County needs a new sheriff, Patten right fit

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 2, 2015

After months of political signs, mail-outs, candidates’ forums and push cards and a bit of mudslinging, most of the contested Adams County political races will grind to a conclusion Tuesday during the primaries.

Some will likely end in run-off elections; others will have battles ahead in the general election.

Among the most divisive races on Tuesday’s ballot is the race to be the top lawman in the county — the sheriff.

Email newsletter signup

Sheriff’s races are always interesting, partially because of the nature of the job. Arresting dozens and dozens of people who are charged with a crime is undoubtedly going to make a few people upset at you.

Incumbent Sheriff Chuck Mayfield has that challenge, as all incumbents do.

But Mayfield also has two formidable opponents in the Democratic primary race, the winner of which will face another candidate in the general election.

Voters must ask one of two questions as they stand at the voting machine Tuesday:

4 Is the incumbent sheriff so bad that he should be removed from office?

4 Is one of the other candidates more equipped to handle the needs of the office and of the people who work at the office?

For many, many people, the answer to the first question will be a resounding: No.

While crime will never be eliminated, by and large, Adams County feels safe to most residents. If that’s the only factor at play, then Mayfield should be a hands-down favorite.

Many voters may not be able to answer the second question, because challengers by their nature have to sell themselves and their experience on you using imperfect means — advertising, brief public appearances, etc.

From an outsiders’ perspective, things may look good at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office.

Challengers who have made big campaign deals over things such as buying special cars and hiring extra non-patrol personnel are merely trying to show a pattern of leadership or lack thereof.

The much-ballyhooed Toyota FJ Cruiser that Mayfield routinely drives isn’t the issue. It’s the change in attitude toward the car.

First, realize, almost all sheriffs buy themselves fancy official vehicles. Often these tend to be more gussied up versions of the patrol cars with the idea that the car could be recycled after a few years of light sheriff’s duty and put back on the street.

Mayfield chose a different route and wasn’t immediately straight about what he was doing.

In September 2014 when he was asked about the special SUV, he characterized it as being a test vehicle, that’s purpose was to be available to handle any snow and ice emergencies. He also said the car would not be assigned to anyone.

Last month, the sheriff’s answer was different, saying now the vehicle, “suits me perfectly.”

In less than a year, his tune has changed entirely. That just doesn’t sit well with me. It’s just a car. I realize that.

Many, many sheriffs across the state — nation, even — waste taxpayer money by outfitting a fancy car so they’ll look good in parades.

The 180 turn on the use of the car just rubs me the wrong way, though, and it speaks to someone who will morph and change when the pressure is on. I have no doubt Mayfield possessed good law enforcement skills. But for me that’s not enough.

A sheriff needs to be a great leader, someone who is unflappable in any situation. Somewhere in the last several years, I sense Mayfield has let go of the reins of the department, allowing others to make decisions and allowing inconsistencies in things like pay raises and hiring.

Some deputies have said the morale isn’t good in the sheriff’s office right now, and that sort of depressed state comes from the top.

As much as I respect Mayfield’s years of service, Adams County needs a new sheriff. For my money, we would be wise to elect someone who is in the middle of his career, not toward the end of one. That means Travis Patten is the best option, at least in my book. Something about him makes me trust him, and he strikes me as the kind of guy who you want coming after the bad guys and to whom other deputies would naturally follow, if put in a position of leadership.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or