Undersheriff, deputy face off in primary for Walworth County Sheriff

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Andrea Anderson
Friday, August 8, 2014

ELKHORN—The two candidates for Walworth County sheriff might work in the same building, but their views on the office's morale, communication and leadership differ like night and day.

Walworth County Sheriff's Office Deputy Ken Brauer, 42, town of La Grange, is running against Undersheriff Kurt Picknell, 50, Elkhorn, in the Aug. 12 primary. Both are Republicans.

Brauer has worked in several sheriff's office departments since beginning his career in 1995. He says he wants to bring new life to the office and enforce policies equally—something he said isn't being done.

Picknell has been undersheriff for 14 years. He started his law enforcement career in 1987, and he has worked for several county law enforcement agencies. He says he plans to continue the work he started with Sheriff David Graves.

Graves, 61, plans to retire. He endorses Picknell.

Q: What is your opinion about communication and morale in the sheriff's office?

Brauer: Brauer says morale and communication are the worst he has seen since he started working at the sheriff's office.

“People are miserable,” because personnel issues are not being addressed and positive reinforcement is rarely practiced, he said. Brauer said varying procedures and lack of support from the top down are leading to a “cancerous” attitude.

“We're kind of like a rudderless ship. We're just adrift," he said. "There's no guidance, and we've fallen away from our mission statement.”

Picknell: Communication and morale aren't an issue, Picknell said. After 27 years in law enforcement, he understands there are going to be those with low morale.

“I think communications are good. But, like any organization, communications can always be improved," he said. "With that, for citizens and employees, we are constantly listening to what people are telling us and giving us feedback, and that's an important piece of the communication is to actively listen and to understand what they're saying.”

Q: What do you perceive to be the state of leadership in the sheriff's office?

Brauer: Leadership goes hand-in-hand with morale and communication, Brauer said. The sheriff's office was a highly desired place to work, and it had quality leadership, he said. However, internal strife is causing people to leave, Brauer claims.

Deputies are told at the last minute that they'll be working longer, raises are out of the question, and administration rarely interacts with other employees, he said.

“We need to have a sheriff and/or undersheriff who's going to be on the side of the employees, not sitting on the other side of the table with the county claiming everything is management rights,” Brauer said.

Picknell: Picknell said the county was well served by Graves and he would like to continue the sheriff's work.

“I think our sheriff's office is well run, and I don't see the need for wholesale changes," he said. "The men and women of the sheriff's office, in conjunction with local law enforcement, do a good job in keeping the residents safe. I will continue to follow my core values, which include ethics, hard work, communication and fair treatment of the public and employees.”

Picknell said people, including him, are asked to put in extra effort, and that those people deserve fair compensation for their work.

Q: The sheriff's office has been criticized for how it communicates with the public. If changes are necessary, what would you change?

Brauer: Communication with the public is lagging, Brauer said. Residents don't know when roads are closed, when traffic is being diverted or when crimes occur. The office's routine of sending press releases to media isn't an immediate notice for the public, he said.

“We should be providing that protection for them and the service of getting the information out to them whether it's on social media, a flyer or a town hall meeting,” he said.

Brauer said making law enforcement and information transparent will allow the sheriff's office to develop a better relationship with the community.

Picknell: Picknell doesn't sense widespread concern or disapproval of communication from the sheriff's office.

Certain information can't be released because of statutory restrictions or because it would jeopardize an investigation's outcome, he said.

“It's always striking the balance between investigative importance and allowing the public to know in a timely manner when it won't compromise an investigation.”

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