In August 2018, then-Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley introduced his daughter, Erin Wiley Lanoux, to a small crowd at Lemann's Farm Supply in Donaldsonville, as a hopeful for parish court judge in that fall's election.

Wiley promised then that if Lanoux were elected, "I will offer early retirement" and father and daughter wouldn't serve in office together.

The promise — fulfilled in January just hours before Lanoux was inaugurated as judge — has set the stage in Ascension for a three-man race for sheriff on Oct. 12.

Interim Sheriff Bobby Webre, the former chief deputy who has led the agency for nearly 10 months since Wiley retired, is facing a challenge from former Gonzales Police Officer Moses Black Jr. and former Ascension Deputy Byron Hill.

Voters are being asked to decide which of the three should fill the remainder of Wiley's sixth term and the next full term, meaning the winner will be serving as sheriff through June 30, 2024.

The election is the first since 1991 that Jeff Wiley hasn't been on the ballot for sheriff or wasn't automatically reelected sheriff after drawing no opponent. 

Webre and Hill are Republicans; Black is a Democrat. All three are first time candidates. Early voting ends Saturday.

Webre touts his years of experience holding several different positions in the Sheriff's Office; Hill and Black portray him as a continuation of an inside network that protects its own and needs changes. 

Since taking over as sheriff on Jan. 3, Webre worked quickly to gain control and refashion the 350-person, $43 million Sheriff's Office, which not only provides law enforcement to unincorporated Ascension but also to the municipalities of Sorrento and Donaldsonville.

He has picked his leadership team, opened a new substation to meet growing demands in Prairieville, created a booking station in Gonzales to avoid long, cross-Mississippi River trips to the parish jail in Donaldsonville and created new canine teams.

For his supporters, Webre, who grew up in the Gonzales area and has worked for the Sheriff's Office for more than 34 years, is the local boy made good. He worked his way up the ranks, they say, to become sheriff and lead a department that has cleared nearly 97 percent of all parish homicides — by arrest or the suicide of the accused killer — between 2014 and 2018.

Webre is by far the best funded candidate in the sheriff's race, amassing more than $380,000 in campaign contributions since 2018.

Two-term Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert, who worked with Webre as a patrol deputy in the late 1980s, noted that the sheriff has duties beyond law enforcement and jail operations. He also has a number of civil responsibilities, including tax collection and court service, Lambert said.

"He's probably one of the few people that actually has had the chance to work in the major divisions of the Sheriff's Office," Lambert said. 

Webre, 56, described Wiley's decision to retire as the last in a series of unexpected upper management retirements over the past several years that allowed him to move up from jail warden, where he had expected to retire, to interim sheriff.   

"Who would not want to lead their department once you spend 34 years here and worked your way for 34 years through the ranks?" Webre commented.

As chief deputy, Webre said, he was next in line and it made sense for him to be appointed interim sheriff.

But Black and Hill say his appointment and election campaign continues an unbroken line of what they describe as an old boy's network that must be severed for better government in Ascension.

Hill and Black have also taken issue what they see as Webre's presumptions while in office, though still serving only in the capacity of interim sheriff.

The name "Sheriff Bobby Webre" has popped up emblazoned on patrol cars, Sheriff's Office building marquees, tents and other department equipment and structures across the parish.

Also, Webre's portrait hangs with those of past sheriff's of Ascension — Wiley, Harold Tridico, J. Richard Coriell, Hickley Waguespack and others — in the second floor hallway of Courthouse Annex in Gonzales, where the Sheriff's Office is located.

"This parish has been surrounded in political chains for so many plus years," Hill said in a recent interview. "There's padlocks that hold those chains together ... held by the highest officials, the parish president, the sheriff and so forth and so on. They keep passing the keys to ensure those padlocks stay locked. When I'm the sheriff, I'm going unlock them and I'm (going to) give those keys to the citizens." 

Hill, who turns 38 on Tuesday, worked for the Sheriff's Office for 10 years as a patrol deputy and criminal investigator and also did tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. He is now U.S. Army National Guard recruiter.

Black, 50, is a 15-year veteran of the Gonzales Police Department with 19 years experience in law enforcement in all. He said poor leadership in the parish has led to a lack of trust in law enforcement.

Black has a whistleblower lawsuit pending against the city and Chief Sherman Jackson. It accuses the chief of looking the other way on racially charged officer misconduct and the alleged April 2015 beating by officers of a DWI suspect.

Black claims he was fired over his attempts to report the improper behavior and sees the issues in the police department linked to a greater law enforcement problem.

"They all run in the same circle, every last one of them. They're tied in together," Black said.

In regular Facebook posts and in public forums, Hill has come out swinging against Webre and the management of the Sheriff's Office. He accuses Webre of overspending a $23 million surplus on several new high-ranking positions, having his supporters intimidate people who have Hill's campaign signs and being a part of a regime that has looked past law enforcement missteps.

Both men point to the state Attorney General's Office investigation into a former sheriff's deputy and school resource officer accused of inappropriate interactions with a teen at a public high school. The deputy was allowed to resign and prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to bring charges.

The state's investigation into the allegations, which happened when Webre was chief deputy and Wiley was still sheriff, has not yet been concluded. Webre, as sheriff, has pledged his full cooperation. 

There have been other controversies as well.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the department in August, accusing it of an illegal, blanket policy of detaining arrested Latinos to check their immigration status.

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