There are both similarities and glaring differences between the two candidates seeking the office of sheriff of Jackson County.
Both Democrat Ross Mellinger and Republican Noel Braley have extensive backgrounds in law enforcement. Both have college degrees in the area of criminal justice. At the same time, each has a different vision for the future of the county sheriff’s department.
Mellinger, chief deputy for the past six years, entered law enforcement in Jackson County in 1995. He started his career as a corrections officer. After placing in the top three in the Civil Service Test, he was hired as a patrol deputy. Going on to graduate from the police academy in 2002, he came back to Jackson County.
“I was given the opportunity by Tony Boggs, then a detective, to help with a major drug bust,” Mellinger said. “I realized this is what real police work is over the years, I’ve been offered the chance to be on the State Police, a United States Marshal, and DEA, but this gives me great satisfaction.”
Braley, a United States Army veteran, served 20 years in the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department. Achieving the rank of Senior Sergeant, he became involved with many aspects of law enforcement. He served as a bailiff, patrolman, sergeant, and shift commander.
“In all the years I spent with the largest police department in the state, I served without a blemish to my record,” Braley said.
The 52-year-old Given resident was very instrumental in implementing community policing and problem-solving in Kanawha County.
“My training in this area showed me that involving the community, getting to know the people in every area of the county is vital to good police work,” Braley said. “There is more accountability which helps the department be more effective and efficient. That will be one of my areas of focus because I don’t see that being the case now.”
For Mellinger, 44, having the three law enforcement agencies work more closely together is the key to solving more cases.
“The police departments in Ripley and Ravenswood can and should work together with the sheriff’s department,” he said. “We have a special response team made up of officers from each and I’d like to see a crime scene team set up the same way. The county would benefit from having this in-house rather than having another county come to assist.”
A difference in the two candidates can also be seen with drug crimes.
Braley says that, while drugs are a very serious problem in the county, there are other crimes being committed that need addressed.
“There is more to law enforcement than drug busts,” Braley said. “I hear a lot of people say that they don’t feel their complaints or calls for assistance are being attended to in a timely manner. What may seem minor to an officer isn’t minor to the caller.”
The importance of drug arrests to Mellinger is apparent.
“We have to get as much of this taken care of as we possibly can,” he said. “It’s at the heart of many of our other problems.”
Mellinger also said asset forfeiture from large drug busts has paid for many improvements in the department.
“That’s how we got our K-9 unit and it’s helped pay for police cruisers,” he said. “It’s very satisfying to know that those who introduce the toxins are now paying for ways to catch more of them.”
Establishing a detachment in southern Jackson County is something Braley says he’s determined to do.
“I’ve been told that there are no plans to ever see that done,” he said. “I’m dedicated to finding a way to serve that area of the county by adding a detachment in Kenna. We’ve got to take care of the outlying areas. The cities have police that can take care of business so the sheriff can take the lead in responding to issues in the county.”
Administration and supervision are large parts of the sheriff’s duties. Being the county’s treasurer and tax collector requires knowledge of budgets and money management.
Mellinger said with his experience assisting Sheriff Tony Boggs in this area, he is qualified and ready for this part of the job.
“The tax department that we have here is what every county should strive to have,” he said. “We do have to keep advancing, working closely with the IT department, and seeking grants.”
Braley, who also operates two successful businesses, feels he has the expertise needed to carry out fiscal responsibilities.
“I’ve worked with million-dollar budgets and was also a supply sergeant,” he said. “I am very well versed in researching grants but more importantly, administering them. It’s important that the tax department be customer friendly and efficient. Any office can be improved.”
Mellinger views the key to having an effective sheriff’s department is the relationship within the group. He says that the current officers and staff work as a “well-oiled machine.”
“There is a comradery with the team now,” he said. “Every one of them brings a skill set that is unique. I trust every single one of them to do the job. That will continue if I’m elected sheriff.”
More supervision of officers is something Braley promises.
“We have to return civility to the department,” he said. “All of our officers need to be held accountable. Closer supervision will help with that. Each officer, if I’m elected, will be trained in problem-solving, finding ways to deal with issues in the best way.”
Working with Sheriff Boggs and former sheriff Mike Bright has been a highlight of Mellinger’s career.
“They set the gold standard,” he said. “I want to continue that level of service. If I can instill my work ethic in my team, we’ll become even stronger. If elected, my chief deputy will be Eric Cullen who is able to get the best out of people. The transition between sheriffs will be smooth and we’ll be ready to get the job going on day one. I am dedicated to Jackson County.”
Braley said he’s ready to get started as well.
“There’s so many things I want to get started,” he said. “Bailiffs should be trained officers. More patrolling of the county needs to be done. The wave of the future is community policing and problem-solving. I can bring that to this county with the help of my choice for chief deputy, Mark King. I know who I work for as sheriff and that’s the people of Jackson County.”