By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Deputy Sgt. Ken Cheeseman, running to unseat the elected sheriff of Lewis County, thinks it’s going to be an “extremely spirited” race.
Cheeseman speaks plainly about his challenge to Sheriff Steve Mansfield, who stepped into the office in early 2005.
“The hard thing is, he is my boss,” Cheeseman said. “I just don’t think he’s run the office right or he’s a person that should be in that office.”
The Randle-area resident and Mansfield both started their law enforcement careers at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in the early 1980s. Both men are 53 years old.
The sergeant says he decided to run because of the controversy that erupted last year when deputies questioned Mansfield’s handling of a runaway girl report that brought deputies to the Mansfield’s property seeking the girlfriend of the sheriff’s teenage son.
The state Attorney General’s office examined the situation and last fall declined to file a charge of failure of duty by a public officer, a misdemeanor, against Mansfield.
Cheeseman, president of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Deputies Guild at the time, believes if a deputy had done what the sheriff had done, the deputy would have been arrested and jailed.
Former Sheriff John McCroskey put it out there “plain as anybody could” in his column in The Chronicle in May, Cheeseman said.
“When the AG (Attorney General’s office) comes out and says, you could be charged with a crime, but we’re not going to do it, that person shouldn’t be in law enforcement,” Cheeseman said.
The report, dated Nov. 18, 2009, acknowledged the parents of the 16-year-old girl (who had just given birth to a baby) knew where she was and knew she didn’t want to go home, but faulted Mansfield and his sheriff’s office for the way it was handled.
The report blamed a lapse of three days in entering the girl’s name into the relevant computer databases for runaways, and the girl not being picked up and returned home, on Mansfield personally and on Mansfield’s decision not to ask an outside agency to handle the case. It happened the end of March 2009.
“In the end, the WSP (Washington State Patrol) investigation does not reveal any real criminal intent on the part of Sheriff Mansfield; rather, it reveals a father and grandfather who was embroiled in a tense family situation,” reads the summary the Attorney General’s office’s evaluation of that allegation. “… Given the circumstances and the charging discretion the state has, the AGO (Attorney General’s office) declines to file a charge of failure of duty against Sheriff Mansfield.”
Cheeseman, who has worked under four sheriffs can’t remember when a deputy has run against the incumbent sheriff. He resigned from his position with the deputies guild to enter the race.
“It’s really tense in our office right now, it’s exceptionally bad,” Cheeseman said.
While he’s willing to campaign against the sheriff, he said doesn’t plan to debate him, because “he’s my boss.”
The sheriff says he’s focused on the present, the future and on so many other things that need his attention.
“It comes down to this: this is a private matter, it has been resolved,” Mansfield said last week.
Some people are looking at the attorney general’s report as though it’s the Bible, Mansfield said. “There’s a lot more to it than what’s in that report,” he said.
The Winlock resident said he handed over decision-making about the case to one of his chief deputies, whose actions were based on the sheriff’s office mission and the security of the girl.
“I did what I could as a father and did what I could as sheriff, and I apologized for how people might have felt that was wrong,” Mansfield said.
Mansfield’s campaign manager, Fred Rider, said he hasn’t had many questions from citizens about the issue though he’s comfortable responding to the allegations about his candidate.
The sheriff turned the runaway case over to one of his command staff and then took care of his own family like any father should, Rider said.
“I don’t think the attorney general’s office would have not filed charges against Steve Mansfield if there were charges to be filed, ” Rider said last week.
The former Chehalis mayor who works as a sales representative for Access Security said he has been following the elections for sheriff since his father-in-law Bill Logan ran years ago. Rider worked for Logan’s campaign and for John McCroskey’s campaign after that.
“I’m working for Steve Mansfield for the same reason,” he said. “I appreciate his hard work and dedication.”
Both candidates are Republicans.
Cheeseman said he doesn’t intend to ask the local Republican party for its support as he expects it will automatically endorse the incumbent.
Colleen Morse, chair of the central committee of the Lewis County Republican Party since December 2008, served as Mansfield’s treasurer for his previous campaigns. Morse says neither she nor the party have made any commitments.
“Now that there are two Republicans in the race, I’m basically neutral and will remain so until after the primary,” she said.
It’s pretty much been the policy of the local Republican party to let the people decide during the primary, she said. After the August 17 primary, the party may or may not endorse a candidate, she said.
Who is Ken Cheeseman?
Cheeseman spoke highly of the department when he held his campaign kickoff two weeks ago in Chehalis at Woodland Estates Retirement Center.
He told the breakfast gathering of about two dozen people – including a handful of deputies – they have a very good sheriff’s office, even as budgets are thin.
“We’ve got a great sex offender program, a great drug unit,” Cheeseman said. “There just isn’t the manpower to go farther. But I’ll tell you what, those guys out on the road, they work it hard.”
His philosophy is leaders should act as support behind the deputies who are on the front lines, deputies who know what they need to get the job done and know best what the public wants, he said.
He spoke of the critical need to work more collaboratively with financial institutions to get a handle on the swelling fraud epidemic and said he would like to implement – perhaps using volunteers – a better system to keep victims informed through the criminal justice system.
Sue English, Cheeseman’s campaign manager, told the group they’ve been family friends for 30 years, in part knowing Cheeseman through his work as a Scout leader and a football coach. She spoke of his generous spirit.
