CLINTON — East Feliciana Parish Sheriff Talmadge Bunch drew five challengers in his bid to win a fourth term in the Oct. 22 primary election.
Opposing the incumbent are Cliff Morris, Joel Odom and Richard Sobers, who are running without party affiliation, and Democrats Drexel Muse Sr. and Glenn Sims Sr.
All but Sobers, a retired Baton Rouge police lieutenant, have had varying amounts of experience as East Feliciana Parish sheriff’s deputies.
Bunch, a 63-year-old Democrat, won the office in 1999 after incumbent Randy Maglone did not seek re-election. Bunch won a second term in 2003 with 54 percent of the vote, defeating Odom and a third candidate.
Bunch narrowly missed a primary victory against four opponents in 2007, but defeated Maglone with 57 percent of the vote in the general election.
Odom, 39, is the elected constable for Justice of the Peace District 2, the Jackson area, and was a sheriff’s detective when he resigned to run against Bunch in 2003.
Morris, 49, retired last year after 30 years of service with the state Department of Transportation and Development, but worked 19 years during that time as a part-time sheriff’s deputy and police officer in Norwood, Wilson, Jackson and Clinton.
Sims, 42, is an East Feliciana Parish Police Jury employee who took a leave of absence to run for sheriff. He also had 13 years of experience as a sheriff’s deputy.
Sobers, 55, is a civil law notary who retired from the Baton Rouge Police Department with 25 years of service.
During his Police Department career, Sobers served as a supervisor for 13 years, was administrator of the department’s Licensing Division and second in command of its Operational Services Bureau.
Attempts to reach Muse on Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.
Some of the challengers have been critical of Bunch during the campaign, saying the Sheriff’s Office lacks professionalism and modern crime-fighting training and equipment.
“It’s just the lack of enforcement on illegal drugs in the parish that’s my reason for running,” Odom said.
Odom said the Sheriff’s Office has no dedicated narcotics division, drug detection dogs and drug interdiction officers, pulled out of the Delta Drug Task Force and does not cooperate with other agencies.
“The current administration has no vision for improving the department. There’s no desire in that administration to improve anything, and the people deserve better public safety than that,” Sobers said.
Sobers charged that Bunch has no training facility for deputies, such as a pistol range, and appears to be “anti-technology.”
Morris said he wants to make salary improvements for employees, noting that he was paid at about the minimum wage when he worked as a part-time deputy.
Sims said he wants to lead a department of highly qualified employees who are visible in the communities in a constructive, favorable and positive manner.
Answering his critics, Bunch said his office works with the Tri-Parish Drug Task Force with St. Helena, Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes and has an arrangement to use Dixon Correctional Institute’s drug dogs whenever needed, eliminating liability and costs to the office.
He said he has officers working drug cases, including five interdiction officers. The drug investigations have led to more cash and property seizures than previous large-scale undercover operations by outside agents.
Bunch also said his officers use the firing range operated by the St. Helena Sheriff’s Office, which receives video poker revenues.
“I have to live within my budget,” Bunch said.
Regarding relations with other agencies, Bunch said, “Whenever something happens, we all seem to come together.”
East Feliciana’s total parishwide property tax, 50.9 mills in 2010, was the lowest in Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Tax Commission’s latest annual report. The Sheriff’s Office has a 5.25-mill tax.
Bunch depends on work-release programs involving state inmates to supplement his budget.