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Sickler for sheriff

Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler has done an admirable job of running the sheriff’s office since county commissioners appointed him to replace departing Sheriff Corey Falls two years ago. Voters should give him a full term.

Sickler, who has lived in Southern Oregon since 1995, earned a criminology degree at Southern Oregon University, worked as a Phoenix police officer for two years, then worked as an officer in Klamath Falls until 2006, when he became a road deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. He rose quickly through the ranks, winning promotions to patrol sergeant, detective sergeant, and then to captain overseeing the operations division until he applied to replace Falls. He leads a department with 170 employees and an annual budget of $32 million.

Sickler faces a challenge from Bill Froehlich of Gold Hill, a retired police lieutenant from West Valley City, Utah. Froehlich has been an active member of the Rogue Valley Scanner group on Facebook. Ryan Mallory, a co-owner of the group, is Froehlich’s campaign manager and is also the chief backer of Ballot Measure 15-181, a local initiative petition that would expand the definition of firearms to include accessories and ammunition, bar the county from enforcing any law restricting the right of the people to possess firearms and require the sheriff to determine whether such laws are constitutional.

Froehlich supports the measure. Sickler says voters should decide, but argues passage of the measure would accomplish nothing because a county ordinance cannot supersede state law, and the sheriff shouldn’t be in a position of ruling on the constitutionality of gun laws.

Froehlich was among six candidates who applied in 2016 to be appointed to replace Falls. A community panel selected to interview the candidates recommended Sickler; Froehlich was not among the top three finalists.

In an interview with the Mail Tribune Editorial Board, Froehlich and Sickler clashed over the best way to respond to the county’s overcrowded jail. Froehlich said the county should purchase up to three prefabricated steel pods, each holding 120 inmates, place them in the jail’s parking lot and transfer prisoners in and out of the jail for meals. Froehlich said the pods cost $10 million to $11 million each, and the county should dip into its reserve funds to pay for them.

Sickler said county officials looked into that option, but the company that manufactures the units couldn’t say whether they would meet Oregon standards for jail facilities. He said county officials are working hard on a new plan to build a permanent new jail, and construction costs go up every year, so there is no time to waste.

The biggest cost of expanded jail space, whether permanent or temporary, is not the building but the operating expenses. Housing more than 300 additional prisoners in the jail parking lot would mean more staff, and Sickler says the existing jail kitchen wouldn’t handle the additional demand.

Froehlich is a fairly recent arrival in Jackson County offering a quick fix to a frustrating problem at considerable expense. Sickler has a track record of service within the sheriff’s office and was the overwhelming choice of a community panel and the Board of Commissioners to take over the top job two years ago. Voters should give him four more years.