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Douglas County Sheriff election hinges on primary vote

With all three candidates running on the Democratic ticket, the race will be decided Aug. 9.

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SUPERIOR — Douglas County voters will choose their next sheriff during the primary election Aug. 9, as all three candidates — Brian Witt, Matt Izzard and Mark Liebaert — are running as Democrats.

Sheriff Tom Dalbec announced in January his decision to retire at the end of this four-year term.

In the partisan primary election, voters can only cast a ballot for candidates in one party. That means people will choose between voting Democrat to elect a sheriff or voting Republican to narrow the field of candidates running for the 73rd District Assembly seat.

The Douglas County Sheriff candidates offer different perspectives and skill sets.

Mark Liebaert, who served as a Superior police officer from 1976-1989, calls himself the negotiator. He said his strength lies in both his administrative know-how and his ability to connect people to further good ideas. He currently serves as chair of the Douglas County Board.

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“I’m the guy that’s going to go and renegotiate contracts for the jail … I’m the guy who goes to the Towns Association and has got their back. That’s kind of what I do. … People ask me to do things on both sides of the aisle, and that’s who I am,” Liebaert said.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Detective Matt Izzard, a 19-year veteran of the sheriff's department, said his all-around experience sets him apart. He’s served in the jail, on patrol, as courthouse security and now as an investigator.

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“I am not an elected official and have never been a politician,” Izzard said. “I look at this campaign as a long job interview in the public eye with my resume as my platform. I am a detective seeking a promotion.”

Douglas County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brian Witt said his 27 years of law enforcement experience give him a long view of the issues the department faces.

“Law enforcement needs to be proactive to preventing crime by looking at the cause of the incident; why it occurred in the first place,” said Witt, who's been with the sheriff's office since 2010. “I would like to implement a more proactive department to prevent crimes before they happen.”

Top three

The Telegram asked each of the candidates what their top three priorities would be as sheriff.

Izzard said his priorities include working with the county board to get protective service retirement for jailers and stop forcing them to mandatory 90-plus hour work weeks; ensuring officers have the proper equipment and training to do their jobs; and improving accountability and transparency with initiatives such as body cameras.

Witt said he would prioritize partnering with county schools to launch a school resource officer program; equipping deputies with body cameras; and adding a critical incident team leader with a mental health background to identify and follow up with people who have mental health and addiction issues.

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Liebaert said his top three priorities would be equipping deputies with body cameras; renegotiating jail contracts with other counties and agencies that house prisoners in Douglas County; and working on supervisory improvement for the deputies to provide a better service to the citizens of Douglas County with the tax dollars they pay to the sheriff’s office.

Jailer retention

Both Izzard and Witt favored placing corrections officers back on protective status retirement, which would exempt them from Act 10 and allow them to once again be part of the law enforcement retirement system. The step would help recruit and retain jailers, they said.

“At the time, the county board chose to strip the employees of this benefit, they thought it saved the county around $130,000,” Izzard said. “Last year, they paid about $500,000 in overtime because they cannot retain jailers.”

Izzard said that his experience as a jailer gives him a unique perspective.

“It just makes sense that the person making decisions which affect the jailers’ personal and professional lives has walked miles in their shoes,” Izzard said.

Witt said he would also explore limiting the housing of inmates from other counties to lessen the workload and stress for corrections officers.

“It's like any other private business that is facing staffing shortages — we must work with our limitations,” Witt said.

The county has seen some success with recent initiatives to increase wages for jailers and shorten the time it takes to hire them, Liebaert said, but more could be done. He would also scrutinize jail contracts.

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“Could we renegotiate those contracts or reconsider those contracts to try to make sure we can save some, either make more money to pay our personnel that work there or maybe we cut back on them so that we can get by with less personnel?” Liebaert asked.

School connections

A former school resource officer, Witt said he knows what a positive impact such a program can have on a student.

“During these times it’s important for youth to have a positive interaction with law enforcement,” he said.

Witt envisions an officer who would spend time in all the schools and teach a program similar to one he taught fifth graders about the importance of decision making and consequences for their actions. He planned to find the funds to implement the program in the existing budget by maximizing the efficiency of the sheriff's office.

Liebaert said he’s interested in partnering with school districts, possibly in a totally different way. For example, if deputies on patrol had an office at a school where they could sit and write up reports, it would provide a law enforcement presence in the school.

“I feel confident again, because that’s who I am, we could probably come up with some kind of innovative program that would not be so painful for either of us to pay for,” Liebaert said.

Izzard would be willing to explore making the school resource officer position a collateral duty for existing patrol deputies, an additional duty for the day for which they earn an additional amount per hour, he said.

“The key is thinking of new ways to achieve our goals — not being stuck in the past and not doing something just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it,’” Izzard said.

Matt Izzard

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Matt Izzard
Contributed / Matt Izzard

Age: 45 years old

Address: Foxboro

Family: Wife Lindsay, three daughters

Occupation: Detective with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Adjunct instructor in law enforcement topics for Northwood Technical College.

Government and civic involvement: Member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Superior Lodge 403; previous volunteer youth basketball coach.

Law enforcement background: Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, 2003 to present; Northwood Technical College adjunct instructor, 12 years; field training officer, 15 years; managed a transitional living program for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 10 years.

Brian Witt

Douglas County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brian Witt
Douglas County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brian Witt has announced plans to run for the sheriff's position.
Contributed / Brian Witt

Age: 49

Address: Brule

Family: Wife Kris, two sons, one daughter

Occupation: Deputy and K-9 handler with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office

Law enforcement background: Part-time police officer, UWS public safety, 1996; Juneau County Sheriff’s Office deputy, 1997; Marinette County Sheriff’s Office deputy, 1998-2006; Superior Police Department, 2006-2010; Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy, 2010 to present.

Mark Liebaert

Mark Liebaert2.jpg
Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert announces plans to run as a Democrat for the county's four-year term for sheriff.
Shelley Nelson / Superior Telegram

Age: 67

Address: Amnicon

Family: Four children, 10 grandchildren

Occupation: Douglas County Board Chairman; direct market beef sales farmer

Government and civic involvement: Douglas County Board of Supervisors, 2001 to present; state beef council, six years; Wisconsin Farmers Union board, eight years; founding member of Save Our Unique Lands; chairman, Douglas County Forestry Committee; president, local farmers union; Amnicon town board member; Belgian Club member.

Law enforcement background: DNR special warden, three years; Superior Police Department 1976-89.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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