Voters head back to the polls next week to decide a handful of hotly-contested races in the Pine Belt – including the Republican primary runoff contest for Forrest County Sheriff between David Bassett and Charlie Sims.
With no Democratic challenger to face in the November general election, the winner of Tuesday’s runoff election will have to defeat two independents – Kenny Johnson and Jerry Oswalt, Sr. – in order to become Forrest County’s next sheriff.
Both Bassett and Sims have a lengthy history of working in law enforcement. Bassett, who began his career with the Petal Police, has been employed by outgoing Sheriff Billy McGee since 2006.
Sims, a longtime lawman, is a former Hattiesburg chief of police, and has helped lead the police force at Forrest General Hospital since 2005.
In recent weeks, Bassett has found himself in the midst of criticism surrounding letters of support that have been distributed to various Hattiesburg neighborhoods by a trio of local business men with recognizable last names and deep ties to the political establishment here in Forrest County.
The letters – which appear on official “Bassett for Sheriff” letterhead and include the candidate’s email address and personal cell phone number – include several references to various awards and educational accomplishments that Bassett has received during his law enforcement career.
The awards and accomplishments appear to be from legitimate training organizations, but are certainly not associated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as the letters seem to imply.
As a result, some have cried foul saying Bassett and his wealthy supporters are trying to deceive their neighbors and fellow voters.
We attempted to reach out to the men who the letter purports to be from and we also asked Bassett on more than one occasion to clarify the accolades mentioned in the letter, but got nowhere.
Could it be a simple mistake? Perhaps, but you would think that would be an easy explanation for Bassett – or any of the other men – to make.
Instead, it paints Bassett in a negative light and that’s never a good idea this close to Election Day.
Regardless of who is elected, either candidate may find themselves in the midst of these types of issues in the future – even if they are not the ones who initiate them.
We have serious concerns about our ability to work with a sheriff who does not want to answer the tough questions or even offer any sort of explanation if/when something like this happens again.
We have found ourselves in that same situation for the last several years under outgoing Sheriff Billy McGee’s administration and it has hampered our ability to report the news – good or otherwise – coming out of the sheriff’s department.
Sims is not immune to criticism of his own, however, but he always answers the phone when we call and he has always been willing to answer our questions, regardless of the topic, and that goes a long way in our book.
And it should in yours, too.
Gustafson is the editor/publisher of The PineBelt NEWS.