An overflow crowd was treated to lively discourse at Wednesday's Pizza and Politics candidates forum as Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling traded barbs with Hailey Police Lt. Steve England.
"There's an awful lot of turnover in the sheriff's office," said England, an independent running against Femling, a Republican seeking his sixth term. "When that happens, we're not getting 24/7 coverage in the county."
Femling acknowledged that he currently has vacancies, but said he mainly loses employees because they are offered higher paying jobs elsewhere.
"Our people are getting recruited by some of the highest-paying law enforcement agencies in Idaho," he said.
He disputed claims by England that officers leave because of low morale.
"Most of that's fabricate," he said. "We have really high morale there."
"I've talked to people who left," England responded, "but I'm not going to name names."
Femling countered that he has repeatedly sought higher pay for his employees when budgets are being developed with the Blaine County Commissioners.
"I fight every time to try to get more into our budget so they can afford to live here," he said.
Commissioner Larry Schoen, who is also seeking reelection and was also seated at the candidates' table, nodded assent at Femling's comment.
"We've had nobody leave in Hailey within the past year," said England. "It's about more than just pay, it's about how people are treated and making them feel like they're important. It doesn't come down to just pay, it comes down to respect issues."
The England-Femling discourse was scheduled as the main event for Wednesday's Pizza and Politics forum, sponsored by the Idaho Mountain Express and held at the Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey. England and Femling were allowed to make opening and closing statements and to respond to questions from the news media and public.
Neither candidate likes the idea of legalizing marijuana.
"Absolutely not," said Femling, who described marijuana as a "gateway drug" and said he's embarrassed that voters in Hailey have approved ballot initiatives to reform marijuana laws and legalize use of the drug for medical reasons. "I think that's sending the wrong message."
"As a law enforcement officer, I agree marijuana should not be legalized," said England.
Marijuana was one of the few things that England and Femling agreed about during the forum.
England accused Femling of not providing enough leadership to combat rising crime, and Femling said England lacks experience in managing complex operations, investigating serious crimes and managing budgets. Femling said he is managing a $3.3 million budget.
"What is your budget experience?" the sheriff asked England.
"I wouldn't have gone over on the jail," England responded.
Femling had earlier said that the jail was built "on time and on budget."
England offered no facts to back up his allegation. Commissioner Schoen, who listened closely to the England-Femling discussion, quietly shook his head no at England's allegations and nodded his head yes at Femling's comment about jail costs.
On other issues, England said the sheriff's office needs more drug enforcement officers, needs to provide more patrols in all parts of the county and needs to work more with the community to combat crime.
"I also have no professional interests and I will be your full-time sheriff," said England, making a reference to jail consulting jobs that Femling sometimes does.
Femling cited his 20 years experience as Blaine County sheriff. He said his office has a good track record in solving murders and other violent crimes, in making large drug busts and managing emergencies such as last year's Castle Rock Fire.