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Challenger “Jack” Eller faces off against incumbent Kevin Auten in sheriff’s race

By Shavonne Potts

shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

Sheriff’s candidate Thomas “Jack” Eller isn’t worried about his lack of law enforcement experience, saying he has “heart” and a willingness to “protect and serve” the people of Rowan County as its next sheriff.

Eller will face off this November against incumbent Sheriff Kevin Auten, who is completing his first full term after winning election in 2010.

“This race is important to me because it would be a huge positive impact for the citizens of Rowan County. We were all created equal, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore in the eyes of our justice system,” Eller said.

Eller would like the voters of Rowan County to give him a chance to “work for them” to “make a change for the better.”

Eller, 53, has been a farmer his whole life and is in the trucking business. He is the owner of Eller Transport.

Auten, 53, has been in law enforcement for more than 25 years. Before winning election, he had served as interim sheriff, replacing then retiring Sheriff George Wilhelm in November 2009. 

Auten is a member of North Rowan Booster Club, Fulton Masonic Lodge No. 99, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Law Enforcement Protocol Committee, Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, Family Crisis Council Board and the N.C. Special Olympics.

He is a graduate of Salisbury High and Catawba College. He has a number of law enforcement certifications, including basic, intermediate and advanced law enforcement; basic, intermediate and advanced detention officer.

He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, Dylan. His mother, Becky Auten, also resides in Rowan County.

Auten said what makes him a leader beyond the law enforcement certifications is he understands people and understands everyone has different problems. He said he feels comfortable talking to different groups of people on any level. Auten said he also doesn’t mind putting in the hard work.

Eller attended Caldwell and Rowan County schools. He received his high school diploma from Madison County school system in Georgia. He is a member of the Homeland Security Highway Safety program. He and his wife, Teresa, have two adult children, Jonathan and Tiffany. The Ellers have two grandchildren, Jackson and Chloeigh.

Eller, who has never worked in law enforcement, said he’s “been on the outside looking in” and coming from a large family and traveling is what makes him a leader beyond experience. Eller is one of nine children.

“Coming from a large family in a hard working period has taught me the values needed to be a great sheriff. Growing up, we were always taught to work for everything you have and to be fair with one another and that’s what the people of Rowan County need — a fair and hard working sheriff,” he said.

“I may not have the same law enforcement experience or the highest education as the other contender, but I do have heart and a strong backbone to protect and serve,” Eller said.

“I’m a man of my word and never met a stranger,” Eller said.

He said he’s met thousands of people while campaigning, including many who’ve said they plan to vote for him.

He said he’s met so many people that he feels like he’s already won the election.

Eller ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2010 and county commissioner in 2012. He hopes this election season will be different.

Auten said he would like to continue to serve Rowan County citizens and work with “community partners to protect and educate our youth.”

Throughout much of the last year, Auten, along with the local school system, advocated for the reinstatement of school resource officers in the middle schools. Resource officers were removed from the middle schools during the 2009-10 school year when the state cut funding to the school system.

In July, Auten partnered with Bojangle’s for a fundraiser to benefit the agency’s Safety Pup Program. The educational program teaches children about being drug free and how to stay safe.

Auten believes one way to combat crime is to start in the school system with programs like Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) or DARE.

He said those programs teach children about conflict resolution and let “them know there’s ways to handle situations without violence.”

He added that with the employment of some of these programs “maybe some of this gun violence could be curtailed.”

The sheriff’s office has certified G.R.E.A.T. instructors in the schools who teach the program to fourth and sixth graders.

If elected, Eller said, his main priority will be to protect and serve all citizens of Rowan County.

“I am a man of my word and stand by my beliefs. I’m not a politician, but a regular hard-working citizen looking to be an advocate for the other hard-working citizens in this county,” he said.

Eller said he does feel as though more community involvement could be one of the answers to building a stronger relationship between law enforcement and the community.

He would like to implement a program similar to using retired or part-time law enforcement officers as reserve officers, except he’d like to use firemen and women.

Eller said if he’s elected he’ll bring these “reserve officers” to the smaller towns in Rowan County that don’t have a police department within their town limits.

He would educate the firefighters and deputize them, he said, because they “already live in the community and would be readily available.”

There’s been much discussion lately about building trust between residents and law enforcement and the disconnect that exists.

Auten said the community meetings that have been held, such as those in the West End, are good. He said the West End groups and a community group in Enochville are productive. The people in the community are becoming the eyes and ears in the streets where law enforcement may not be at the time.

Auten and detectives from his department as well as the Kannapolis Police Department attended a May community meeting held in Enochville to discuss a newly formed community watch program.

Auten has encouraged residents to call law enforcement if they see or hear suspicious activity.

He said you “have to be willing to bridge the gap.”

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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