Incumbent Robert Spoden wins Rock County sheriff primary
JANESVILLE—Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden held off a determined challenge from Gary Groelle to win the Democratic primary Tuesday.
With no Republican candidate for sheriff on the Nov. 4 ballot, it appears Spoden, 51, will serve a third, four-year term as head of the sheriff's office.
Spoden won with 56 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results reported by the Rock County Clerk's Office.
Spoden on Tuesday night was already thinking ahead to his third term. He called the campaign his most “intense” but nothing he didn't expect.
Groelle is a captain in the sheriff's office who questioned whether Spoden could have made better decisions about budgets, including the decision to join Beloit and Janesville in buying an armored car.
Groelle said more should be done about heroin. Spoden's response was to point to his record on drug crime and saying what's really needed is more drug-treatment options.
Spoden's response to Groelle's challenges often was to say Groelle, who sits at the command table, never broached these ideas until he ran for sheriff.
Groelle also questioned whether Spoden should have gotten what Groelle called “excessive” pay raises at a time when many residents still were suffering the effects of a sluggish economy.
The county board April 10 approved sheriff salary increases of 2.5 percent in 2015, 6.84 percent in 2016, 2 percent in 2017 and 2 percent in 2018. The board always sets the salary before it's known who will be the next sheriff.
The sheriff's salary will reach $117,147 in 2018.
Groelle said he would not accept the pay raises. Spoden said he would.
Spoden said if Groelle thought the raises were wrong, he should have objected when the county board was considering them.
Spoden dismissed a suggestion that Groelle's challenge might have opened wounds in the sheriff's office.
“At end of the day, the sheriff's office and the oath we took are bigger than myself or Capt. Groelle. So what we will continue to do is serve the citizens of Rock County, continue to do what they pay us for. … We're all good,” Spoden said.
Spoden said he would continue to look for innovations in keeping the county safe. He said he plans to do what he has done after previous victories: He will discuss weaknesses and strengths with his command staff and “move forward.”
“I've been very clear with staff that we never reach the point where we say we've arrived. We are always striving to do a better job,” Spoden said.
Asked whether any issues that Groelle brought up would affect the command staff's reassessment, Spoden said: “I'm always open to anything that my captains have to say.”
Pressed for an answer about issues Groelle brought up during the campaign, Spoden said: “I'm not going to get into anything in the campaign. It was a tough campaign, and we're going to move forward.”
As of 10:25 p.m. Tuesday, with 20 percent of votes yet to be counted and with a comfortable lead, Spoden said he had not heard from Groelle.
The Gazette could not reach Groelle for comment Tuesday night.