One of the most anticipated local races features two similar candidates, yet their subtle differences is what stands out.
Incumbent Ben Trotter and challenger Jay Horsley engaged in a civil dialogue regarding the Churchill County Sheriff’s position during the LVN’s Candidates Night on Wednesday at the Fallon Convention Center.
Both candidates agreed on numerous aspects of the department, budget challenges, staff morale and the need for a new jail in advance of the Nov. 4 general election.
Perhaps their biggest difference, though, came to light on a question from the audience late in the debate.
A woman drew a big laugh when she said both are very similar, but she questionned why she should vote them.
Horsley said his leadership style is a major difference between the two men. He noted his 17 years of supervisory experience and believes he has the trust of the department.
“The two of us have said the difference is our leadership styles,” Horsley said. “Quality is what the sheriff’s office should be about. What I saw with Ben is the employees running him more than him being in control of the department. I’m not saying either one is bad, they are different approaches to the job. The difference between us is how we approach leadership.”
Trotter countered Horsley’s assessment he leads by example, has an open door policy, is creative and is a “technician at finance.” He said his open door policy is a “legitimate” open door where his employees are given credence.
In addition, he said his trustworthy nature has created a good workplace.
“They know what we are doing right now is the right way to do it,” Trotter said. “I believe it’s a huge change the way I do things from what it was four years ago, and how we do things as agency four years ago.”
The biggest issue facing the department in the next four years also produced another difference in opinion. Trotter said drugs are the biggest threat to the community.
“Nine-nine point nine percent of the people that reside in my jail are there because of drugs,” he added. “Where there is a demand, there will be a supply. We are working on it.”
Horsley, meanwhile, said providing a high quality of service in tough times of economic standing in the county is major.
“To continue quality of service is probably the biggest challenge,” he said.
A pressing issue for years in the county has been the delayed construction of a new jail. Trotter said overcrowding and safety is more of a concern now and reported the jail had 70 inmates “a few weeks ago,” but its capacity is only for 52.
Compounding matters is the lack of female beds, which totals eight. Of those 70 inmates, 21 were female with only eight beds.
Horsley said there are stop-gap measures to assist with overcrowding such as Court Services to buy “a few years.”
Built in 1973, the jail was out-of-date in 1972, Trotter joked, while Horsley’s more pragmatic approach said the jail was technically obsolete in 1989.
Construction, though, must be approved and financed by the county commissioners.
As for Court Services, Trotter said the Justice and District courts are using the service for the pre-sentenced inmates. However, he said it has not worked because a lack of public safety or law enforcement personnel supervising inmates as a form of alternative sentencing. In that scenario, the numbers in the jail could be lower.
Horsley, though, said the program is not been used as originally discussed when created six years ago. The first phase, he said, is as an “immediate stop gap,” while the second phase was intended for the alternative sentencing program, which was not funded.
“It’s truly not being utilized in the fashion it was originally intended,” he added.
A follow-up query to a question in the school board race targeted the candidate’s opinions of arming teachers.
Trotter said it is “out of his control” on whether the Churchill County School District allows teachers to possess firearms in school. He said his role on the safety committee, though, has allowed him to give his input to administrators.
“I have given them ideas on writing policy because people bring up armed teachers and give them my two cents worth,” Trotter added.
Horsley said he spoke with several teachers and said each one “was adamantly” opposed to the idea. Instead, Horsley said the teachers would rather have a closed campus or a single entry point.
“I tend to lean with what they are saying, which is ‘Having guns already in the schools if something happens just adds to the problem,’” Horsley said.
Another national hot-button issue, meanwhile, has been the acquisition of military grade weapons for local law enforcement. Trotter said the CCSO, Fallon Police Department and Lyon County’s Sheriff’s have engaged in discussion of forming their own SWAT team instead of relying on Carson and Washoe counties.
Although the unit has yet to be created, the CCSO has participated in federal buy-back programs for weapons.
Trotter said based on calls received by those departments, a SWAT team is necessary and would like to purchase an armored vehicle for its use.
Horsley agreed with the buy-back programs as an avenue to save the budget.
“If we have good weaponry to supply our department, then I think the use of government buy-back service is not a bad idea,” Horsley.
Volunteer programs were another topic as Trotter and Horsley discussed the finances and job description. The FPD uses a volunteer program to monitor small-time issues such as parking violations.
The CCSO, though, does have a Reserve Deputy Program with between 9-10 people involved. Trotter said more research is needed to determine the scope of a possible program. He also said he would like to start a youth explorer program.
Horsley said it’s a matter of scale noting the Air Force of “One” and search and rescue. The lack of presence of the Reserve Program, he said, is due to the state legislature cutting funding unless the reserves were “tied to the hip” with an official deputy.
But the reinvigoration of the program is slowly building and attempting to find new ways of attracting recruits, Horsley added.
The two also addressed a concern of holding off federal agents if they were to enter the county to pursue a controversial course of action. Specifically, the Cliven Bundy case north of Las Vegas was the point of reference as both candidates said they would engage federal agents verbally and through
“There is no question in my mind if that happens … I’m going to stand up,” Trotter said. “I would show up in person … and ask them two questions: Do you have a court order … and if they don’t have a court order then they don’t have a good case.”
“As the elected official in this county, we are the top law enforcement official and it would be a fight,” Horsley added. “It would be our job to stand between you and them.”
Trotter was a 15-year veteran of the Fallon Police Department before being elected sheriff in 2010.
He has a bachelor’s degree in finance and master’s in business administration. He has also implemented numerous programs including The Let’s Fight Drug Abuse Program, Lunch with the Law, Ag in the Class and is a member of the Lions, Elks, Eagles and Rotary clubs.
“I truly thank you folks for the opportunity to serve,” Trotter said in his opening remarks. “It’s been the most gratifying professional endeavor I’ve ever taken.”
Horsley worked for more than 22 years with the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office and two years with the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office and is currently retired. Despite his retirement, Horsley is active as the founder of a local running club, pilot for Angel Flights, is a member of the Stillwater Firearms Association and is president of the Retired Public Employees of Nevada.
His career carried responsibilities such as operations captain, supervisor, investigator, field and department training officer, search and rescue liaison and system administrator for the department’s computer network.
“Being a small agency, it exposes officers to all kinds of crimes and cases,” Horsley said. “It made me a well-rounded employee.”