By Natalie Simms
We are still two years away from the 2020 election for Floyd County Sheriff, but with two candidates already declared and more expected to come, it already is the talk of the town.
Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, who was first elected in 2004, has announced his retirement effective December 2020. The newly elected sheriff will take office in January 2021. Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell and Capt. Dave Roberson, who is the supervisor of field services for the sheriff’s office, have announced they are running. But look for five others to jump into the race in the months ahead.
“When Sheriff Burkhalter announced his retirement, as his Chief Deputy, I knew that many people in our community would expect me to run and to continue to lead our operations,” says Caldwell. “I have been encouraged by many co-workers, community and business leaders to run. I wanted to confirm to those members of our community that I am committed to keeping the sheriff’s office a positive force in our county. It’s an exciting time for me to realize this long-time goal and to get started.”
Roberson says word was spreading quickly on his intended bid.
“My campaign team and I had always planned to announce mid-year but it got to the point where I was being approached daily by people who were anticipating my decision to run. These people were excited and wanted to be part of the movement, so we felt that the time was right to capitalize on this momentum,” he says. “I can’t express how grateful I am for all of the encouraging words and offers of personal and monetary support.”
By announcing their candidacies so early, Caldwell and Roberson will have plenty of time of start earning voter support and contributions. But with more candidates expected to enter the race, the focus will come down to the May 2020 primaries and general election that fall.
“I feel like I already stand out from the pack because no current opponent or possible opponent, outside of a sheriff or former sheriff, has actually ran a sheriff’s office operation before as I have for well over a decade now as chief deputy,” says Caldwell. “I will be making my case in the coming months to our community that I am more prepared to be sheriff than anyone else and I feel good about that.”
Roberson feels his supervisory experience over the four divisions of the Sheriff’s Office during his 23-year career will make him a lead contender for the job.
“However, as I’ve said before, while experience is certainly necessary, effective leaders need more than that — they must be able to connect with, empathize with, motivate, and inspire people to want to do and achieve greater things. This is the way I’ve always tried to operate with my teams and I will continue to do so,” he says.
“One of my priorities is to meet and foster relationships with as many citizens as possible and really listen to them. This is something I’ve done throughout my career as I’ve worked in our various communities in Floyd County. Building these personal connections with citizens and my fellow employees is critical to my work. It’s important to hear the issues on people’s minds and the concerns they have so that I can help find solutions. This is something I will continue to do regardless of what happens in this election because it’s personal to me.”
Both Republicans, their competition already has raised a few eyebrows. Last month, Caldwell held a meet-and-greet on a Thursday evening. Roberson and his campaign issued their formal intention-to-run announcement smack in the middle of Caldwell’s event. The timing was intentional.
Both candidates already have groups of volunteers ready to campaign.
“We have assembled a great campaign team called Citizens for Roberson full of people who are dedicated, motivated, talented and who care about this community as much as I do. I’m fortunate to have so many wonderful people on the team and thankful to those who have reached out just since our announcement expressing a desire to be involved in some way. It’s been incredible,” says Roberson.
“My focus for the immediate future will be continuing to meet and listen to citizens from across the community, raising the funds that will be necessary to execute a successful campaign, and sharing elements of my platform at a series of events in the coming months.”
As for Caldwell, he has already built a number of relationships in the county as chief deputy and will be working with his team on fundraising.
“I have an experienced campaign chair, a committee from different backgrounds and volunteers from all parts of the county. I have events and fundraisers planned out all the way through to the primary in 2020. We have already had one fundraiser last month which went very well, so you could say we are up and running smoothly,” he says.
No matter who else joins the race, Burkhalter says he is staying neutral in the election.
“It’s a very good problem to have with two members of my command staff running for office. They both have strong followings and been with me from the very start. I’m supporting both candidates. They are both good guys,” says Burkhalter. “But my number one goal is to the Sheriff’s Office, our staff and our employees.”
With that said, elections bring a certain amount of pressure to employees at the Sheriff’s Office to support one candidate over another. In order to avoid any disruption to the office, Burkhalter has asked both candidates to take a leave of absence for the campaign.
“I have already spoken with both of them and they will be taking a leave of absence in January so they can campaign without employees feeling the brunt of the election. We want our staff to feel comfortable supporting one candidate over another without fear of retribution,” he says.
Burkhalter has already asked Maj. Tommy McGuire to step in and serve as an interim chief deputy when that time comes.