“When my husband was in the police academy and we had 50 acres of hay that needed to be cut, he volunteered to help with that,” the wife of retired Morton Police officer Ed English said. “Ken changes shifts with other officers so they can be home with their families on holidays.”
A current Morton police officer, Doug Osterdahl, echoed some of her sentiment after the event.
“If people knew him personally, there wouldn’t be an election, they’d just give him the job,” Osterdahl said.
Sheriff’s detective Dan Riordan sat in, representing the deputy’s guild. The labor group hasn’t made a decision yet about any endorsement, Riordan said.
How about Steve Mansfield?
Mansfield’s campaign kickoff event was back at the end of April.
They ordered 125 chairs and that wasn’t enough, he said. He has many of the same individuals who have helped him in past campaigns, but also a much broader group now, he said.
Among them, is Penny Mauel, a rural Chehalis resident who has been active in Republican campaigns. This week, Mauel repeated what she wrote in a letter to the editor last summer, offering her public support of Mansfield.
“Steve is a motivator who is recognized and respected, as a man of integrity and honesty. He is an individual who sets goals and works hard to achieve results,” Mauel wrote.
Mansfield says he sees the challenge by one of his own people as an opportunity to get information out to the public about his “excellent track record.”
“This office has done a very good job and the people are very appreciative,” Mansfield said. “We have met our mission in the last five years of delivering a feeling of safety and security, and quality service.”
His list of accomplishments is long: getting mobile computers in every patrol vehicle both for sheriff’s deputies and departments in other Lewis County cities and towns, utilizing a task force to get a handle on the meth epidemic, a strong sex offender registration program, educating the public about fraud and more.
“These are some of the challenges we’ve faced under my leadership, and we’ve excelled,” Mansfield said.
He praises his employees as problem solvers and innovators. Their strengths are best exemplified in the leadership role the sheriff’s office took with recovery after the disastrous floods of 2006 and 2007.
“If you want to know the thing I’m proudest of, it’s making the sheriff’s office more than just a sheriff’ office, it’s part of the community,” he said.
The issues now and coming aren’t going to be easy ones.
Law enforcement is dealing with a drain on resources with increasing numbers of mentally ill individuals held in jails, he said. Local law enforcers are considering their role in the federal law enforcement problem of illegal immigrants, he noted.
Mansfield, and his Chief of Staff Steve Walton, currently have four labor agreements in various states of negotiation and a constrained budget, he said.
“I don’t have to do this, I can retire at 53, and I’m 53,” he said. “This is what I love, this is where my family lives, this is where my friends are. This is what I’m good at.”
What about the money
Cheeseman’s campaign fundraising began just two weeks ago when donation envelopes were handed out during his kickoff. Mansfield had about $2,500 left over from his previous campaign he can use. He hasn’t spent any of his own money, he said.
The challenger’s summary of his most recent reports to the state Public Disclosure Commission shows $2,894 spent for buttons, lapel stickers, balloons and yard signs. The amount is listed as an in-kind contribution coming from Cheeseman.
The reports show contributions of $100 each coming from two individuals.
Mansfield has spent about the same amount, $2,943, mostly for his web site, campaign consulting and kickoff party.
The sheriff’s reports list contributions of about $3,693, mostly in amounts of $50 or $100 beginning on April 29 this year. The largest comes from Centralia attorney Don Blair, a $500 donation.
According to the PDC, Mansfield’s campaign spent $13,268 in 2006 when he ran unopposed.
Look up local candidates’ campaign finance information for the current election year submitted to the state Public Disclosure Commission at http://www.pdc.wa.gov/QuerySystem/candidates.aspx
Quick details on the candidates
Who: Ken Cheeseman
Political party: Republican
How old: 53
Home: Randle since the late 1970s. From Spokane and lived in many places around the state, including the Tacoma-Federal Way area, where he graduated from Highline High School in 1974
Profession: Sergeant with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office
Education: A.A. Centralia College, criminal justice; B.A. University of Phoenix, 2000, criminal justice administration
Previous political experience: Has never been through an election, but was one of four men who sought recommendation from the local Republicans in early 2005 to take over after Sheriff John McCroskey retired mid-term. He understands he came out a close second behind Mansfield when county commissioners made their final choice.
Campaign manager: Sue English, director of Cispus Center
Campaign treasurer: Daneen Lindh
Money in campaign fund: $100
Family: Mother and grandmother live in Puyallup, has one sister and two brothers
Websites: on Facebook at “Ken Cheeseman for Lewis County Sheriff” and http://kencheesemanforsheriff.com/
Who: Steve Mansfield
Political party: Republican
How old: 53
Home: Winlock area since about 1984. Born in Texas but grew up in the Edmonds-Woodway area
Profession: Sheriff, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office
Education: A.A. Shoreline Community College, criminal justice; B.A. University of Washington, about 1981, society and justice as well as sociology
Previous political experience: Appointed sheriff in January 2005 when Sheriff McCroskey stepped down. Ran unopposed that November and again in 2006.
Campaign manager: Fred Rider, former Chehalis mayor, council member
Campaign treasurer: Jill Mansfield
Money in campaign fund: $3,693
Family: Wife Jill and three children ages 19 through 26
Websites: on Facebook at “Re-elect Steve Mansfield for Lewis County Sheriff” and http://sheriffmansfield.com