Recapping the Blue Earth County sheriff candidate forum

Both candidates aim to become the next Blue Earth County Sheriff, something voters will decide November 8.
Blue Earth County Sheriff Candidates Paul Barta and Jeff Wersal participate in a candidate forum, sponsored by GMG, produced by KTV Public Access.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 5:45 PM CDT
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - On September 29, Greater Mankato Growth held a forum at the Blue Earth County Library between two Blue Earth County sheriff candidates: Paul Barta and Jeff Wersal.

Currently, Barta works as captain for the sheriff’s department.

“I’m going to bring the knowledge and experience that I’ve obtained over the last 23 years in law enforcement to provide a smooth transition with zero interruption to the professional quality services that our agency provides,” captain of the sheriff’s department Paul Barta said.

Wersal is the current commander for the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force.

“I know that the sheriff’s job is not to know every single thing and do every single job. The sheriff’s job is to lead, to put people in divisions to lead their divisions- to manage their divisions. I have the confidence of the sheriff’s office patrol and investigative staff- I have 100% of their endorsement, and I think that should mean a lot,” commander for the MN River Valley Drug and Task Force Jeff Wersal said.

During the forum, there was one significant issue on the candidates’ minds that needed to be addressed: drugs... specifically fentanyl.

Barta says he will push for aggressive enforcement against drugs, specifically by dividing attention for those actively dealing drugs and those struggling with addiction.

“So, swift, decisive justice for those that are preying on the innocent lives and the individuals. And providing services and linkages to those that are struggling with that addiction,” Barta said.

Wersal says that increasing staff is crucial to combat the issue, especially by hiring a peer recovery support specialist, who would help on-scene, non-fatal overdoses.

“This concept is happening in Duluth, right now- and it’s working. It’s going to take time and it’s going to take money, but it’s also going to save lives. And I’m confident of that,” Wersal added.

Both candidates provided insight and agreed to improving police diversity, cultural representation, and community outreach.

When asked about police recruitment, Wersal wants to travel and advertise- to bring in a surplus of new officers and specialized employees.

However, he says he believes training needs to be improved, especially for active shooting incidents.

“I’ll make sure whoever’s in charge of the training, especially school shooting training, that this happens every year, so we stay fresh on it and everyone who’s a new hire knows exactly what to do,” Wersal said.

For Barta, the recruitment solution is to focus internally by improving wages and retention, and actively engaging with staff.

And Barta says that school shooting training is making a come-back, after Covid-19 halted the process.

“To ensure that we’re taking the most up-to-date statistical information, revitalizing the response criteria and everything that we worked on in 2012 and pushing it back out,” Barta said.

Moderators pointed out that one of the roles of sheriff is to budget around $11 million of tax-payer funds for the department and manage 100 employees.

“The budget that I manage in the task force is not quite $11 million, it’s about $500,000. That being said, I think the public, when they call 9-1-1, I think they expect that they get a well-trained deputy, who’s operating equipment that works well, that they know how to use to respond. I think public safety costs money, and money needs to be spent,” Wersal said.

With three years of explicit department budgeting, Barta explained the duties and cost of each agency in the sheriff’s department to the forum audience.

“It takes a solid understanding of what’s occurring within the agency, the ability to bring that together with factual information and provide an explanation to the county board, so that you can get some of these initiatives started if they’re not budgeted for,” Barta said.