The race for Pike County sheriff was tight four years ago, with Kenny Cotton winning the position by less than 2% of the vote. The 2019 campaign appears to be just as competitive, with five other candidates seeking to unseat the first-term sheriff.
Republicans running include Tim Vanderslice, who ran a tight race against Cotton four years ago, James Brumfield, Rodney Nordstrom and D.C. Corson. Unless one of them secures a majority of 50% plus one vote, the top two finishers likely will advance to an Aug. 27 runoff to determine the party’s nominee.
Cotton faces Edwin “Ed” Thompson in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Cotton, 58, of McComb, said he wants to build on the foundation his administration has created in his first term.
A native of Pike County with more than three decades of law enforcement experience and service in the U.S. Army, Cotton began his law enforcement career with the McComb Police Department, then worked for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics before retiring as captain. Cotton served as Summit police chief for seven years before being elected sheriff in 2015.
“I’ve had a lot of training and experience on learning how to promote a safe community,” he said.
Cotton said his biggest concern is keeping residents safe and successfully wearing the many hats that come with the sheriff’s job.
“Our primary concern is to promote safety, and we do that day and night with the patrol as well as housing here at the jail,” he said. “You have to run it and manage it like a business. You have to fine-tune the dollars every day.”
Cotton said he hopes to increase the size of his daily patrol.
“The people, the businesses — everything is growing, and from a law enforcement standpoint, we want to be ready,” he said.
Another key concern is creating more jail space.
“In the jail we can house about 125 but we house more than that every day, so we’re busting at the seams at the jail,” he said. “We need more space here.”
Cotton said he has had successes during his time as sheriff and there are a number of aspects he thinks he has done well, such as “building those strong relationships with the schools, the businesses and the churches and with the entire community.”
When it comes to hard-nosed police work, Cotton said he and his staff are dedicated.
“I think we’ve dealt with major crime effectively. I hate it, but it happens,” he said. “We’re here to provide the service so that you can feel comfortable knowing that if something happens, Kenny Cotton and his staff are going to deal with it.”
If re-elected, Cotton has a number of plans for the department.
“The improvements will be to build stronger relationships with the community, businesses and schools. I know that is the biggest piece in promoting safety across Pike County. I know that,” he said. “I’d like to thank Pike County for allowing me the opportunity to serve as sheriff. I thank God for that. Every day I want to serve somebody in a good way and I want to influence that throughout the police departments in the county.”
Brumfield, 66, of McComb, said his law enforcement and business experience makes him qualified to serve as sheriff.
Brumfield is best known for his management role with Coca-Cola, where he retired as vice president of local operations after a 30-year career.
He noted similarities between the operation of the sheriff’s department and a business. The budget for the sheriff’s office is about $4.5 million, which is roughly half as large as the budget Brumfield managed at Coca-Cola. The sheriff also needs to maintain a fleet of vehicles, which Brumfield has had to do in business as well.
He also served as chair of the economic development board for two terms and was a founding member of the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance.
“I think these things make me uniquely qualified because I can put together a team, and it takes a team working together at the county,” Brumfield said.
As for his law enforcement background, Brumfield graduated from law enforcement training at Louisiana State University, specializing in juvenile crime, and worked as a deputy sheriff for Pike County before going into the private sector.
“When I was a deputy sheriff, it gave me an insight as to what’s happening and how a sheriff’s office should or shouldn’t be run,” he said.
Brumfield has a soft spot for the disadvantaged and considers the protection of vulnerable citizens in Pike County to be one of his highest priorities.
“One of the biggest issues I think we have in this county is the protection of our young people, abuse cases,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about that, but it’s happening out there. One of my commitments is to the protection of our young people.”
Brumfield said this combination of skills and experience will enable him to be a good steward of the tax dollars.
“When you’re entrusted to a budget, and to the tax dollar, you have a responsibility. Fiscal responsibility is important,” he said.
One aspect of that responsibility is advocating for the budget of the sheriff’s office at meetings of the Pike County Board of Supervisors.
“I will be very engaged with the board of supervisors. I will attend every meeting possible. I think that’s important,” he said.
When asked what he saw as the biggest challenge facing the Pike County Sheriff’s Department, he said the relationship between the drug trade and property crime was concerning.
“The biggest challenge I see is the connection between theft and drugs,” Brumfield said, adding that deputies should work in tandem with other law enforcement agencies to tackle drug crimes.
Douglas “D.C.” Corson
Corson, 59, of McComb, is a licensed minister of the United Pentecostal Church International and attends First United Pentecostal Church in McComb. He maintains a traveling ministry as a career.
Corson said he believes in treating citizens fairly and with empathy.
“I’m merciful, just and compassionate,” he said.
He said his empathy is part of the reason he may be the best candidate for the position of Sheriff of Pike County.
Corson has worked as a chaplain for law enforcement agencies in Bossier City, La., Lincoln and Lawrence counties, La Salle Parish, La., and at the Pike County Sheriff’s department under former sheriff the late Fred Johnson.
Corson said he is dedicated to developing programs for Pike County’s most vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly. He is interested in starting a D.A.R.E. anti-drug program, personal safety classes for children, vacation checks, livestock checks, directing traffic, managing funeral processions, unlocking vehicles and performing business checks. He hopes to add more K-9 units as well.
Corson also believes that inmates at the county jail should be afforded counseling and occupational training.
Corson said he gained valuable law enforcement experience by riding along with various police and sheriff’s departments over the years.
As sheriff, Corson intends on starting programs for at-risk youth throughout Pike County.
“My main goal is to protect the youth, to help them, to teach them. You ain’t gonna do it with pressure. That’s done and over with. It’s gonna have to take someone with mercy, just and compassionate that will really be sheriff and want to minister them,” he said.
