This story was updated at 3 p.m. on July 19, 2013.
Two Democratic candidates for Fairfax County sheriff are vying for their party’s nomination at a caucus that will be held Tuesday in Fairfax.
With nearly 600 employees, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department is the largest in Virginia. Its three core functions are to run the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center; provide court security for the Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, Town of Herndon and Town of Vienna courthouses; and to serve the civil process services.
On Wednesday, both candidates answered questions during a one-hour forum held at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, sponsored by the Fairfax County Young Democrats.
Whoever garners the Democratic nomination will face a yet-to-be-officially-announced Republican candidate to fill the remainder of the term of former sheriff Stan Barry, who resigned on June 30.
That term runs through December 2015.
In late May, Barry, who held the office for 13 years, unexpectedly tendered his resignation to the Board of Supervisors, citing personal reasons for his decision.
Under Virginia law, instead of appointing an “acting” sheriff, the chief judge of the circuit court must temporarily fill the vacant position with the highest-ranking deputy sheriff, then call for a special election to fill the remainder of the term.
Fairfax County has scheduled the special election to coincide with the general election on Nov. 5.
Democrat Mark Sites, a 17-year veteran of the department, was sworn-in July 1 by default, but faces competition for the official Democratic nomination from 26-year Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department veteran Stacey Kincaid.
During Wednesday’s forum, both Democratic candidates acknowledged that progressive change was needed within the sheriff’s department, highlighting a need for increased diversity and a more objective promotion process. The candidates differed however, on whether the department needs more money in its budget.
“Diversity should be inclusive of all levels, not just at entry and middle levels,” said Kincaid, adding that at the higher echelons of the department, “five white males and one white female is not diverse.”
Sites agreed that while more diversity within the department is needed, relatively speaking, it fares better than some others in that respect.
“We are 43 percent non-white male, compared to Fairfax County Police, who are only 28 percent non-white male,” he said.
“My vision is moving our department forward with a promotion process that is fair and equitable and objective, rather than subjective,” said Kincaid in her opening remarks.
She later explained that the current promotion procedure is for applicants to take a multiple-choice test and then to write a self-assessment which is then reviewed by a supervisor and voted upon by an assembled group of 40 or so higher-ranking department members.
“This system opens itself up to too much subjective influence in my opinion,” she said. “Anyone within that group can speak out and influence everyone else.”
Sites agreed, calling the procedure — in place since 2007 — “frustrating” and saying that it has been a detriment to the department, causing divisiveness. “We have promoted a lot of good people, but we have also left a lot of people disenfranchised as a result,” he said.
Both said they were dedicated to fixing that process.
On the issue of money, however, the two candidates diverged.
Asked if the current sheriff’s department budget of $63 million issued by Fairfax County was sufficient, Kincaid answered “no” while Sites said “yes.”
“There are many reasons why we deserve more fair compensation,” answered Kincaid. “During this economic climate, no one in the department should expect a pay raise, but I believe that we deserve more fair compensation as a whole because of what we bring to the community in terms of our outreach programs such as working with homeless children in shelters, teen awareness programs and others. There also needs to be more public relations outreach in the sense of letting the public know what we do.”
Sites offered a different perspective on the issue.
“Everyone would like more money, but we have to pay attention to the current financial climate,” he said. “I think we do very well with the $63 million we receive.”
Sites said that of that amount, $53 million goes to salaries for the 600-plus employees of the department, leaving only $10 million for operating costs.
“Four-million dollars of that $10 million goes to food and medicine for inmates,” he said, “so I think we do exceptionally well with the $6 million that is left, and this time it was more than we needed. Our costs are driven by the population of the jail, so I believe that last year we were even able to give back $1.8 million to the county because our incarceration numbers were reduced.”
The caucus will be held at 7 p.m Tuesday at W.T. Woodson High School, 9525 Main Street in Fairfax. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Registered voters residing in Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax can vote.