OTTUMWA — Current Sheriff Don Phillips, a Democrat, debated his Republican challenger Kelly Feikert Saturday.

Phillips became the sheriff in March 2019 after winning a special election to fill the office's vacancy. He has 26 years of experience in law enforcement. He told voters at the League of Women Voters forum that he wanted to continue with the progress he has made.

Phillips said the office has created a full-time detective position, added a school resource officer for Cardinal, created a K-9 unit and hired several new deputies, including the office's first full-time female deputy recently.

Feikert said he wants to bring years of management experience to the office. He has no law enforcement background but said he would get the necessary certifications required by law for the job if elected.

"Management is where I'm at; I've managed $90 million stores for years," Feikert said. "Budgeting is where I can really put my time into and making sure that we're sufficiently covered in law enforcement with the money we can spend, and look at additional stuff for the sheriff's department."

Feikert said he has experience in the rural fire department for several years and has a passion for the community. But if elected he'll focus on managing the office.

"I'm not going to be the guy that runs out and saves or writes all the tickets — that's why I have a great bunch of deputies to be on the road to do that job," Feikert said. "I want to do the job of the sheriff, which is take care of the sheriff's department itself, take care of the jail, take care of the staffing, everything we can do budget-wise to ensure the sheriff's department is running to its full capacity."

Feikert also said he would ensure the department patrols the areas outside of Ottumwa, leaving the city to its own police department. "I like to see our deputies out in the community, out in our small towns. We have a police force in the city of Ottumwa for a reason; our deputies need to be out in the community keeping our community safe."

Phillips said being sheriff is a role that could be overwhelming for someone without law enforcement experience. Phillips has been in a leadership role of the office for the last eight years.

"The position of sheriff is extremely important in our community, and not a role just for anyone," Phillips said. "The role can be overwhelming to someone without having the law enforcement and administrative knowledge that I have."

If re-elected to his first full term as sheriff, Phillips said he looks forward to building on accomplishments over the last two years. The office, he said, manages a $3.2 million budget with 13 deputies, corrections officers, dispatchers and support staff.

"I had a vision that I wanted the department to look like when I became sheriff," Phillips said. "And the vision has become a reality with the support of staff. In the two years that I've been sheriff, the staff and I have worked hard to increase the sheriff's revenue to lessen the taxpayer burden. We continue to build working relationships with other elected officials and department heads in and around Wapello County as well as building relationships with our citizens."

The K-9 program was build and operated using only donated funds, Phillips said. The school resources officer at Cardinal School District has helped increase safety and become a role model for students.

The election will be on Nov. 3, and early absentee voting can begin on Oct. 5.

Kyle Ocker is the group editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the first vice president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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