Let's get ready to rumble 

The Indy sizes up the candidates in the key June 8 primary races.

Page 4 of 4

Missoula County Sheriff, Democratic primary

Wide-open shot

Why this race matters: Controversial Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin dropped an election year bombshell this January when he announced his retirement from law enforcement effective December 2010. Now the race for county sheriff is wide open for the first time in decades, and Democratic candidates Bob Parcell and Brad Giffin are talking serious change. The winner will face Republican Nick Lisi—running unopposed in the primary—and Independent Carl Ibsen in the general election this November. Though it's just one step toward office, Missoula has elected Democratic sheriffs since at least 1998.

Name: Bob Parcell

Age: 60

Background: Retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and former Forest Service smokejumper

Current position in Sheriff's Office: Senior Deputy Sheriff II

With the Missoula County Sheriff's Office: 28 years

Website: www.parcellforsheriff.org

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

The sheriff's office has been the focus of some public criticism during McMeekin's tenure. If elected, how do you plan to right the ship, so to speak?

You have to have openness, you have to have access for the public. It's there now, but maybe it's not as good as it should be. It can always be improved...You can have a good method of bringing [the public] in. We can have various classes, they can come in and see what's going on. We need more reserves, and we need cadets. We can work with the city to do ride-alongs. The more people know, the more they trust you.

What do you think will be the deciding factor in winning voter support in the primary?

It's basically leadership. If you have a moral problem anywhere, where does that come from? It doesn't come from the lower positions. Everything comes down from the top, the general atmosphere of the department is set from the top down. Leadership is the biggest issue in this race.

The City of Missoula is currently discussing expanding police authority beyond the city limits. How do you plan to address that possible overlap?

It's very important to keep the cooperation and the coordination between the city and the county. These problems just outside the city limits come about because of this hop, skip and jump thing with annexation. If I think there's a problem as sheriff, I'm going to go to [Police Chief Mark Muir] and work it out...We understand and give the city their due and we let them enforce the law where they can. We're spread thinner, and they have more people because they operate in densely populated areas.

Missoula County continues to grow, which raises specific issues for the sheriff's department. How ready are you to tackle those issues?

I think I'm ready because I have the wherewithal. I don't plan on being the answer man, and I don't want any yes-men around me. I want guys that question everything and are willing to tell me, "Sir, I think you're doing this wrong," or "Why don't we try this?"...All you got to do is get off their backs, take their saddles off, give them the reins and let them fly. They'll take it and run with it. I guarantee you they'll find the answers if you give them the right to do so. Don't think you're the only guy that has the answers.

How many guns do you own?

I'm a big hunter, I'm a military man. They multiply too, you know? Put two of them together and if the wife isn't looking pretty soon there's another one. [Final count: 24 rifles, 16 pistols and one shotgun].

Lastly, McMeekin's been rocking a pretty gnarly mustache all these years. If elected, will you be carrying on that facial hair tradition?

I can't grow a mustache to beat the band. I look stupid in a mustache only. If I'm going to do it, I'm going with a beard. As a smokejumper, I had a real nice reddish, blondish beard. Beards I like. Mustaches? I did that one time, looked at myself, and it was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in my life.

••••••••••

Name: Brad Giffin

Age: 49

Background: U.S. Marine Corps veteran and 2006 candidate for Missoula County Sheriff

Current position in Sheriff's Office: Assistant Patrol Commander

With the Missoula County Sheriff's Office: 20 years

Website: www.giffin4sheriff.org

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

The sheriff's office has been the focus of some public criticism during McMeekin's tenure. If elected, how do you plan to right the ship, so to speak?

I don't really think the ship is listing, to tell you the truth. I think the level of professionalism of the sheriff's deputies that currently work there is second to none, and that applies equally to the detention officers. They're all highly competent, ethical people. You can look at any department and find 2 or 3 percent of people who are going to make mistakes, whether they do it intentionally or accidentally.

What do you think will be the deciding factor in winning voter support in the primary?

Obviously the budget's a big challenge. You have revenues that are drying up and services from the sheriff's office are already at a premium. We just don't have any extra people. After the layoffs in the mid-'70s, none of those positions were ever refilled and Missoula County hasn't gotten any smaller.

Unfortunately, dealing with an electorate is a lot like dealing with a jury. You just never really know for sure what appeals to people. The people I've spoken to extensively over this campaign want a more open and accessible sheriff's office, and that's part of my platform...It should be as simple as going to a website and being directed to the proper place to get in contact with someone who can arrange the service [you need].

The City of Missoula is currently discussing expanding police authority beyond the city limits. How do you plan to address that possible overlap?

My understanding of what [Muir] wants to do is simply provide his people the ability to drive from an area in the city through the county to another island of city, and if they see a breach of peace they can act as a peace officer instead of just a citizen...For us as a sheriff's office, to bring on additional people is going to require more taxes and that's just not a popular option. We're as thin as we can be right now. We're living within our budget means, and to increase the public safety fund is the only way you could get more sheriff's deputies on the street.

Missoula County continues to grow, which raises specific issues for the sheriff's department. How ready are you to tackle those issues?

From the time I started working there I was instantly attracted to moving up the chain to try to make change in the department. And I've made a significant amount of change from the bottom...You can sit back in the department and do as little or as much as you want. I think it's incumbent on the guy who actually runs the ship to have as much exposure to all the different aspects of the department as possible

How many guns do you own?

Personally owned guns? Five or six.

Lastly, McMeekin's been rocking a pretty gnarly mustache all these years. Will you be carrying on that facial hair tradition?

I'm not going to be wearing one myself. I'm perfectly comfortable clean-shaven...That's just my style.

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