Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sheriff Valdez, challenger Cannaday clash over jail at forum

11:13 PM CDT on Tuesday, September 16, 2008
By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and her Republican opponent squared off Tuesday in their second head-to-head political forum, during which the state of the county jails got the most attention.
Sheriff Valdez, 60, the Democratic incumbent and a former federal agent, is seeking a second four-year term. Lowell Cannaday, 70, a former Irving police chief, is hoping to win back the chief county law enforcement job for the Republicans.
It's the most closely watched local race and will be a key indicator for local Republicans on whether they can regain dominance in local elections.
Sheriff Valdez told the luncheon audience of the nonprofit Stemmons Corridor Business Association that she has improved jail conditions after inheriting a mess from her Republican predecessor. The jails, she said, are properly staffed and no longer crowded.
She also said she has saved taxpayers money with a new jail commissary contract, and increased highway patrols and drunken driving arrests. She said she also formed two police canine units to fight drug smuggling.
Mr. Cannaday touted his law enforcement career of nearly 40 years – including a decade as police chief – as well as his endorsements from nearly all police labor associations.
He said the jails have not improved enough, noting that they are still under federal oversight and haven't passed state inspection since Sheriff Valdez has been in office.
He said he would use his record of building strong relationships to improve the department. And he criticized Sheriff Valdez for engaging in a legal battle with county commissioners over a jail documentary, for her "bunker mentality" in dealings with the news media, and for alienating her employees.
"You've got to have a good relationship with your own personnel," he said.
Mr. Cannaday said he would make sure sheriff's employees are paid appropriately. He said Sheriff Valdez displayed a "lack of salesmanship" on that during county budget sessions.
Both candidates agreed that the county needs better services for the mentally ill, who make up roughly a third of the jail population.
Sheriff Valdez said she supports alternative sentencing so taxpayers are not footing the tab for an inmate to sit in jail for six months or more. She said she has put inmates to work to help offset housing costs.
She said she has brought professionalism and accountability to her agency. And she said state and federal jail regulators have praised her department for the improvements.
"We have become a model for other jurisdictions," she said.

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