AUGUSTA — The two men running for Kennebec County sheriff squared off in a debate Monday night in front of about 95 people at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Jewett Hall.

In the end, both candidates agreed on just about everything.

Sheriff Ryan Reardon, a Democrat, and independent Ken Mason, chief deputy at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, answered a series of questions from the audience and others in a calm and civil manner with Sharon McMahon Sawyer, assistant professor of justice studies, as moderator.

The election Nov. 8 will decide which man becomes the sheriff in Kennebec County for the next four years.

Initially the Secretary of State’s office said the special election would be to complete the two years remaining of the term of former Sheriff Randall Liberty, who resigned in the middle of his term last year to become the warden at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

However, on Monday, Kristen Schulze Muszynski, director of communications for the Secretary of State’s office, said Monday that the Maine Constitution “is being read by the Attorney General’s office as requiring a four-year term in the case of a special election due to vacancy.”

Reardon, of Oakland, was chief deputy under Liberty for two years and was appointed interim sheriff after a battle between the Kennebec County Democratic Committee and Gov. Paul LePage over who should fill Liberty’s position. Mason, of Readfield, originally submitted his name to the committee for consideration.

The committee sent only Reardon’s name to the governor’s office, starting a standoff between LePage and the committee. Mason ultimately withdrew his name from consideration and sought the position as an independent.

On Monday, Kim Pettengill, a member of the Kennebec County Republican Committee, watched the debate from a table at the rear of the hall and said that a number of county Republicans are supporting Mason.

Reardon used his opening remarks to outline his 22 1/2 years’ experience in law enforcement, which started with the Dexter Police Department in the community where he grew up and includes 11 years as an officer with the Waterville Police Department prior to joining the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office.

Mason did the same, talking about his five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and then about his 30-year law enforcement career, which started at the Augusta Police Department and continues with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.

The two men differed on little except in response to a question from an audience member about their positions on two controversial issues on the referendum ballot.

Reardon said he is against Question 1, which asks, “Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?

Reardon also is against Question 3, which asks, “Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers, with failure to do so punishable by law, and with some exceptions for family members, hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions, and shooting range activity?”

Mason refused to weigh in on the marijuana legalization question. “My opinion doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that he has seen a lot of support for it and anticipates the referendum will pass. If so, he said, he’s hoping the Legislature will craft clear language regarding it and that money raised in taxes would be put toward treatment for opiate addicts.

Mason said he, like Reardon, is opposed to Question 3, partly on the basis of cost.

Both men support alternative sentencing diversionary programs that can help cut down on the high numbers of people being jailed, as well as programs being operated within the jail.

Elaina George, a UMA graduate who described herself as a person in longer recovery, asked the candidates about plans to expand outside resources to assist those leaving jail and to decrease recidivism, the rate at which those released from jail commit new crimes. George, a former nurse and recovering addict, led the effort for the new drug recovery house in Hallowell known as The Oxford House.

Mason said those released from jail programs such as the Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy program should be directed to community resources to get help with addiction and counseling.

Reardon said housing is important for those who need to work, pay fines, and meet other requirements set by a court. He said peer mentorship from people in recovery can help as well as a number of other support programs.

“Most of these programs are great, but they’re starving for money just like the jail is,” Reardon said.

Finances played a large part in their responses to questions read by McMahon Sawyer.

Reardon said the most significant challenges in jail are overcrowding and lack of money.

“Our population has increased steadily over the last five years,” he said, hovering around 190 in summer and sometimes more than 200. The facility is rated to handle 147 inmates; there were 174 inmates on Monday, Reardon said. “I can’t say no to prisoners,” he said.

He also said recruiting corrections officers is difficult partly because the wages “aren’t great.”

Mason said he has heard from his professional colleagues that the Kennebec County jail is understaffed.

“The jail is a machine. It’s a great big machine. The employees are cogs,” Mason said. “If those cogs are just not working and there aren’t enough cogs, your machine is only going to run on five cylinders. It should be running on eight.” He said he would work with the employees inside the jail and work toward safe staffing levels.

Mason talked about his style of leadership. “I lead by example,” he said. “There is nothing that I would ask my employee to do that I wouldn’t do first.” He said he brought that style to Lincoln County 12 years ago and has been successful.

Mason also said, “Many of my fellow employees in county government, they do not want to see me leave Lincoln County,” he said, “However, they know that I am ready for this position and that I am the best choice for Kennebec County Sheriff, and I have been very humbled by their support and their words.”

Reardon said his style is a mixture of styles: democratic when working on a project, autocratic in critical situations and as a person who can help guide others. He said he has an open-door policy for employees who want to come and talk to him.

One question asked how to remedy a lack of round-the-clock emergency personnel on staff at the Kennebec jail, a situation Mason said is similar to that at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, where both Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties send inmates.

“It’s all about the money,” Mason said. “If we can find the funding for it, I’m all for it.”

Reardon said he is currently looking at staggered hours for jail medical personnel so that there is more coverage at the jail, a solution carrying minimal cost.

Mark Tardif, UMA’s executive director of strategic marketing and public affairs, said Monday that the debate was recorded and should be available on the website within a day or so.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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