Sheriff, deputy duel for position in Columbia County

Walt Hessler faces a challenge from Mark Franklin.

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DAYTON -- Just four years after a deputy unseated the incumbent sheriff, a deputy and sheriff are again squaring off in Columbia County.

This year, Sheriff Walt Hessler is the incumbent and Deputy Mark Franklin is the challenger, a turnabout for Hessler from 2006, when as a write-in candidate he unseated then-Sheriff Mike Berglund.

Franklin says camaraderie in the department and ensuring officers work closer together and are sufficiently trained are the most important issues in this election. Hessler said the most important issues are qualifications and proactive law enforcement.

Both candidates attended a forum in the city earlier this month. Audience members focused on the use of grant money, the logistics of the National Night Out, the increase in property theft in Dayton, updates to the Dayton jail and whether Dayton will have a K9 unit.

The issue of grant money deals specifically with a significant grant the county received to reduce under-age drinking. A portion of the grant money had to be returned to the state.

"We sent back almost $80,000 in grant money to the state. In my opinion there was a lack of oversight," Franklin said. He had proposed using the extra money to hire a new deputy who could work closely with the high school.

While Hessler says the grant was successful and ongoing, he disagrees about hiring a new deputy.

"If you can't afford an individual before the grant comes, there is no way you can afford them after the grant goes away."

The questions about the National Night Out centered on whether smoking would be allowed at the upcoming family event in the park. Hessler opposes a ban on smoking during the event, while Franklin supports a ban.

"Being a prior smoker myself, I do not take kindly to being forced into doing anything," Hessler said. "The reason I was dead-set against the non-smoking at National Night Out was the way it was approached."

Franklin disagrees.

"I don't think it is asking too much to have to curtail or at least go somewhere else to smoke for three to four hours when there is a family function going on in the park," he said.

The next question dealt with efforts to combat the increased property threats in Dayton.

"We have readjusted schedules, we have doubled the manpower on the street, we have exited the cars and gone on foot up and down Main Street, up and down the alleys," Hessler said.

"I think the problem is that we need to be proactive on this, rather than reactive," Franklin said.

In terms of updating the Dayton jail, both candidates support updating the jail, assuming appropriate funding can be found.

The candidates have differing ideas as to whether Dayton needs its own K9 unit to aid in solving crime. The former K9 unit consisted of a dog that lacked certification in drug work.

Franklin said he would like to have a K9 unit to help solve crimes in Dayton, while Hessler said he thinks Dayton could rely on the working relationships with surrounding communities like Walla Walla.

When asked what the biggest difference is between the candidates, each responded differently.

"I am more of a doer; I am not a politician," Hessler said.

"My thinking is a little more creative, and you need creativity in economic times like this," Franklin said. He also stresses that he is more progressive than Hessler.

Joe Volpert can be reached at joevolpert@wwub.com.

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