Holly Lake Ranch hosts political forum
Political season moved into the candidate forum stage Monday with the first in a series of public and private gatherings.
The Holly Lake Hawkins Republican Club hosted candidates for Wood County sheriff and Precinct Three constable.
They face off in the March 3 primary, and should the four-way sheriff’s race go to a runoff, it would be held May 26.
Other notable dates are Feb. 3, the final day to register to vote in the primary, and Feb. 18-28 for early voting.
Each race features an incumbent. With Holly Lake Ranch being a part of Precinct Three, those candidates were of particular interest to the local residents, whose gated community is second only to Mineola in population in Wood County.
Incumbent Gary Dixon and challenger John McQueen gave opening remarks and answered questions from the moderator as well as from the audience.
To a question about the biggest problem facing the “constable function,” Dixon said the rural nature of the county offers plenty of places to hide for “drug heads,” and patrolling on a regular basis to be on the look out for such activity can help.
McQueen said more proactive patrolling and assisting other agencies can help the office “go a lot further.”
In a theme that continued with the sheriff candidates, Dixon and McQueen gave their take on inter-agency cooperation.
Dixon said he backs up Hawkins police and the sheriff’s department on a regular basis.
“You have to work with the area departments, work as a team,” he said.
McQueen said, “If it’s operating the way it should, you work with all agencies.” They should share intel and all be on the same page.
More specifically, the two were asked how they would interact with the Holly Lake Ranch security department.
McQueen said the constable should interact with the security staff just as it should with the sheriff’s office.
Dixon said he patrols the area regularly and works with the department on cases.
Each was asked what one thing voters should remember.
McQueen said service and integrity. Dixon said working with other agencies to do things correctly.
Three of the four sheriff’s candidates answered questions.
Callie Lawrence was unable to attend because she is a high school debate coach, and her students qualified for state competition in Austin.
In his introduction, Sheriff Tom Castoo broached a subject that came up later in questioning.
“I’ve heard we don’t play well together,” he said.
The sheriff noted that he works with agencies he trusts, a remark repeated later. He was challenged to answer which agencies during his closing remarks, which resulted in an exchange with Cody Castleberry, whom Castloo said had interrupted him.
In his opening, Quitman Police Chief Kelly Cole said that there is an issue with agencies working together, and those can be worked out and those conditions improved.
Candidate James Schaffner said that communication and working together can help with fighting crime.
The three were questioned about a perceived culture of harassment, retaliation and intimidation in the sheriff’s office.
Schaffner said citizens should be treated with integrity, respect and fairness, and that his officers know that.
“It looks like we hurt somebody’s feeling,” Castloo said.
The police are seen as the bad guys, he said. His administration has given the county professional officers, and they will treat citizens with the respect that they are shown.
He said on the complaints he has received, he has checked the body cam and dash cam footage, and he has not found one that bore out the complaints.
Cole said that behavior won’t be tolerated if it is truly happening. He added that if several complain about the same thing, there is something there.
Other questions included immigration, working with the Holly Lake Ranch security department and whether personnel changes would be in order.
Castloo fielded a question about his friendship with District Judge Jeff Fletcher and the state judicial commission requirement of more than an arms length relationship.
Castloo said he took offense to the question, and that the two are friends who have lunch together and hunt and fish, but they do not discuss cases.
He chafed at the apparent assumption that they are doing something wrong.
On a question about the problems stemming from illegal drugs in the county, Castloo said his department has taken a different tact, going after higher ups in the chain rather than spending county resources going after lower-level players.
He added to expect some indictments in the coming weeks.
Cole noted this was happening just in time for the election.
He said all of those involved need to be taken off the streets, from the smallest players on up.
Even if that means running them out of the county, at least they are not around Wood County citizens, he said.
He wants to see Wood County known as an area where drug dealers do not want to go.
Schaffner said he wants to have meetings with the area police chiefs so all can be on the same page, and look into forming a drug task force.
He wants to add a drug dog, and perhaps two, and work more on highway interdiction.
Cole concluded that the voters are looking for some change, and he can offer that.
Schaffner noted that all three had taken different paths in their law enforcement careers, and his was coming from the street. He has a commitment to the community, he said.
Castloo said this is a serious election and it is about leadership of the largest police agency in the county.