Candidates launching 2022 campaigns for Rowan County sheriff
SALISBURY — Expecting that Sheriff Kevin Auten will not seek re-election in 2022, candidates are already lining up to start their campaigns for the position.
Auten has been sheriff since November 2009, when he was named to the position after the retirement of then-Sheriff George Wilhelm. He won a full term in 2010 and a second term in 2014. While Auten hasn’t made a formal, public announcement about his plans, candidates say they’re running because of hints he’s dropped and statements he’s made to friends and coworkers.
If Auten decides it’s not time to ride off into retirement, candidates acknowledged the incumbent would win re-election.
The four declared candidates are Mike Caskey, a county commissioner, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer and national guardsman; Tommie Cato, a retired state trooper and Marine Corps veteran who currently works as the East Rowan school resource officer; Capt. Greg Hannold, who’s in charge of the Rowan County Detention Center, security at the courthouse and bailiffs; and Brad Potts, a retired state trooper who’s continued to serve as a reserve police officer for the town of Cleveland.
Three of the four — Caskey, Cato and Hannold — filed paperwork with the Rowan County Board of Elections to start their campaigns, which allows them to raise and spend money. The candidates and Elections Director Brenda McCubbins and expect the field will grow as the start of filing in December grows closer.
Caskey, a 48-year-old who lives in the Enochville area, says he would be an effective sheriff because of his varied life and career experience.
As a county commissioner, he’s found a niche serving as the point man on issues concerning emergency services or first responders. At the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, he’s a patrol training officer for the largest law enforcement agency in the state. Before working in law enforcement, he worked in information technology for Wachovia Bank for years. He also served on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
“I don’t want to say I’m too boring, but I do want to say I’m a safe bet,” Caskey said.
In particular, Caskey said he’d be an effective sheriff because of his budget-balancing experience as a county commissioner, 12 years as a police officer and familiarity with the county departments and local public safety agencies. Because of his years of elected experience, Caskey says, many voters will already know where he stands on major issues.
If elected, Caskey said one priority would be to create a position for a full-time computer crimes fraud detective.
“I do think we need to move toward more technology crime fighting,” he said.
Cato, a 56-year-old who lives in the Faith area, came to Rowan County in 1992 for his first assignment with the N.C. Highway Patrol, retiring in 2013. Originally from Davidson County, he made Rowan home and spent his entire Highway Patrol career here.
Both as a state trooper and a school resource officer, Cato received local officer of the year honors.
Cato says he finds value in small things law enforcement officers do for the community and wants those to receive more attention. As a school resource officer, Cato said, he enjoys things such as unlocking cars for students.
“There are a lot of good things that happen at the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
While Cato compliments Sheriff Auten, he’s also thought about changes to implement if elected, including making promotions to sergeant and higher require review by a board that decides whether the person merits a promotion.
He also wants to make incident reports more visible on the Sheriff’s Office website and improve transparency with the public about what’s going on inside the department.
Cato says he’ll stand out in a field of several candidates because of his service to the community and his love for the county.
“People who know me know my commitment to them,” Cato said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be as service-minded as me.”
Hannold, a 48-year-old who lives in western Rowan, said he already leads roughly half of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, that he’s progressed toward being sheriff his entire career and is well-suited to take the top spot. He’s proud of how the Rowan County Detention Center has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hannold’s career began in his hometown of Spencer, where he worked for 12 years. He briefly worked for the Mooresville Police Department before returning to Rowan County and joining the Sheriff’s Office. He worked for four and a half years as an investigator at the Sheriff’s Office.
Hannold says he’ll stand out from other candidates because he already holds an administrative position in the department he hopes to lead.
“I know the four candidates personally and know one or two others who are thinking about running, and I’m not being conceded or bragging, but I do think my administrative skills outweigh theirs,” he said.
Hannold said someone from outside the agency could be a good sheriff, “but there’s a long learning curve.” That includes getting buy-in from the current command staff and officers, he said. All members of the command staff are eligible to retire now or in the next few years, he said.
He expects that recruitment and training staff will be a challenge for the new sheriff and wants to restart a social work program that’s been temporarily put on hold because of the pandemic. As part of that program, social workers in jail worked with inmates on drug addiction and mental health. Restarting the program successfully and creating others like it will be beneficial for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office because it will prevent people from being jailed when they may actually need mental health or addiction help.
“Those things right there are going to benefit our community and are going to cut our budget down,” he said.
For Potts, a 56-year-old who lives in Salisbury, law enforcement is the family business. His mother was the first female chief deputy and a one-time candidate for sheriff in Rowan County. His grandfather was also a sheriff’s deputy.
Potts began his law enforcement career in 1988 with the N.C. Highway Patrol. Assignments placed him in Montgomery, Henderson and Rowan counties. He transferred home in 2001 to finish out his career and retired in 2016 with more than 30 years of experience. Because of the work it takes, Potts says he’s kept his law enforcement certification active by helping the Cleveland Police Department as a reserve officer.
Like most of the declared candidates, this is Potts’ first bid for elected office. And like all of the candidates, Potts complimented the tenure of Sheriff Auten.
Potts said he’s a person of good character and integrity who’s always worked to treat people fairly — something that he says is harder to find in modern times.
“I feel like I did my job the way it was supposed to be done,” he said.
If elected, Potts says he wants to be an accessible sheriff for the community and deputies within the department.
“I want to have an open-door policy for the community, any member of the community, or any member of the sheriff’s office,” he said.
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