A Monroe County Sheriff's Voice of the Voter debate was held Wednesday evening at the WXXI TV Studios. (Watch the video at the end of this article)
Republican Incumbent Patrick O'Flynn is facing a challenge from Democratic candidate Todd Baxter.
The two took questions from reporters from the Democrat and Chronicle, 13WHAM-TV, WXXI and people from the community at large.
Right off the bat, the candidates tackled the opioid epidemic.
Baxter criticized the lack of recovery beds in the county and the fact that the numbers of opioid related deaths took so long to be released.
"Quite clearly the sheriff stated that he jumped into the opioid epidemic with both feet. We had 169 deaths last year folks. That’s not both feet. If it is its failure."
O’Flynn said it is more than a law enforcement problem. He focused on some of the steps the department has already taken, introducing Vivitrol to maintain cravings, and Narcan to handle overdoses.
"This is something that needs to be addressed on many levels. We already do, as Mr. Baxter stated, have a medicine disposal program that we combined with CVS and zone substations."
Baxter also brought up a community task force that talk about the best ways to handle opioid use. Baxter said O’Flynn has never attended one of these sessions. O’Flynn admitted he hasn’t personally showed up, but always had a representative that attended and briefed him on what was discussed.
A listener question brought up the issue of contracts, wondering who is responsible for employee contracts and if O’Flynn fought for a favorable increase for his employees.
The conversation from there turned to employee morale, with the candidates having very different opinions.
Baxter stated morale was at an all-time low.
"Members are leaving the organization because they don’t feel appreciated and they haven’t had a pay raise. We can’t afford as tax payers, to have those employees leave, experience employees leave."
O’Flynn said that wasn’t the case at all, saying performance by staff isn’t indicating such an issue.
The candidates also discussed Black Lives Matter, and how to deal with all sides of that argument. O’Flynn clearly stated he believes all lives matter, but also believes everyone should be able to speak their opinion within limits.
"As far as my opinion on the different groups, as long as they stay within the confines of the law, and are not violating other people’s rights, I feel that they have the right to express themselves."
Baxter says there are extremes in any movement, especially in the black and blue lives matter groups. He said he would do his best to challenge himself to sit down and talk with people different from him.
"Getting out and meeting people that are different, but also going in environments that are not comfortable. That’s what I have done and that’s what I plan on doing in the future. There will be more organizations in the future that might have contention with police officers. We have to go met with these folks now and build a relationship."
The candidates also discussed sanctuary cities, community relations and the SAFE Act.
The election for this and other local races is November 7th.