Nordstrom, 49, of McComb, is deputy chief of the McComb Police Department, where he first went to work nearly 30 years ago.
Nordstrom started his law enforcement career in the Mississippi Army National Guard working as a military police officer. When he was 21, he applied to the police department and rose through the ranks, holding every position on the patrol side of the department other than chief.
He said he has gained valuable administrative skills and knowledge throughout his career and notes that he is in charge of equipping the department with everything from toilet paper to ammunition.
Nordstrom said he has an outgoing personality, likes to meet new people and has a genuine concern for the citizens of Pike County.
“I’ll be the sheriff that you can call, you can come by the office,” he said. “I’ll be there. I may even show up on a call. I’m not going to be the one who gets elected and you never hear from again.”
Nordstrom feels compassion for individuals dealing with difficult circumstances. He thinks that there needs to be a place other than the county jail to house mentally ill individuals in crisis.
“Jail is not a place for someone that’s in crisis. It’s not against the law, as far as I’m concerned, to be mentally ill,” he said. “We need that, especially now with all of the veterans we have coming back home and the PTSD. They’re our citizens, we needed them then and they need our help now.”
Nordstrom also hopes to hire more jail staff and to increase their salaries, if possible.
“I want to have a part-time or reserve program. Most of your larger agencies have that. You have special or disastrous events that you didn’t plan for and you need help. I think it’s a win-win situation,” he said.
Nordstrom sees a clear link between issues with recidivism and drug crimes. He believes that having a program to work local drug cases is of great importance.
“What I plan to do is have someone here working local drugs, and there’s a couple of ways to do it. I’ll either team up with (McComb Police) Chief (Damian) Gatlin and we’ll have at least two people working drugs or I’ll assign someone with the (Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics). It’ll be one of those two choices,” he said.
As for key issues facing the department, Nordstrom said hiring more deputies and more jail staff is the top priority.
“I’m just a down-home fella that believes in a hard day’s work,” he said. “I’m a people person and I’m going to be transparent. If you need to come talk to me, I will be glad to talk to you.”
Edwin “Ed” Thompson
Thompson, 55, of Summit, is a seasoned law enforcement officer with decades of experience working within the community. For the past 17 years, Thompson has been employed by the Mississippi Department of Education as a school attendance officer and serves the Walthall County School District.
“I am qualified, I’m well-educated and I’m equipped. I always believed in God and I’m the best candidate for the job,” he said.
Thompson graduated from Alcorn State University, then from the Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper class in 1987 and earned a master’s degree from Delta State University in 1991.
“I have the experience, education and the people skills,” he said. “Based on my 32 years of law enforcement experience, I’ve often thought about what I can do to make a difference in the community and in Pike County. I want to change the atmosphere, bring better leadership.”
Thompson sees making close connections with the community in Pike County as tantamount to efficiently tackling crime.
“To deter crime in Pike County, you have to have a strong sheriff and he has to go into the communities and talk to people to earn their respect,” he said. “Once the sheriff starts gaining respect, then his deputies also need to get out of their patrol cars to be visible and seen and to talk to people in the community.
“We’re all equal and we’ll all be the same. With me as sheriff, you will see that. Not only will you see that from me, you will see that from my deputies because I lead by example,” he said.
Thompson said he plans introduce a zero-tolerance child abuse and domestic violence policy and revive cold cases.
“I’ll hire investigators, open up some of these cold cases, murder cases, and bring closure to the families,” he said.
More than anything, Thompson intends on being present as sheriff and available to the public.
“I will be approachable, you can talk to me, you can call me, I will be there,” he said.
Vanderslice, 54, is hoping to repeat his role as the Republican nominee in the race and finish where he left off four years ago.
With nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience under his belt at various agencies throughout Mississippi, Vanderslice said he is dedicated.
He retired as commander of the now-defunct Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Enforcement Unit.
He started his career at University of Mississippi Medical Center as a police officer before joining Natchez police. He has worked for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, served as assistant chief in Centreville and was part-time police chief in Osyka. Former Pike County Sheriff Fred Johnson hired him to start a K-9 program. He was promoted to sergeant before being hired as an assistant commander for SMNEU.
“I think I’m the best-qualified candidate that’s worked within the county and worked for several different sheriffs,” he said. “It’s proven that I am very qualified for the position. I worked with the county budget already as a Southwest Narcotics commander.”
Vanderslice noted that the sheriff is responsible for managing a budget and a fleet of vehicles. For these reasons, his command experience has prepared him for the job.
He said that retaining officers is important to combat issues such as understaffing.
“We’ve got to get it back to where when you wake up in the morning, you want to come to work,” he said. “I think with my experience, I could lead them and guide them in a direction that they would want a career in law enforcement.”
Vanderslice believes that an actively engaged sheriff is necessary for the department to be effective.
“As a sheriff, I will be at every board meeting,” he said. “As a sheriff, I will run the sheriff’s department. Not my number two man. I will run the sheriff’s department. As a sheriff, I will be at circuit court when they open up a new court session. I will be at the sheriff’s office for the citizens of Pike County to be able to sit down and talk to if they need to be able to see the sheriff.”
With SMNEU no longer operational, Vanderslice has considered alternative pathways to effective drug enforcement.
“The first thing I’m going to do is talk to all the chiefs of police in Summit, McComb, Magnolia and Osyka and sit down with them to come up with a plan to start another task force or a drug unit,” he said.
Over three decades, Vanderslice said he has made connections throughout law enforcement agencies in the region.
“I think with the working relationships I have with the chiefs, that we could all sit down and come to an agreement,” he said. “One of my goals to push for is getting another drug task force back together.”