The Herald Bulletin

April 29, 2014

Democratic candidates for sheriff tout diversity of ideas, goals

By Jack Molitor The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — The three Democratic candidates for Madison County sheriff each have the same party insignia next to their name. That’s about where the similarities end.

Maj. Brian Bell, County Commissioner Jeff Hardin and former Sheriff Scott Mellinger each present a unique vision of what the office would look like if they were in charge. From goals and expectations to implementation, their ideas are as different as their experience. Though all have been police officers, they’re entering the political arena through different doors.

Bell represents an heir-apparent to current Sheriff Ron Richardson, who will be retiring after two terms when his tenure expires in December. He has served as major, the No. 2 position at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, under Richardson for seven years. Before that, Bell held multiple ranks at the Sheriff’s Department, including Swat Team commander. He said the important aspect of his career is that, before being dubbed major, he earned each of his positions by merit, not political appointment.

Additionally, Bell has the benefit of being the only candidate currently working at the department. He said his current and first-hand experience in the county has put him in tune with the needs and wants of the citizens. Bell also said he thinks his position as executive officer in the county has prepared him to take the next step.

“There’s a lot of experience gained by being the No. 2 guy. You gain a huge advantage in knowledge being right there,” Bell said. “I always have Ron to fall back on for guidance, but it’s a position I feel very comfortable with.”

The two issues at the top of Bell’s platform are the completion of consolidation of the county dispatch center and tackling the crippling drug problem facing the county. The current dispatch center, which is about 18 years old, is a mess, according to Bell, who is in charge of the dispatch center. He said the solutions for clearing up communication problems within the county lie with consolidation into one center, a new radio system and creation of a dispatch board, which will feature a representative from each agency in the county.

Bell said the epidemic of methamphetamine is gripping the county, but he’s even more concerned by the explosion in use of heroin. He said he wants to work closely with the Madison County Drug Task Force to deal with both issues, and likely provide the task force with more manpower to lighten caseloads.

Hardin, a retired longtime officer at the Anderson Police Department, said that his leadership since his career in law enforcement is what sets him apart from Mellinger and Bell. Hardin served on the Madison County Council for 16 years and is currently serving his second term as county commissioner for the Middle District. The first time he ran for sheriff was in 1990, and he said it’s always been his aspiration.

The county commissioner said his current office and terms as county councilman have given him a wealth of experience in administrative positions. He said he’s dealt with multi-million-dollar budgets at the county level and understands the needs of the people and has the financial responsibility to do the job well.

“I feel like people know me. They trust me. And I’ve got the ability,” Hardin said. “I’ve been in leadership positions and have always treated the public fairly. I believe in fair but firm.”

Hardin said he wants to bring the approach of what he calls “a loving warrior” to the office of sheriff. He said he’s heard of too many incidents of police misconduct or unfair treatment and wants to restore a sense of compassion to the department. He also said he’s disappointed in the current administration’s lack of involvement and visibility in the community. Hardin said it’s the duty of the sheriff to be a public relations person and to sell the department, and he wants to be as accessible to the public as possible.

Aside from battling the drug problem and youth violence in the county, Hardin also said he wants to lay out a clear plan for a new county jail facility. He said the current jail is aging and in need of replacement, and while budget constraints likely won’t allow for construction of a new facility within five years, Hardin believes there should be a concrete vision of an efficient new jail during the next decade.

Mellinger boasts the most political experience among the candidates, and despite being the only Democratic sheriff candidate currently working outside the county, he’s also the only candidate on either ticket who has held the position previously. Mellinger served on the department for 21 years from 1979 to 2001, including two stints as sheriff from 1991 to 1998.

He went on to serve two terms in the Indiana Legislature from 1999 to 2001. Currently, Mellinger is the training director at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He said that several people in the county approached him a year ago and asked him to consider running again. Mellinger said he’s disappointed with several shortcomings of the Richardson administration and felt he could make a difference in a homecoming bid.

“This was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, and I’d love the chance to do it again,” Mellinger said.

The former sheriff said his primary goal is to grow a well-trained reserve force, something he said the previous administration should’ve done, considering the mired economic situation of the county. Mellinger promised he could triple or even quadruple the current number of reserve deputies in about a year. He said the move could save the county money as well as free up the patrol and detective force to handle problems like drug abuse that are affecting the community.

Mellinger said he also wants to improve the department’s public image, starting with a good website. He said the department’s current website is devoid of content, and he wants to fill empty links with communiques to the public. Mellinger also wants to implement permanent, rather than rotating, patrol districts. He said allowing deputies to become familiar with particular areas of the county will allow them to be more proactive, not reactive.

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Democratic sheriff candidates Name: Brian Bell Age: 46 Family: Wife, Kimberly; children, Brianna and Ashley Occupation: Major at sheriff's department, started in department in 1988; chief deputy; dispatch center supervisor; owner and operator of a landscape management service; owner and operator of Bell Properties; part owner of Fall Creek Academy in Pendleton. Political experience: None Goals: Consolidate dispatch center, work with senior citizens groups like Madison County Triad, battle county drug problem, curtail jail overcrowding, train crisis intervention officers to help deal with citizens struggling with mental illness. ••• Name: Jeff Hardin Age: 56 Family: Children, Aaron, Casey and Sarah Occupation and experience: County commissioner, second term; served on county council for 16 years; career Anderson Police Department officer. Goals: Increase visibility and accessibility of sheriff's department, improve professionalism among deputies, battle county drug problem, curtail youth violence, plan a clear vision for a new jail. ••• Name: Scott Mellinger Age: 57 Family: Children, Lauren, Malerie and Kevin; grandson Lucas Occupation: Training director at Marion County Sheriff's Department; executive director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy from 2002-2006 Political experience: Indiana Legislature, District 37, 1998 and 2000; Madison County sheriff, 1991-1998. Goals: Grow reserve deputy program, improve jail conditions, change from rotating to permanent district patrols, improve department website, change department administrative and clerical hours, increase community policing.