Editor’s note: At 34, current Kiowa County Undersheriff Tracy Chance is four years younger than his August 5 opponent for the position of County Sheriff, Kendal Lothman, who served as undersheriff before Chance. A native of Elkhart in extreme southwestern Kansas, Chance began his law enforcement career there in 1998 on the city police department, before switching two years later to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. It was there in Morton County that Chance began his work as a canine officer.
After hearing former Kiowa County Sheriff Ray Stegman and his then-undersheriff, Lothman, were interested in him joining the department in Kiowa County, Chance stopped in one day to visit with Stegman and Lothman, remembering “I liked both of them as soon as I met them.” It was shortly thereafter in January 2002 that Chance took a job as deputy in Kiowa County, becoming the canine officer here a couple of months later. After becoming a sergeant, Chance was tabbed by Sheriff Galen Marble as undersheriff when Tom Burns left a little over a year ago. Chance sat down for an interview with Signal Editor Mark Anderson Friday. That interview follows.
Signal: What prompted you to run for county sheriff?
Chance: I probably wouldn’t have filed if it hadn’t been for a conversation I had with Kendal back in, it was either March or April. I knew he was planning on running and wanted to talk to him about staying on as his undersheriff. He told me he already had someone in mind for undersheriff but that he’d like to keep me on, which made me feel good. But then he told me he planned on making cutbacks (in personnel) because the department was too big. That really hit me wrong, for a couple of reasons. First, four of the officers we have here now came after the tornado, and they came here at some sacrifice. (Those four would be Kevin Smith from Lewis, Kirk Ives from Pratt Police Department, Kyle Quint from Sublette and Colton Schmitt from Salina.) I couldn’t see doing that to the staff. Can we make cuts to the staff right now? No, maybe later, not that I’d let anyone go, but might not replace someone down the road. But right now we need all nine of the full time officers we have (in addition to four part time) because of all the construction we have in town. You get construction crews in town and there’s a lot more drinking and drug use that goes with it, plus the building materials lying around that need to be secure. I don’t know how he (Lothman) could make that assessment anyway because he’s been away from the department a couple of years and he doesn’t know what we’ve been dealing with.
Signal: Did he indicate the size of the cuts in personnel he had in mind?
Chance: Not to me and I didn’t ask, but I’ve heard second hand since then that he was thinking of cutting two positions, and if he kept me there’d have to be three positions cut to make room for me if that’s the case. I’ve also heard second hand from Haviland lately he’s been telling people he might cut the department back to four people, which I guess would be sheriff, undersheriff and two other officers.
Signal: Do you know who you’d have as undersheriff if you were elected?
Chance: Right now, no. I’ve been talking to a friend of mine I served with in Elkhart, Mike Davis. His wife just recently got a job heading up the ER in Dodge City so that complicates things. He knows he’d have to live here so that’s up in the air right now. I don’t have a second choice now.
Signal: You’ve been undersheriff for about a year now. Compare working under Galen Marble as opposed to working under Ray Stegman.
Chance: Ray was a lot more active as a sheriff, always doing something. Galen is a little more laid back. He does a lot of office stuff. Ray tried taking care of everything, more of a hands on type of sheriff.
Signal: If you are elected will your style as sheriff more resemble that of Stegman or Marble?
Chance: I’d hate to take just one, but would try to be a combination of the best of both. From Ray I’d take up being aggressive and trying to be effective relating to people. From Galen I’d like to take some of his knowledge and experience in law enforcement.
Signal: You were in the sheriff’s department four years when Lothman was undersheriff. How would you describe his abilities as a law enforcement officer and potential sheriff?
Chance: Kendal’s a good man. I can’t say anything bad about him. I consider him a friend.
Signal: Would the county be well served if Lothman were elected?
Chance: I would hope so. But with what he told me about cutting back staff I’m a little concerned.
Signal: If Lothman is elected, is there a possibility you’d stay on?
Chance: I’d hope so. It depends on what kind of cuts he’s talking about. Everyone knows the pay here isn’t that great, so I’d have to give it some thought. I’ve enjoyed working with Kendal in the past so it’s not out of the question.
Signal: Now that you bring up the matter of pay, how aggressively will you pursue getting the pay raised for your department?
