Candidates say leadership crucial

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2003

Leadership is a quality that takes time and experience to hone, incumbent Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell said. &uot;You’re not born with it. It comes about through experience and constant training. I couldn’t be in this position without it.&uot;

Ronny Brown, sheriff’s candidate opposing Ferrell, agreed. &uot;A leader can take his staff and employees places they couldn’t otherwise go, showing them direction and being persistent and determined in doing the right thing.&uot;

Ferrell and Brown face off in the Tuesday general election. Both took time recently to talk about leadership as well as personal and professional experiences that qualify them to be sheriff.

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Incumbent points to results

Ferrell said leadership has taken him to the levels he now experiences both as sheriff of Adams County and as a key figure in state and national sheriff associations. He completed a term as president of the National Sheriffs Association earlier this year.

With all the honor and prestige attached to his serving in the national office, a volunteer job with no pay, the most important job still is the one at home, Ferrell said.

&uot;In the sheriff’s business, the number one priority is a safe community, one in which you can look back on programs you’ve started and see results. If a sheriff is not a leader, the community will be in chaos.&uot;

Ferrell points to the Adams County Metro Narcotics Unit, begun in 1988, soon after he became sheriff. &uot;The tantamount problem in Adams County is drugs,&uot; he said. The unit established by federal funds to fight sale of illegal drugs continues to attack that problem head on.

&uot;It’s one of the most successful metro narc units in the state,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;We’re audited biannually by the state and also audited by federal officers from the Department of Justice. They say we’re by far the most efficiently run unit.&uot;

Many other programs are evidence of his leadership, Ferrell said. &uot;We try to keep up with the times and address issues as they appear. We’ve seen an increase in senior citizen population, and there are projects we’ve begun that will affect that group.&uot;

He named the Triad program, established by the sheriff’s office, the Natchez Police Department and the Senior Citizens Center; the RUOK program, which targets older people who live alone or are shut-ins, makes calls to them to check on their well being and sends up alarms when they don’t respond to the calls.

Ferrell said his experiences with the National Sheriffs Association may indicate that the more than 3,000 other sheriffs in the organization saw his leadership potential. The results of serving on that national board and moving up the ranks to president, however, furthered his opportunities to become a better, stronger sheriff.

&uot;It’s a highlight of my career,&uot; he said. &uot;You are chosen on your leadership and management abilities.&uot; He completed a mini course at the National FBI Academy, an executive level program administered by the Law Enforcement Executive Development System.

Ferrell was the first Mississippi sheriff elected president of the association since its founding in 1940. &uot;That speaks volumes for how far we’ve come in Mississippi. We have been stereotyped for years. It has been one of my goals to offset the negativism toward the South, Mississippi and certainly Natchez and Adams County.&uot;

His involvement with the national organization has not interfered with his attention to duties at home, Ferrell said. &uot;My travel usually was planned on weekends, to go and come back in a day’s time. And in today’s world, the computer, cell phone, pager and fax all make it easier to be in constant contact.&uot;

Ferrell said he has had many mentors, but his father, Billy Ferrell, the Adams County sheriff he succeeded, was the most important. And as the son of a sheriff, he grew up in the midst of other sheriffs throughout the state, he said.

A 1969 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Ferrell holds a B.S. degree in management. He has done further study in criminal justice at USM. And he has had continuous executive education and military education.

In 1970, he enlisted in the Army and worked up through the ranks as he continued military service from 1972 to today in the Guard. In January, he will retire from the Guard as a colonel.

Challenger ready to serve

Ronny Brown closed an important chapter of his life on Friday, retiring from the Mississippi Department of Corrections. He hopes to open a new chapter on Tuesday, when he seeks to unseat the incumbent sheriff and become the law enforcement leader of Adams County.

&uot;I’m running because I love the county and the people. I know our problems, the drug problems and the need for more protection for people in rural areas. And I want to get the prisoners out of jail. I know the ones who need to be there and the ones we might rehabilitate.&uot;

Brown has worked 20 years in the state Department of Corrections. For the past four years, he has served as community corrections associate director, overseeing a 10-county area in Southwest Mississippi and working out of six offices with five different circuit judges, three district attorneys, three sheriff departments and 25 employees, he said.

The department has spent time and money to train him, Brown said. &uot;In my job, I have done lots of work in personnel and in management.&uot; He believes the experiences of the past 20 years give him a broad base from which to grow.

&uot;I started at the bottom as a probation officer for Jefferson and Adams County,&uot; he said. &uot;And now I’m as high as I can go without leaving this area. And I will never do that.&uot;

Brown is in the sheriff’s race for the second time. When Tommy Ferrell ran for the first time in 1987, Brown threw his hat into the ring. &uot;I had talked to a lot of people. They told me I didn’t have a chance. But I did it for the experience,&uot; Brown said. &uot;Since then, I just shut my mouth, did my work with the judges and DA’s, and I retired Friday from the state.&uot;

If elected, he will be thrilled to serve, Brown said. &uot;If I am not elected, I’ll still work as a volunteer in the new drug court.&uot;

Times have changed the way professionals have to deal with drug arrests, convictions and rehabilitations, he said. &uot;You have to help people to recover, not just arrest them.&uot;

Experience in parole and probation has given him a close look at the courts and how they function. He will bring that to the sheriff’s position, he said. &uot;In Adams County I see problems getting people through the system. I’m not blaming anyone. But the wheels are not turning smooth. With my experience, I think I can make a difference.&uot;

He wants to move prisoners more quickly out of the jail and through the system both to save money and to be fair to those incarcerated. &uot;I’ve learned through the DOC to be fair to prisoners. You do the right thing. I believe I can make it work.&uot;

Brown said he has few single heroes. &uot;First is my God. I try to abide by the Ten Commandments. And there’s my wife, who works for the Natchez Police Department and is a mother and grandmother,&uot; he said &uot;And all the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day are my heroes,&uot; he said.

With a degree in economics from the University of South Florida and further study in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi, the state Personnel Board and the Mississippi Law Enforcement Academy, Brown believes he has a strong background of experience and training.

&uot;My mom and dad brought me up to be honest, have integrity and work hard and have an open mind,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them.&uot;

Brown said communication is a key ingredient in leadership. &uot;You give your staff training through communication. You show them you have compassion for them. And you show them it’s going to be a team effort.&uot;