TRAVERSE CITY -- The sheriff's post is up for grabs in most area counties, and candidates believe accessibility, experience and smart budgeting are among taxpayers' chief concerns.
Voters in several northern Michigan counties have multiple choices for sheriff, but races in Antrim, Leelanau, Charlevoix and Manistee counties feature only Republican candidates, so the Aug. 5 primary election will decide who gets those jobs.
Candidates with varying degrees of law enforcement experience -- and in some cases no such experience -- filed to run. A few already work for their county's sheriff's department and some already hold elected office in their respective counties.
Candidates believe accessibility weighs heavily on the minds of local voters. Rocky Windish, a former Mancelona police officer and Republican candidate for Antrim sheriff, said he thinks sheriffs need to increase visibility among their employees and the public.
"Sometimes the sheriffs get caught up in their own (world) behind the desk, I want to be out there on the front lines," Windish said.
A sagging economy is among the most important issues in this election, two-term incumbent Antrim Sheriff Terry Johnson said. Voters want a sheriff who can effectively manage a budget and maintain services as funds decrease, he said.
"This one is very important because of the state of the economy," he said. "People have to be confident" their candidate has good budget sense.
Johnson isn't surprised at the turnout of sheriff's candidates in the region.
"Everybody seems to run against the sheriff," he said. "They don't normally go after the register of deeds or the treasurer."
Benzie County Undersheriff Rory Heckman, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, seeks Benzie's post as a Republican. He believes there should be restrictions on who can run for sheriff.
"The saddest part of the whole thing is the only criteria to be sheriff is to be the top vote-getter in each county," Heckman said. "There should be qualifications ... I think people think the job is much easier than it is."