Public meets Armstrong candidates
Four candidates — two running for Armstrong County coroner and two running for county sheriff — were invited by the Indiana Armstrong Patriots to a Meet the Candidates event Wednesday night, but just three showed up.
About 50 members of the public attended the event at Armstrong Truck & Tractor in Rayburn Township to hear from the coroner candidates, Republican Brian Myers and Democrat Roy Morrison, and from the sheriff candidates, Republican Chris Sweeney and Democrat Bill Rupert.
All questions relating to the office of coroner were directed to Myers because Morrison did not attend.
Myers, 34, of Rural Valley spoke about his professional background and his qualifications, including his position as both a funeral director and as a deputy coroner.
“I feel I am the most qualified,” he said. He said that he has, for the most part, been running the coroner's office since Armstrong County Coroner Bob Bower was elected county commissioner.
He said the coroner is responsible for investigating the cause and manner of all deaths, including those resulting from natural, accidental, homicidal, suicidal or unknown causes. The position involves transporting the deceased from a scene, speaking with grieving families and determining whether an autopsy or inquest is required.
When asked by a member of the public if he is qualified to perform an autopsy, Myers said that's a job only a medical doctor can perform.
“We hire Cyril Wecht (a forensic pathologist) to do autopsies,” Myers said. “We pay per case, which averages about 20 autopsies a year.”
Myers said the coroner's office has a budget of about $130,000. A significant portion of that goes toward autopsy expenses, he said.
Rupert, 45, of Rural Valley outlined his qualifications: He is a member of the Armstrong County Narcotics Task Force Team; has been a volunteer firefighter for 27 years and an emergency medical technician 11 years; has worked as a sheriff's deputy; and has spent 13 years as a Manor Township police officer.
He also is a general manager of an oil and gas company and is co-owner of an excavating business.
“I have a background in business and am fiscally responsible,” he said.
If elected, Rupert said, he plans to create an action plan to enable a coordinated prepared response to area schools in the event of a school-related incident. He wants to focus on expanding anti-drug and anti-bullying programs in the Armstrong School District.
He said that the sheriff is responsible for the security of the courthouse, prisoner transports, arrest warrants and the issuance of gun permits.
“I support our Second Amendment right,” Rupert said. He said the problem lies with illegal guns on the street and not with those who qualify for permits.
Sweeney, 47, said he grew up in Manor Township in a family with a strong police and military background. He served in the Army National Guard, was involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, earned a law degree and worked as an intern for Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi.
Sweeney said he worked for a time as a member of a narcotics team in Detroit.
His main concern, he said, is the lack of police power in the sheriff's office.
“We have a department in this county that is active in security, but they have no police power,” he said.
If elected, Sweeney said, he wants to reinstate that power.
Rupert responded that sheriff's deputies can assist state and local police countywide but that the sheriff's department must work within budget limitations.
If police powers were reinstated, going out on additional patrols would tax the current duties and expenses required by the sheriff's office, he said.
Both candidates were in agreement when it came to answering a question posed by a member of the public: If the government ever decided to take firearms away from gun owners, would the elected sheriff go along with the law?
Both Sweeney and Rupert declared they would stand with gun owners against such a law.
“I will go to jail on behalf of the people of this county,” Sweeney said. “I will do nothing in my power as sheriff to infringe on your right.”
Rupert gave a similar response, saying he would not allow guns to be taken away from gun owners.
“I will be the one standing by your side,” he said.
When asked if that stance presented a problem for him as a Democratic candidate, Rupert explained his perspective.
“My father was a Teamster,” he said, adding that he and his brother were both in unions. “I don't think the Democratic way is the only way. I believe we have to be open.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.