I have met the challenges of the past and have positioned the plan for the Sheriff’s Office to continue the standard of excellence so deserved by our citizens.”

Robin Gunnels: 

1) Give me a brief bio. Personal, Professional, Education.

Gunnels: “I am from Andrews, NC, and have lived in Jackson County for 38 years. My first wife, Sherry Gunnels and I have two beautiful daughters and a handsome grandson. Sherry passed away in 2013. I have remarried to my wife Rosa Gunnels of 6 1/2 years. We have a lovely blended family made up of 4 daughters, a son and grandson.  I am owner and operator of Custom Truck Covers and Accessories and I also currently work for the Swain County Sheriff’s office. I have also been a member of Trout Creek Baptist Church for the last 28 years. I graduated from Southwestern Community College’s Basic Law Enforcement Training Program in 1995. I have been a sworn law enforcement officer for 27 years.”

2) Tell me about your political experience.

Gunnels: “I am a current candidate for Sheriff of Jackson County. I have previously run for Sheriff of Jackson County and was unsuccessful in my campaign. There is no shame in losing, however, there is shame in never having tried. Therefore, I continue my pursuit of the office of Sheriff.”

3) Why are you running for office?

Gunnels: “I have aspired to be in this position for many years. I truly believe that I can be the leader in law enforcement that this county needs. I have always had great satisfaction in helping people. I feel that this is the most effective way for me to continue to serve the public’s needs. I genuinely want to show the citizens of Jackson county the TRUE meaning of “To Serve and Protect”.”

4) Jackson County, WNC, and NC has a drug problem, an epidemic. How do you think law enforcement can strengthen its response to these problems?

Gunnels: “This drug epidemic didn’t just happen, it has been creeping in for years, and it is not going away overnight. It is going to take time and effort to eradicate it. I believe that an aggressive approach is needed. There will be new Sheriff’s in all of the adjacent counties, but one, and it’s my intent to build relationships with all of them. I believe that the answer lies in a new attitude, new ideas and a new approach. I will work with and share information to help identify the source and plan to utilize every support agency that is available to help combat the drug issue.”

5) What specific areas within the existing department can be changed in terms of budgetary items to fund additional officers in remote areas of the county which as Cashiers and Whittier, is it even possible?

Gunnels: “I will certainly plan to add additional officers to these remote areas. I know that this has been an issue for years, due to the lack of funding being the primary reason that has kept this from becoming a reality. For this to happen, the county commissioners must approve funding first. I am working on a proposal to present to the commissioners, if I am elected, that would generate the necessary funds to provide for the additional officers resulting in adequate coverage throughout Jackson County.”

6) What do you see as the strongest area currently within the department?

Gunnels: “I’m not sure that I can at this point accurately say what the strongest area in the department is, without doing a personal evaluation. If I were to take a guess, I would say the Patrol Division due solely to the number of patrol officers.”

7) What area can be improved? 

Gunnels: “Once again, without doing a personal evaluation, I cannot say what area needs to be improved. However, if I am elected, my first action as Sheriff would be to begin an evaluation process to identify areas that need improvement within the department. If weaknesses are found in any area of the department, I will take the necessary steps to strengthen, reinforce and continue to build on from that point in those areas. Therefore, making the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office able to provide the most effective and efficient law enforcement services to the citizens of this county.”

8) Lastly, anything else you would like voters to know about you. 

Gunnels: “Finally, I want the voters to know that this is my home. I have invested my life here over the past 38 years and I’m passionate about protecting and serving my community. Vote Robin Gunnels for Sheriff 2022 on May 17th.”

Republicans: Andy Anderson

1) Give me a brief bio. Personal, Professional, Education.

Anderson: “An imperfectly meek; soldier in the Army of Jesus Christ; Andy Anderson, candidate for Sheriff, hailing from a rich and diverse military lineage, husband of one, worldly co-steward of two young believers, U.S. Army veteran, with a rich work history on a wealth of industrial machinery, and several airframes. Naively, I once thought with enough time and money. I could repair anything with wings, wheels, tracks, or rotors. Eventually, I waded into the field of inventing with a device called the “Cootie Catcher”. Essentially, a solar-powered, insect, fish feeder. In 2016 my grandmother, long-time Jacksonian, author, and friend of the library, Sandra Sue Jones, passed on. While several other ultimatums encouraged my young family to find their way back to Sylva in 2017. In short-order, enrolled in; SCC’s electronics engineering program, designing and developing the Cootie Catcher. During this period, a friend and church fellow extended an invitation to serve with the William E. Dillard, American Legion Post 104. My legionnaire brethren and I continue in our service, rendering last honorable respects to our fellow veterans on behalf of our grateful nation. Currently, I am a senior at Liberty University. My pursuit and study of the law; were compelled, but my inquiries into it may be more compelling. As a candidate for your Sheriff, I seek and anticipate being, reflecting, and affecting the changes that need to be seen, not promised and obfuscated.”

