Lexington Park, MD – It was calm at the Lexington Park Library Tuesday, Oct. 2. Then the lawmen showed up. The St. Mary’s County candidates’ forum hosted by the library and conducted jointly by the local League of Women Voters and NAACP included candidates going head-to-head, first in the state senate race in District 29, followed by commissioners’ candidates vying for board president and the First Election District seat. Those segments were followed by the candidates for sheriff, incumbent Tim Cameron, a Republican; and Democratic challenger Ted Belleavoine.

After running unopposed in 2010 and 2014, Cameron, who defeated an incumbent sheriff in the 2006 election, is seeking another four-year term. Belleavoine joined the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in 1989, rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 2016 through the summer of 2017 he served with the Town of La Plata Police Department. He is currently a deputy with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office.

Belleavoine characterized Cameron’s tenure as one where goals established in 2007 remain unaccomplished. “My plan of action is to address the failed practices of hiring and retention of employees, a relentless pursuit of those who sell drugs and immediately fill the vacant positions in our school resource officer program,” Belleavoine stated. The challenger stated that the agency’s Strategic Management Plan has never been fully implemented. He also characterized the current sheriff’s office as “short-staffed.”

Cameron called himself “a progressive, competent leader. I continue to learn. I’m passionate about my profession.” The incumbent noted that during his 12 years as sheriff, “we have improved [employee] salaries, benefits and incentives.” Cameron also stated that his office has established a “lateral bonus program” designed to hire experienced officers, engaged in diversity recruitment and augmenting the ranks with civilian employees and rehired retirees. “We’ve changed the culture of policing,” Cameron said. The sheriff added that among the top priorities in his next term will be to continue “addressing the heroin opioid addiction problem.”

Belleavoine was asked if he thought the sheriff’s office responded appropriately to the shooting incident at Great Mills High School this past March. “I really was hoping we would not discuss the tragedy that occurred in our community,” said Belleavoine. “Everybody wants to believe it can’t happen but it did. I believe the sheriff’s office, [Maryland] State Police, fire and EMS [Emergency Medical Services], students and staff members, and all of you parents acted in a correct manner. The only thing I disagree with is that, after-the-fact, we parade around the [school resource] officer across the nation, across the state, saying ‘gee, look what a great job he did.’ That’s not appropriate. That officer will forever have to live with this. He does not need to be reminded or be stood up in front of groups to say ‘here’s your award.’ What he needs is the support of his family and the support of everybody he works with. We don’t need to show off. It’s inappropriate. He did his job.”

Cameron was then asked a different question regarding the detention center, which he answered tersely. “Since I have 50 seconds left,” said Cameron, who turned to Belleavoine and proceeded to defend the decision to hail school resource officer Dfc. Blaine Gaskill for his engagement of the gunman who had just shot two students. “You [Belleavoine] had the opportunity to say the right thing and you didn’t do it. That SRO did his job, I agree. But he hasn’t been paraded around. He was asked a question, ‘do you want to represent our profession? In a rare example of where our profession did the right thing, he agreed. When he appears for an award he represents every man and woman in our agency that is proud of him and proud of the response that day and proud of our community.” Cameron’s rebuttal prompted applause from many in the audience.

Both candidates were asked how to maintain safety and security in downtown Lexington Park. Cameron indicated an expansion of community policing, increasing the number of patrol officers and the long-anticipated opening of the community precinct station was the best way. Belleavoine advocated for improving manpower “across the board” and establishing “district offices, not just the Lexington Park area.”

The candidates were both asked why he should be sheriff. “The environment in the sheriff’s office is better than it has ever been,” said Cameron. “I look forward to going to work. I get to wear my passion to work every day.” Belleavoine stated, “I do not have an entitlement attitude where I think I’m better than anybody. I’m not interested in trying to make myself look good. I want to know what I can do for you and how I can make you whole again.”

After the two candidates delivered their closing statements they left the table without the traditional handshake.

Click here to view the Cameron/Belleavoine debate.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com