2 local races on Tuesday’s primary ballot

Voters will decide candidates for sheriff, Assembly

Area voters Tuesday will decide which candidates will appear on the ballot in November in the races for Shawano County sheriff and 6th District State Assembly.

Former chief deputy John Gutho is challenging incumbent Sheriff Adam Bieber for the Republican nomination for that office. The winner will face Shawano Police Officer Keith Sorlie, who is running as an independent.

Richard Sarnwick, of Shawano, and William Switalla, of Wittenberg, are competing for the Democratic nomination for the 6th District Assembly seat. One of them will go up against incumbent Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, in the Nov. 6 election.

Employee turnover and department morale have been issues in the sheriff’s race, though the candidates have differed on how serious a problem it is.

“One of my goals on day one is to get together with command staff, the line staff, and figure out what’s going on,” Gutho said during a candidate forum last month.

Gutho said he has also been told that morale at the department “is at an all-time low.”

He said the sheriff needs to be able to connect with his employees.

“Give them the credit if they came up with an idea, and you embraced the idea, then recognize that employee,” he said, “And don’t take credit that it was my idea.”

Bieber did not attend the forum but provided written responses to the topics that were to be addressed.

“Morale at our office is very good, evidenced by our work product and low turnover rate,” Bieber wrote.

Bieber maintained that the turnover rate at the department is average to below average compared to many other departments across the state.

“In fact, compared to other departments within Shawano County we are doing very well,” Bieber wrote.

Gutho disputed Bieber’s statement, saying the “cold, hard facts and research” show there is a turnover problem.

Sorlie, who also attended the forum, said an open records request he filed has shown that 39 people have left the jail division over the past four years — basically amounting to a complete turnover of jail staff — while 13 employees have quit dispatch during that time and eight deputies have left the patrol, investigative and administrative divisions.

Gutho also addressed staffing issues at the forum.

“We need to make sure we have our personnel spread across the county so our response time is minimal,” he said.

Staffing in the northwest part of the county is particularly lacking, according to Gutho.

“We have nobody in the Birnamwood, Aniwa, Mattoon area,” he said.

In his written statement on the topic, Bieber wrote that resources are currently spread out evenly throughout the county.

“When there is a community experiencing an influx or rise in crime we tend to focus extra resources and personnel to those areas,” he wrote.

In an interview with The Shawano Leader in May, Gutho said he has a broader range of experience than either of the other candidates.

“I can confidently say that I am the only candidate that has the budgetary experience, and several years of budgetary experience with multi-million dollar budget, and as well as management experience,” he said.

Gutho oversaw the budget as chief deputy.

Gutho started with the sheriff’s office in 1988 as a jailer, then moved up through dispatch, patrol and the captain’s position before serving for eight years as chief deputy. He retired from the sheriff’s department in January 2016.

“I’m the only candidate that worked in all divisions,” he said. “So I have some knowledge of how that works.”

Gutho has also served on the Tigerton Village Board as president for many years and is chief of the Tigerton Fire Department.

“I dedicated my career to Shawano County,” he said. “My entire law enforcement was with the county of Shawano.”

Gutho said he would be open and accessible if elected sheriff.

“One thing you will get with me is integrity and transparency,” he said. “I’m not going to tell somebody what they want to hear. I will deal with facts and be able to back those facts up. If people want to meet the sheriff, I will make myself available to meet face-to-face with them. I will deal with anybody.”

Bieber was a Shawano police officer starting in 2003 until he challenged and defeated former sheriff Randy Wright in the 2014 election.

“What I’m doing is running off my record the last 3½ years, what I’ve been able to accomplish with my new team and that’s what I’m going to focus on,” Bieber said in an interview in May.

“I think the public has been happy with what we’ve been able to do, and I personally believe we’ve done more in the last three years than the last eight years,” Bieber said. “I’m focusing on what we’ve done there what we’ve changed at the sheriff’s office, and I’m just focusing on the future, what we’d like to see done and continue to work on in Shawano County.”

Bieber pointed to steps taken to address the problem of money going missing from the jail, including adding some security cameras and changing money handling policies.

“I want to make sure people know that we’ve fixed that problem,” he said.

Bieber said the department now has a better working relationship with the district attorney’s office and the County Board.

“We’re working closely with the district attorney’s office,” he said. “We’re working better with our County Board. Within the last two years, the County Board has done more for the employees and the county. Moving it forward with a drug court, evidence building, body cameras. When you improve relations and you’re respectful and work together, good things happen.”

There is less difference of opinion between the two Democratic candidates in the Assembly race, with Sarnwick and Switalla on the same page on many issues, including their opposition to using taxpayer money to fund private schools, the need for environmental protections, including more possible regulation of large concentrated animal feeding operations and stricter enforcement of regulations already in place, and removing barriers to voting put in place by the Republican-controlled Legislature and governor.

Switalla is making his second bid for the Assembly seat after being defeated by Tauchen two years ago.

Switalla said during a forum in June that he is running for the same reasons he serves on the Wittenberg Village Board and Shawano County Board.

“I do it because I care about the people,” he said. “I care about small businesses. I care about my children and their future. I care about their education and especially their health care.”

Sarnwick, a Shawano doctor making his first foray into politics, criticized at the same forum the current political environment both in Wisconsin and nationally.

“Today, people all over the United States are voting for agendas that put fear and, even worse, hatred at the fore,” he said. “People are listening to the loudest and angriest voices.”

Sarnwick said he wanted to restore Wisconsin’s reputation as a progressive and fiscally responsible state.

“For generations, this state was held up as a shining example of a place where people and not big money came first and where hopes and aspirations counted,” he said. “I’m running as a Democrat to build bridges, not build walls.”

Voters Tuesday will also choose candidates in the governor’s race and several other state races.