HED: Nov. 4 election draws 18 contenders
By Errol Castens
PONTOTOC - Political signs proliferate like fall flowers in yards and roadsides across the county, pointing to the Nov. 4 special election for sheriff of Pontotoc County.
The election is to fill the unexpired term of Randy Roberts, who resigned from the post in December 1996 after pleading guilty to a federal civil rights violation involving wiretapping in the sheriff's office.
Roberts is one of the candidates vying for his former position.
The field of 18 candidates also includes another former Pontotoc County sheriff, both active and retired construction company owners, the Pontotoc County Board of Supervisors president, a former New York City police detective and an auctioneer.
The large field of contenders is to be expected in such an election, said Marty Wiseman, a political scientist at Mississippi State University.
"A lot of times you'll see a sheriff's race without an incumbent draw a lot of people," said Wiseman, who is director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government on the Starkville campus. "It carries a lot of prestige, and the sheriff's office has a lot of impact on crime in his county.
"You see a lot of places where you have a crowded slate for the sheriff's office," he said. "It has a lot of visibility and a lot of sense of accomplishment to it.
"It can be a good career with a great deal of responsibility in law enforcement."
Interim Sheriff H. H. "Hank" Waycaster, who is not a candidate for the $44,800-per-year post, says the position is not as attractive as it may seem.
"I'm at a loss to know why anyone would want to be sheriff," he said. "It's a tough, 24-hour-a-day job. You never hear about the good things - people only come to you when something bad is happening.
"I was retired from the Highway Patrol, and (the board of supervisors) felt like I had the administrative experience, so they asked me to do the job. I reluctantly accepted."
Waycaster commented on the challenges facing the new sheriff. "The biggest challenge in the county is drugs," he said. "The number one problem in the Sheriff's Office itself is dealing with the jail. We have a stated capacity of 36, and lots of times we have more than that."
Bill Wardlaw, executive director of the Pontotoc County Chamber of Commerce, sees the broad field of candidates as a positive signal. "It shows a concern by a great number of people that they want the job done right. It gives the folks a good choice to look at a lot of different personalities and different abilities," he said.
If no candidate wins a majority of the votes Nov. 4, a runoff election will be Nov. 18, with the winner taking office the next day.
Absentee voting is already under way and will end at noon Saturday, Nov. 1. Voters who will be unable to vote Nov. 4 can complete ballots at the Circuit Clerk's Office. Those unable to come to the office can call 489-3908 for a ballot that can be completed and returned by mail.