Carmichael best pick for sheriff

Jim Pendergraph and Chipp Bailey have guided the Mecklenburg County sheriff’s department with steady leadership for the past 20 years. Now Bailey is retiring, and it’s not at all clear that Mecklenburg’s next sheriff will be as qualified.

Voters will choose next week between Democrat Irwin Carmichael and Republican Chris Hailey. The winner will take over a vital public safety department with a $118 million budget and some 1,300 employees.

Neither candidate has run anything a fraction of that size. Each says his law enforcement experience has prepared him for the job. While we have reservations about both candidates, we believe Carmichael is the stronger choice.

Carmichael, a ninth-degree black belt, owns a martial arts school. He trains police officers, sheriff’s deputies and civilians in self-defense, and travels the county giving sometimes-alarming presentations about how to avoid becoming a crime victim. He has served as a reserve officer at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office for 28 years.

That is a volunteer role, not a paid position, but Carmichael says it has given him extensive familiarity with how the sheriff’s department operates and what is required to lead it. Pendergraph and Bailey agree and have endorsed Carmichael, saying he would bring continuity to the office. They are among a wide range of endorsements Carmichael has secured, from the NRA to former Democratic mayor Harvey Gantt.

Carmichael touts his experience running a small business, but acknowledges the jump this would be in responsibility. He supports the programs that Pendergraph and Bailey put in place and would be likely to maintain them or tweak them. He’s not likely to overhaul the department, and with an operation that is performing well, that’s the right approach.

Bailey has a strong chief deputy in Felicia McAdoo and a skilled executive team. Carmichael, if elected, should listen to and learn from them and let them ease his transition into such an important leadership role.

Hailey was a Raleigh police officer and an N.C. Highway Patrol trooper before leading public safety training for Central Piedmont Community College. He argues that sheriff is not a management role but a leadership role, and that he is a “visionary.”

Among his platform planks: Operating detention centers in the northern and southern parts of the county so police don’t spend so much time processing arrests downtown; and “moving the department to the 21st century” by, for example, allowing inmates to Skype with their attorneys and families rather than meet in person at the jail.

Folks at CPCC say Hailey performed well there. But he doesn’t have the depth of knowledge about the department that Carmichael does. Hailey says he would “put the right people in the right places” at the sheriff’s office, but we doubt it’s an office that needs tremendous turnover.

We recommend Carmichael.