Chance: I think the last time we did a comparison the pay for us here in Kiowa County was about 20 percent below the average of other Kansas counties comparable to us in size. So a year from now, if I’m sheriff I’d like to get us up to that average. Will I be able to do that? I don’t know, but it’s sure something I’d fight for. I mean, $12 an hour, you can’t buy a $150,000 house on that. They gave us six percent a year ago but then raised our health insurance premium so that got wiped out. They gave us three percent for ’09, but it needs to be more than that a year from now, and I don’t mean for just our department but for all county employees.
Signal: Assuming you are elected sheriff, what adjustments to the department’s current operation would you seek to make in the first six months?
Chance: Galen’s been letting me set priorities lately and one thing I’ve started to do is stressing to the guys, especially the new ones, that they need to get off the highway and into the rural areas of the county, to check the businesses in Haviland, Mullinville and even Belvidere.
Signal: And that’s an emphasis you’d continue if elected?
Chance: Sure. And another thing is that I noticed Kendal said in last week’s interview that serving the community is more important than protecting it. (Actual quote was: “…sometimes the duty to serve is bigger than that of protecting in a community of this size.”) I think it’s the other way around. We have to protect the public first and then serve it as well.
Signal: The remodeling of the jail/sheriff’s office ha been scaled back from the initial plan that called for a major expansion, so the facility will basically be restored to its pre-tornado status with a few tweaks here and there. Do you think the current plans are adequate for the county and if not, where should those plans be improved?
Chance: Right now, it will work for us, but depending on how big the town gets we may have to expand. The jail should have been a greater priority because right now we’re losing $200,000 a year by not having a jail. That’s lost revenue of $80,000 a year from what we were paid by other counties for keeping their inmates plus our costs in having to house them somewhere else, transportation and so forth. You throw in overtime of officers and gas because of that and it’s even more.
Signal: What’s your view of the law enforcement contract between the County and City of Greensburg, and what kind of obligation do you think it places on the sheriff’s department?
Chance: The contract is needed, especially right now with all the construction going on in town, which is one of the reasons we put the two new guys on the department, so we can better fulfill our obligations under the terms of the contract. I’ve been studying the contract in detail lately and starting to see ways we can improve the job we’re doing in living up to its expectations.
Signal: Are there areas of the sheriff’s department you’d like to see improved?
Chance: Galen’s been trying to improve the performance of the 911 system to get some more bugs worked out. It could be better. There’s lots of little things I’d like to see done differently.
Chance: Like our paperwork system, though it’s gotten better the last several months, and I realize part of that is trying to keep records working out of a trailer instead of a permanent office.
Signal: If you are elected next week, what two or three things about Kiowa County law enforcement do you think residents would have noted by this time of year in ’09?
Chance: The people will know all the deputies, and will know me a lot better. The community needs to know all of us, and in different roles. Law enforcement needs to be involved in the community a lot more. I enjoy working with kids by taking kids without a dad hunting and this summer I coached a 10-year-old baseball team I’d like to see the deputies involved with kids and sports more and for them to see us as more than the people that catch the bad guys.
Signal: If this primary is really close, and you narrowly lose to Lothman August 5, would you consider running a write-in campaign for the general election?
Chance: It’s a possibility. I’d have to see what the difference (in votes) is. I’d have to talk it over with my family, but if it’s close, I could.
Signal: Whether it’s you or Lothman finishing a close second, if the runner-up decides to run a write-in campaign, would you be open to an open, public debate with your opponent, sometime around mid-October?
(Editor’s note: When reached by phone and asked Friday afternoon if he would consider a write-in campaign if he finished a close second to Chance, Lothman said, “I’d have to look at that. Maybe if I thought it would do some good, but I’ve seen a number of write-ins in law enforcement over the years and none of them ever worked.”
When asked about Chance’s claim that Lothman had said last spring he intended to cut back the personnel in the department, Lothman responded, “I’ve heard that rumor, but I never said that. I did say something about a shift in personnel from road to jail duty after the jail is done, so I don’t know where the confusion is coming from on this. We fought in the past for more staff so I don’t know why I’d look to cut staff from what it is now unless there was some kind of budgetary consideration. But I’m not looking to downsize the department from what they have now.”)