MORRIS - The Stevens County Board of Commissioners is poised to appoint Jason Dingman, a deputy in the Stevens County Sheriff's office, the next sheriff of Stevens County.
On Monday, an interview panel consisting of the Stevens County Board of Commissioners as well as five county staff members interviewed all five applicants for sheriff.
After the interviews, the panel ranked the candidates and narrowed the field to three candidates - local Sheriff's deputies Tom Loew and Jason Dingman and retired Minnesota Statewide Drug Gang and Drug Coordinator Bob Bushman.
However, in their discussion afterwards, the panel focused primarily on comparing Dingman and Bushman, a debate that seemed to pit Bushman's more than 30 years years of law enforcement experience at the statewide level with Dingman's 20 years of service and leadership within the Stevens County Sheriff's office.
At a work session on Friday, the five board members each expressed their opinions on the two candidates. Commissioners Larry Sayre, Paul Watzke and Jeanne Ennen said they supported Dingman, while Commissioners Ron Staples and Phil Gausman indicated their preference for Bushman.
Dingman has worked in the Stevens County Sheriff's Office, first as a part-time reserve deputy and most recently as one of three chief deputies, since 1992. During his time with the Sheriff's office, Dingman helped found and organize West Central SWAT and been involved with the department's switch to new dispatch and radio technologies.
"I have a vested interest in this county, this community, and this Sheriff's office," Dingman said, telling the panel that serving as sheriff is his goal and would not be a stepping stone or another line on his resume.
Bushman most recently served as the Statewide Gang and Drug Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, retiring in October 2012. Bushman has also served as a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a state trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol.
In his interview, Bushman said he retired from the Department of Public Safety because he felt he had accomplished his goals with that organization and was now looking for a new opportunity to use his experience.
During the discussion on Monday, Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan said that he appreciated that Bushman indicated he would be willing to challenge him on cases if Bushman felt strongly that a case should be prosecuted.
"I think sometimes there gets to be a mentality that the prosecutor has his role and [law enforcement] should stay out of his realm, but I don't know everything about every case," said Jordan.
Jordan also praised Dingman's deliberate thinking and calm demeanor during his interview and when working with him.
"With Jason, he's very calm and he has a nice presence ... there are some officers who put people on edge and some who put people at ease," explained Jordan. "Jason does a nice job of calming situations."
County Coordinator Brian Giese said that Dingman and Bushman were very close candidates, but simply approached the job with different styles.
"I think Bushman brings a lot of things to the table that we don't have locally, and that's appealing," said Giese. "But on the other hand, I think for what the duties of the position are, I think Dingman can adequately handle them and I think he'll work harder at it."
"He's prepped himself to move into that role within our department," concurred Human Resources Director Janet Raguse.
However, the final decision about who to appoint as sheriff rests in the hands of the five county commissioners who expressed their preferences clearly at their work session on Friday.
During Monday's discussion, Commissioner Ron Staples said he favored Bushman because of his leadership and supervisory experience.
"To me, he's a very well qualified candidate," said Staples. "I'm trying to pick the best candidate. I'm not picking local. I'm picking the best candidate."
Gausman agreed with Staples, noting that Bushman "brings far more to the table. Not to say that [Dingman and Loew] aren't viable candidates, but what I'm looking for here is experience and [Bushman] has a ton of it."
Both Staples and Gausman reiterated their support for Bushman on Friday.
Gausman told the board that he had been contacted by a lot of his constituents who reinforced his opinion that Bushman should be his top choice.
"I think some of the people in my district anyway, would appreciate a fresh set of eyes in the department," Gausman added.
Commissioner Paul Watzke that he was comfortable in his support for Dingman, but did not elaborate further on Friday.
Commissioner Larry Sayre, who was Sheriff when both Dingman and Loew were hired, praised both men as law enforcement officers after the interviews on Monday.
"I've been with both of these guys on some pretty ugly calls over the years - they're good men, they've got good heads, they use good judgement, and they make good decisions," said Sayre.
On Friday, Sayre reiterated his support for Dingman over Bushman, noting that Dingman will fit in well with the department.
"I realize that it's an elected position, but I want somebody that's going to be there five years from now, 10, or maybe even 15," Sayre added. "I think that's important."
Commissioner Jeanne Ennen said she was split between both Loew and Dingman for her top choice, but also appreciated Bushman's commitment to working in the community.
On Friday, Ennen said that all of the people from her district that she had spoken to were supportive of Dingman - "That's the way I feel like I need to go."
Because Friday's meeting was a work session, the board will not officially make their decision until their regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 9:00 a.m. at the Stevens County Courthouse.