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Burger faces two challengers in bid for difficult post.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

Lane County Sheriff Russ Burger faces deputy Rick Dotson and retired police officer Daniel Schmitz in the May 20 election for sheriff, which takes place against a backdrop of potential major cuts to the department.

Burger, a three-year incumbent, said experience makes him the right choice to shepherd the department through a possible loss of federal timber funding.

Schmitz wants to try to get more services out of current spending, and Dotson said the department must first improve its standing in the public eye.

If Congress doesn't quickly renew $47 million in annual payments to the county in lieu of historic timber sales, the department could be forced to cut manpower by about one-third and slash the jail beds for local offenders by as much as 70 percent by July 1.

In an effort to preserve patrols and jail capacity, Burger said he would cut jobs in administration, resource development, records and communications.

Burger also wants to expand the jail's capacity for local offenders. There are just under 100 beds currently, but the number could drop to as low as 28 if the federal money is discontinued; a county of Lane's size should have between 1,000 and 1,500 beds for local offenders, Burger said.

Burger said he would try to reduce recidivism through offender drug and alcohol treatment and the Sherman Center, which matches criminals to rehabilitation services.

Both would require more money from taxpayers, Burger said - but any push to increase public spending on the department must start in the community, he added. Burger doesn't plan to introduce a money measure following the Lane County Board of Commissioners' "lukewarm" reception to the idea recently, he said.

"If it's a citizens' initiative and they very vocally tell the commissioners that's what they want, the commissioners will do it," Burger said.

Dotson, an 18-year deputy in the department, said voters continue to reject money measures for public safety due to distrust of county government and tax proposals being too large.

Dotson said that if elected, he would gauge the public desire for higher property taxes that could be spent on basic services such as jail capacity or patrol.

But first, the department must restore accountability, Dotson said: He would create an advisory board to act on citizen concerns about county government and the legal system.

"The system is broken," Dotson said. "You don't have a voice if something (unfair) happens to you in the court system."

Dotson said his civil rights were violated years ago during proceedings in Lane County Circuit Court that followed his divorce. He said his subsequent efforts to seek redress of his concerns prompted Burger to submit him to a mental fitness evaluation.

Dotson said he was found fit for duty, but that when he resumed his legal appeals, Burger suspended his use of a firearm. The department has tried to reinstate his use of a weapon, Dotson said, but he has declined, adding that he doesn't have time currently for the extra duties asked of officers who carry a gun.

About 90 percent of the department's 230 deputies are qualified and authorized to carry a gun. But staff working within the secure perimeter of the county jail do not carry a gun due to risks, the department said.

Burger declined to comment on Dotson's case, citing federal law that requires health data to be kept private.

Schmitz, a former deputy and police officer in California who retired in 2003, said he's not taking political contributions. He hopes to reach voters through speaking engagements, word-of-mouth and "walk the pavement" campaigning.

His key plank is to replace vacant deputy positions in the jail with less expensive corrections officers, in an attempt to free up money for patrols.

Many officers committed to working in the jail don't need the additional training and cost that comes with ensuring that they can work outside as deputies responding to calls for service, Schmitz said.

The move won't solve all of the department's fiscal problems, Schmitz said. Given dim prospects for future federal funding, he added, state lawmakers must relieve restrictions on property taxes that support all county services.

"I do not support special taxes or measures that are supposed to benefit law enforcement, because in my experience they do not work," Schmitz said on his Web site.

Unlike Burger, Schmitz said rehabilitation tools such as the Sherman Center "do not make fiscal sense" if basic services such as the jail and patrol are inadequately funded.

But like the sheriff, Schmitz would cut from areas other than those two services.

Schmitz said it appears the department can more easily absorb cuts to administrative staff than line personnel. There could also be savings in changing the sheriff's fleet to more fuel-efficient vehicles, he added.

"Law enforcement has always had this tunnel vision - `That's the way we've done it, that's the way we're going to do it,'?" Schmitz said. "We need to be more proactive about getting every penny out of that dollar."

The candidates

RUSS BURGER, 45

Political experience: Oregon Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee; Oregon Trail Council, executive board

Key endorsements: Lane County Board of Commissioners; District Attorney Doug Harcleroad

Employment: Lane County sheriff

Education: Bachelor's degree, Oregon State University, 1985

Family: wife, Lynn; sons Kyle and Logan

Pastime: Mechanic and coach for sons' motocross racing

Last book read: "Lonesome Dove," by Larry McMurtry

Contact info: www.russburgerforsheriff.com; info@russburgerforsheriff.com

RICK DOTSON, 45

Political experience: None

Key endorsements: None

Employment: Deputy, Lane County Sheriff's Office

Education: Attended Lane Community College

Family: Sons Jake and Hunter; daughter Carlee

Pastime: Racquetball

Last book read: "Bring It On," by Pat Robertson

Contact info: rapidfire122@comcast.net

DANIEL SCHMITZ, 42

Political experience: None

Key endorsements: Friends of Springfield School Children

Employment: Senior PC and hardware services specialist, LibertyBank, Eugene

Education: Attended Crafton Hills College, Yucaipa, California

Family: wife, Michele; daughters Courtney and Kelsie

Pastime: Camping

Last book read: "Edge of Battle," by Dale Brown

Contact info: www.myspace.com/schmitz4lanecosheriff; schmitz4lanecosheriff@gmail.com
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Title Annotation:Elections; The victor confronts the possibility of budget cuts that would slash jobs by one-third
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 1, 2008
Words:1004
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