Each candidate for the Houghton County Sheriff’s position had an opportunity to make their case Wednesday night for why they are the best person for the job. The order was selected randomly, their names on strips of paper that were pulled out of a pen cup. With the public and media onlooking they all faced a three-person panel consisting of Prosecuting Attorney Brittany Bulleit, Probate Judge Fraser Strome, and Clerk Jennifer Kelly.
It was unanimous that the biggest law enforcement concerns facing Houghton County are drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental health. There were differences among how best to tackle those issues, though. Michigan Tech Public Safety Chief Brian Cadwell spoke first. He discussed his long career in law enforcement and as an elected official. His first priority would be to reach out to townships across the county and find out what their needs are. The north differs from the south and that may allow resources to be prioritized to where they can be most useful.
Special Agent Tami Sleeman is a Keweenaw native and has been in law enforcement as far away as Colorado. She is currently with the Department of Criminal Investigation in Wisconsin. Sleeman said that the challenges here are being seen across the Upper Midwest and she has worked first hand with sheriffs in her district to find solutions. She believes she will be able to offer a fresh perspective if selected.
Michigan Tech Public Safety Lieutenant Marc Geborkoff said that he felt it was important to be involved with area school districts. He wanted children to know that police are part of the community and not something to be afraid of, that they are not around only when something bad is happening. Retired State Trooper Steve Laux echoed those sentiments saying he used to try to create a schedule that allowed him to have lunch with his kids on a regular basis, and deputies would be encouraged to find a way to do the same.
Detective Lieutenant Josh Saaranen said that he would prioritize rehabilitation first. He talked about the great work the drug treatment court does for the county and how the issues facing the area cannot be solved by punishment alone.
Undersheriff Kevin Coppo has run the jail for the past nine years and had the most knowledge about the budget and financial concerns of the department. He differentiated himself from others by focusing on mental health, especially the cost of transporting patients elsewhere for treatment.
Adam Rajala has 14 years of experience in the department, and he relayed a story about his first interview with Sheriff Brian McLean at 21. He told McLean that one day he wanted to sit in his seat and now is his opportunity, even if it is under unfortunate circumstances. Rajala curently runs several area businesses and he highlighted his experience with budgets and financial matters.
A decision will be announced at a special meeting held on September 15th, next Wednesday, at 5:30.