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McCulloch endorsed by Democrats for Pulaski Presiding Commissioner post
McCulloch endorsed by Democrats for Pulaski Presiding Commissioner post

Don McCulloch (left) and Don Parsons speak to Pulaski County Democratic Central Committee members seeking their endorsement.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Nov. 5, 2009) — Retired Waynesville police chief Don McCulloch won the recommendation of Pulaski County Democrats on Thursday night to replace Bill Ransdall as the county’s presiding commissioner.

Clara Ichord, chairwoman of the Pulaski County Democratic Central Committee, said both McCulloch’s name and that of the second candidate, retired Army lieutenant colonel and Waynesville High School track coach Don Parsons, will be forwarded to Gov. Jay Nixon who makes the final decision on who will be the county’s presiding commissioner until the 2010 election.

“They are both good candidates but either one would do a great job,” Ichord said.

Both candidates answered numerous questions from central committee members, and both took a strong stance in favor of building a new jail for the county and finding a solution to animal control problems.

“One thing that I would be very strong on if I would happen to be selected is I think it is terrible that we don’t have our own detention center. If I were selected I would push very hard to get that,” Parsons said. “I know we are sending prisoners to various places around the county, but that puts us in a very weak position. They could raise the rates and we’d have to send the bad guys home.”

Parsons said he didn’t know why the county commission didn’t plan for a new jail years ago.

“They’ve talked about it for years but nothing ever gets done,” Parsons said.

“What do you think the opposition to the jail has been?” asked Democratic Central Committee member Liz Elam.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anybody but some feel it is easier to take no stand than to go and do something. I’m sure there’s money out there,” Parsons said. “It is easier to just give lip service, look at it, and nothing ever gets done.”

Parsons suggested that President Barack Obama’s stimulus money might be available for jail infrastructure and could be used as matching funds for other grant programs.

“How about a multi-county detention center?” asked Central Committee member Rick Carlton. “Has anyone ever thought about that?”

Carlton suggested that a regional jail might be placed in Richland, whose city limits already cross three county lines, or in Dixon, which is close to both Maries and Miller counties. Jail staffs could be drawn from each county, he said, possibly with one county providing the staff on each of the three shifts.

“I think that would be a very good option,” Parsons said.

McCulloch said he’s visited Franklin County, which includes Washington and several other sizeable communities, and noted that the county voters approved a bond issue to “put up a big jail.”

The jail was deliberately built larger than the county needed and designed to hold federal prisoners for which the county is reimbursed at the rate of $90 per day.

“If we were to house those prisoners here we could pay for our jail in a very short time,” McCulloch said. “I’ve never understood why they did not put this to the people; let the people vote on whether they want a jail or not.”

“Why haven’t they?” asked Central Committee member Liz Elam.

McCulloch said the reason is mostly politics and fear of being seen as promoting higher taxes or potentially dangerous spending increases.

“I’m for good government and I won’t worry about getting re-elected or not,” McCulloch said.

Getting a ballot issue passed takes hard work, however.

“I served as the first president of the 911 service board. A lot of people didn’t want a 911 and we had to fight it through. We had to sell that, you don’t just put it on the ballot,” McCulloch said.

Responding to questions from Sherrie Rigsby, who said she’ll be coming to the county commission with a petition asking commissioners to address major animal problems affecting the county, both men also said they support building an animal shelter for the county.

“Is it like the detention center how we keep hearing we can’t do it and it’s not going to happen?” asked Rigsby.

That doesn’t have to be the case, both men said.

“I won’t give you lip service. If you select me and I get the job I won’t forget you. I am a big animal lover and I have several horses, cows and goats. I think it would be good and I think we need it,” Parsons said.

McCulloch, whose police department supervised the Waynesville Animal Shelter when he was police chief of that city, said he also supports a county animal shelter

“I can tell you as a former police officer, people get more interested in a dog issue than a double homicide. People get more excited about abusing an animal than abusing one another,” McCulloch said. “This is a big county; there would be a lot of calls.”

Rigsby agreed.

“We do have the county humane society and we take hundreds of calls,” she said.

McCulloch said it might be possible for the county to use a system similar to that of the Waynesville city animal shelter, which is staffed largely by volunteers from the humane society and others who are interested in animal welfare issues.

One area on which the two men differed was their level of commitment to the Democratic Party.

Responding to questions from Democratic Central Committee member Alice Carlton, Parsons said he’s an independent whose parents were split on their political affiliations and barely spoke to each other for several months before the election, but noted that his grandfather had been the Democratic Party chairman in another county and that he had campaigned for Democratic candidates, including one who is a current Central Committee member.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve probably voted 95 percent for Democrats … I’m not a yellow dog democrat, I’m not a yellow dog Republican, but I vote for the person,” Parsons said.

McCulloch said he’s been a lifelong Democrat, served as Pulaski County Sheriff under the Democratic Party affiliation, and was appointed to the state barber board as a Democrat. He’s also served in nonpartisan elected office as a Waynesville R-VI School Board member for one term and served one year as board president in 1987.

Parsons, who has never before served in elected office, said he’s willing to learn.

“If I don’t know the answer to something I will reach out to someone who is more learned than I am,” Parsons said.

Both men said they’d be willing to run for a full term as presiding commissioner if appointed by the governor and to do it as a member of the Democratic Party, unlike a former presiding commissioner who changed his party affiliation to become a Republican.

“If I did a good job and the people wanted me I’d want to seek re-election and I’d probably run as a Democrat,” Parsons said. “I’m smart enough to know that my chances of getting in, even if I did a good job, as an independent, probably would not be very good.”

“What would be something that might hinder you from doing a good job? What would block you or change your mind?” Ichord asked.

Parsons said he didn’t know of any specific problems that might cause him not to run in 2010, but noted that he’s spoken extensively with the recently resigned presiding commissioner, Bill Ransdall.

“I know it is a tough job because I have breakfast with Billy occasionally,” Parsons said.

McCulloch said there’s no question he’ll run for the presiding commissioner position if appointed to that post.

“I started campaigning when I made that resume up. I will work on this diligently and I will be one of the first ones down there to file,” McCulloch said.

McCulloch said he does differ from Ransdall on his view of the role of the presiding commissioner.

“The statute says the presiding commissioner does not have to vote unless there is a tie, but I will always vote,” McCulloch said. “On every issue, you will know where I stand.”

Asked how they view the office of presiding commissioner, both men said they understand the presiding commissioner’s role is primarily dealing with budgets.

“I’ve always come in under budget,” McCulloch said, noting that he’s supervised budgets in the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, Waynesville Police Department, and the state barber board.

“A lot of people believe the presiding commissioner has some say on the roads; he does not,” McCulloch said. “The primary job of the presiding commissioner is conducting professional meetings and giving everybody a chance to speak.”

McCulloch noted that the presiding commissioner also represents Pulaski County on the Meramec Regional Planning Commission and at numerous other county functions.

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