The Republican candidate for Buncombe County Sheriff, whoever it will be, faces an uphill battle. In 2018, first-time Democratic candidate Quentin Miller bested Republican Shad Higgins by more than 26 percentage points, and Republican voter numbers in the county have since decreased.
Nevertheless, two retired lawmen are vying for the GOP nomination to challenge the incumbent. Jeff Worley, a former N.C. State Highway Patrol officer and current law enforcement trainer, has the backing of both Higgins and former Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan. Former Buncombe Deputy Ben Jaramillo did not list any endorsements but brings 19 years of experience with the county, including patrol, court security and jail duties.
(The first local candidate to declare his intentions for 2022 — AJ Fox, who announced his run for Buncombe County Sheriff in April 2019 — died April 3. While his name will still appear on the Republican ballot, any votes for him will not be tallied.)
The name of each candidate is linked to their responses in the post:
Occupation: Retired deputy sheriff
Previous candidacy or offices held: None
Key endorsements: Did not answer.
Amount of money raised: $1,200
Top three donors: Did not answer.
What unique perspective do you bring to the office of sheriff? According to the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, the office of sheriff is a North Carolina constitutionally required office with common-law duties such as operation of the jail, law enforcement, service of process and courts (bailiffs). I served the office for 19 years until my retirement and worked in the jail (advancing to sergeant), law enforcement (advancing to field training officer and K-9 handler and trainer) and courts as a bailiff, which additionally gave me knowledge of service of process.
What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the Sheriff’s Office, and how would you address it? All of the deaths of inmates and assaults on officers in the detention center. I would personally investigate the reasons these deaths and assaults are occurring and would dedicate resources to hire and train qualified personnel, e.g., medical staff and certified detention officers, as needed.
What specific opportunities for collaboration do you see with other public safety agencies, including the Asheville Police Department and the local court system? There is a breakdown in communications between agencies in many areas. We take an oath to protect and serve all residents in our county. To do this, I believe we need to open that flow of communication with each agency. I further believe that we need to partner with these agencies to develop critical resources that would ensure our residents’ safety.
If you could choose any additional professional development training for the Sheriff’s Office and its deputies, what would it be? I would choose training in diversity, recognizing mental health issues, finding and identifying narcotics, and preventing human trafficking. I would also work to grow each officer in the area best suited to their talents to aid in retention and slow the amount of monies spent on training new officers. The N.C. Justice Academy is one training center that provides excellent free training for officers. I would use the academy, as well as many free federal training programs.
Previous candidacy or offices held: Did not answer.
Key endorsements: Former Sheriff Van Duncan, Buncombe County; N.C. Troopers Association; Woodfin Mayor Jerry Vehaun; Shad Higgins, local business owner and former Republican Buncombe County Sheriff candidate
Amount of money raised: Did not answer.
Top three donors: Did not answer.
What unique perspective do you bring to the office of sheriff? I offer an easily overlooked but important perspective: my experience and focus on leadership of the agency as a whole and our community at large. It is easy to think of the job solely as one of law enforcement and fail to understand that a successful sheriff must be more to people than a chief law enforcement officer. A sheriff must be a strong communicator and listener who remains open to community ideas while remaining decisive when needed.
What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the Sheriff’s Office, and how would you address it? Poor morale, lack of discernible vision and personnel shortages, all related to one another, have led to the professional decline of our Sheriff’s Office. We must continue to look toward professional leadership throughout the ranks as the corrective action needed. Making the training and rewarding of these principles a part of the culture, from the very top down, must be a priority. We must not be afraid to ask for this type of guidance from the outside as well.
What specific opportunities for collaboration do you see with other public safety agencies, including the Asheville Police Department and the local court system? We sometimes think in narrow terms relating directly to daily law enforcement actions like answering calls for service. I would suggest that much greater gains come from planned collaboration that has resulted from long and trusting relationships and regular collaboration-driven meetings between potential public safety partners. These types of collaborations are simply not happening with the Sheriff’s Office now because these important relationships between agencies have wilted. My goal is to bring all the public safety elements together again.
If you could choose any additional professional development training for the Sheriff’s Office and its deputies, what would it be? Interpersonal communication and advanced leadership training are offered inside and outside of traditional law enforcement resources. We should always be training the next sheriffs and other leaders of Buncombe County. That means we must offer personnel the cutting edge of professional training. To have the most professional and motivated agency possible, it must put communication and leadership first. When both of these topics are part of the professional heart of all employees, the Sheriff’s Office can actually succeed.