2) Tell me about your political experience.

Anderson: “In the scheme of things, my experience in politics consists of being on the business end. The state of affairs being what they are, I have come to the confirmation stage of the french idiom that if you don’t do politics, politics will do you. “           

3) Why are you running for office?

Anderson: “To make right, the master of might, the restoration of constitutional law in the land must be priority number one. In the state of the world we live in, I feel that I must. The events transpiring left little choice; in this country, the principal purpose of government is to secure those freedoms and liberties we cherish so much. Although I am aware, I stand alone among the field of candidates; please rest assured I do not stand alone when I sing along with Aaron Lewis, “This ain’t the freedom we’ve been fighting for.”

4) Jackson County, WNC, and NC has a drug problem, an epidemic. How do you think law enforcement can strengthen its response to these problems?

Anderson: “To be frank as an outsider coming in, I think it is most important to evaluate the intelligence on the ground and take a step back and consider how it got as bad as it has. However, confronting the Jackson County opioid addiction is high on the litany of challenges for any Sheriff ahead. Balancing a strong; drug interdiction with the restoration of our constitutional rights will be the biggest challenge for me specifically as I seem to be the only candidate who’s aware that the people have more than just the right to vote. Being endowed by my creator with an innate capacity for creativity and a hint of strategy once correctly identified, the solution may be more political than criminal.”

5) What specific areas within the existing department can be changed in terms of budgetary items to fund additional officers in remote areas of the county which as Cashiers and Whittier, is it even possible? 

Anderson: “One of the areas I think Sheriff Hall has succeeded in is recognizing the need for security and stepping in to fill this gap by placing a school resource officer at every school in Jackson County. However, I am unsure if this approach is more appropriate or effective in its intent than would be a private security officer. By placing a law enforcement agent in schools, we circumvent and undermine the parent’s and school system’s authority and role in the discipline process. Rumor has it that Smokey Mountain High School files more charges against its students than any other in WNC.” 

6) What do you see as the strongest area currently within the department?

Anderson: “The strongest area of the department, in my opinion, is that; I am pretty sure no one in the Jackson County government can honestly say, “We’re good here.” Everybody knows improvement is needed. I believe in self-governance, meaning elected by the people for the people and of the people. I may not be from the government, but I am here to help.”

7) What area can be improved? 

Anderson: “Rather than submitting to a [whole of government approach] to anything, retaining the sovereignty of the Office of Sheriff would be a drastic improvement. Detention and corrections policy & procedure, courthouse security policy and constitutional adherence are all areas that I immediately identify.”

8) Lastly, anything else you would like voters to know about you. 

Anderson: “A few semesters shy of a degree from Liberty University in the study of Pre-Law, Governance & Policy, philosophically inclined with a strong mechanical aptitude, I have a unique insight into machinery and government. As governments; are the most complex of machines depending on who is looking, it might or might not be; difficult to see that ours is; broken. But not in disrepair; having studied the blueprints and charters of our founding fathers, As your Sheriff, I plan to chart a course back to a more literal constitutional interpretation.”

2 Comments

  1. Kim Pullen Kim Pullen May 12, 2022

    There are two other candidates, Doug Farmer and Jimmy Ashe. Why weren’t they included in this article. It is incomplete without a complete list of the candidates.

    • Brittney Lofthouse Brittney Lofthouse Post author | May 16, 2022

      From the article: “The Jackson County Sheriff Democratic race features three candidates, Robin Gunnels, Jimmy Ashe, and Rick Buchanan.The Republican race features two candidates, Doug Farmer and Andy Anderson. The Southern Scoop News sent questions to all candidates and received responses from Robin Gunnels, Jimmy Ashe, and Andy Anderson. Candidate responses are published below in their entirety.” 

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