Crow Wing County sheriff candidates offer 'different approaches' at forum
Scott Goddard and Eric Klang are vying for the sheriff's seat
BRAINERD – Roughly 75 residents and voters were in attendance Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the Crow Wing County Land Services Building for a candidates forum led by the two candidates for sheriff – incumbent Scott Goddard and Eric Klang, a former sheriff and current Pequot Lakes police chief.
Goddard has 28 years of experience in law enforcement and was elected sheriff in 2018. Klang served as sheriff from 2003-2006, and has served as chief of the Pequot Lakes Police Department for the past 11 years. He unsuccessfully ran for sheriff in 2006, 2010 and 2018.
The forum gave the two a chance to explain their priorities and leadership skills to the public. The event was hosted by Brainerd Lakes Chamber President Matt Kilian and sponsored by the Brainerd Lakes Area League of Women Voters and the Brainerd Dispatch.
Goddard opened the forum by touting the work done by the sheriff’s office since he was elected.
“We have had a busy four years,” Goddard said in his opening remarks. “I have learned a lot, we have experienced a lot and it really solidified my belief that we have great people working for Crow Wing County. I’m very proud of the people that I represent, the people within our office and, really, the capabilities and the abilities that we have … I am very proud of the work we have done.”
The next sheriff that leads this agency should have the qualities of being capable, competent, socially astute, emotionally stable and have the leadership ability to bridge partnerships both inside and outside the county.
Klang agreed with Goddard in the quality of those working at the sheriff’s office, but cited what he described as a lack of leadership leading to issues within the department.
“The next sheriff that leads this agency should have the qualities of being capable, competent, socially astute, emotionally stable and have the leadership ability to bridge partnerships both inside and outside the county,” he said.
Klang described the sheriff’s office as being “in critical condition,” and said he is a proven leader who can fix it, and his top priority is doing just that.
“People don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” Klang said. “You have to build those relationships, and people … want to be respected and valued.”
Goddard said if he is re-elected, his top priority would be addressing the workforce issues that the county currently faces.
“Our current market value for a home is over $300,000, and we need people that can make a living wage, that can work here and be the next generation of who is going to be providing goods and services that we need throughout our area,” Goddard said.
Klang cited drug use in the area as his top concern – particularly opioids.
“When I’m elected sheriff, you can count on the fact that we’ll be working together collaboratively with our law enforcement partners, which isn’t happening at this time,” Klang said.
When asked what stands out in local crime rates and how the candidates would reduce crime, Goddard pointed to mental health troubles.
“What we need is more tools with our court systems and with our mental health providers to provide options,” he said. “We can pound ourselves to death with the drug problems and the thefts that we have … The tools that we need out there go much further than just law enforcement, it’s really encompassing all of Crow Wing County and all of us,” Goddard said.
When asked what the candidates wished the public knew about the sheriff’s office or law enforcement in general, Klang pointed to what he perceived as a high turnover rate under Goddard’s leadership, saying 14 people left their jobs in the sheriff’s office last year despite good pay and benefits.
Getting good people is hard, but we will not lower our standards … This is a tough job to get into, and a tough job to stay in, and I don’t blame anyone for getting out. It’s very tasking – very rewarding, but very tasking.
The Brainerd Dispatch reported 28 employees left the sheriff’s office between January and August. Of those, three retired, six relocated, four part-time seasonal assignments ended, one part-time employee was not able to work the schedule and 14 employees resigned for various reasons.
Goddard refuted Klang’s claim on the turnover rate, saying the issue is not unique to Crow Wing County and law enforcement is a difficult job to get into.
“Getting good people is hard, but we will not lower our standards … This is a tough job to get into, and a tough job to stay in, and I don’t blame anyone for getting out. It’s very tasking – very rewarding, but very tasking,” Goddard said.
Klang responded by citing a recent county engagement survey in which he said people had “not very good things to say” about working in the sheriff’s office. He said employees were “disengaged” and “disgruntled.”
The candidates were asked about the most effective ways the office can work with the public, with Klang citing partnerships like TRIAD working to promote senior citizen safety, as well as his own department’s efforts to curb scams by instructing bank tellers on what to look for in a potential scam.
Goddard mentioned the county’s need to help its residents feel more comfortable calling 911 in the event of an emergency.
“Sometimes the biggest thing that a person has ever done is call 911, and a lot of people will not call 911, no matter what the emergency might be,” Goddard said.
Prepared questions ended with Kilian asking the candidates what the most significant difference is between them. Goddard used his time to say he respects Klang, but the two have “a completely different approach” to running the sheriff’s office.
“With some of the negative comments that are out there, I say, ‘Talk to our people,’” Goddard said. “We’ve got some great people that are coming in our door from the NYPD. We’ve got one from (Los Angeles) and one from Minneapolis. I hear them come back and say, ‘You know, I hear these negative comments - I love it here.’ And I’m proud of the work we’ve done.
“I think Eric and I have a lot of philosophies that are similar, but I think our approach is different,” he said.
Klang answered by describing himself as a leader capable of getting the best out of his employees.
“You don’t hire the best people like (Goddard) says we do – and we do. Our standards are very high – and tell them what to do. You hire the best people and have them tell you what to do,” Klang said. “You hire the best people and you inspire them to be the best … You have all worked for bosses who have not inspired you at all, but you have worked for bosses who have inspired you, and look at the difference in the product or the outcome of that.”