The voters won't go to the polls for over a year, but signs are pointing toward a lively race for Oneida County sheriff in 2018.
Gregory J. Gardner, a 22-year veteran of the Oneida County sheriff's office, threw his hat in the ring late Monday, approximately 10 days after Oneida County medical examiner Larry Mathein announced his interest in the position.
Meanwhile, incumbent sheriff Grady Hartman told a Lakeland Times reporter Tuesday he intends to seek re-election but does not expect to make an official announcement until early 2018.
Gov. Scott Walker appointed Hartman to the sheriff's post in January 2013, following the retirement of sheriff Jeff Hoffman. Hartman then won election to the office in November 2014.
Mathein announced his candidacy Sept. 30, stressing his more than 40 years of public service in the emergency response field, beginning as an emergency medical technician/paramedic and firefighter and eventually a fire chief and medical examiner.
"As the medical examiner, Larry has provided strong leadership in the investigation of hundreds of death scenes, including homicides, and he has been an integral team member in multiple criminal cases," according to a press release announcing his campaign for sheriff. "His duties require his close working relationships with all law enforcement agencies in our region and his experience and leadership is highly respected and sought after."
Gardner's announcement also focused heavily on experience.
A lifelong resident of Oneida County, Gardner has worked in the sheriff's office since 1995 and has held a number of positions including deputy sheriff and detective sergeant. He is currently a patrol shift supervisor and Rhinelander High School resource officer with the rank of sergeant.
"Gardner's campaign is promoting a message of transparency, experience, and integrity," according to his press announcement. "He welcomes scrutiny and understands that he is responsible to the taxpayers of Oneida County."
In addition to being a full-time officer, Gardner also works as an adjunct instructor in public safety at Nicolet Area Technical College, teaching at Nicolet's Law Enforcement Recruit Academy, the release notes.
He served four years in the U.S. Army as a military police officer after graduating from Rhinelander High School in 1986 and is a member of American Legion Post 431 in Three Lakes. According to the press release, he has a special interest in the issues of veterans' health and their assimilation back into our community.
"This position (county sheriff) has been both a life and career goal," he said. "I've spent my entire adult life in public service, both in the military and now in law enforcement. I am uniquely qualified for this position and have the leadership skills and knowledge necessary to make a seamless transition. I have a great working relationship with the other government agencies throughout Oneida County. I believe in being fiscally responsible and would welcome scrutiny of the department in that and all areas. I have enjoyed a great career with Oneida County and I want our current and younger officers, along with all employees, to have the same great work experience that I was fortunate enough to have. I look forward to working with the citizens of Oneida County, and listening to their concerns as well as ideas to improve the Sheriff's Office."
Public service is a tradition in Gardner's family. His campaign website notes his father, Kenneth Gardner, served for many years as Oneida County Clerk of Court and his mother, Sandra, was a deputy county clerk.
Also of note, Gardner's former wife, Sara (Gardner) Welcenbach served as an officer in Oneida County for 15 years. She was fired last month and has a high-profile federal case pending alleging Hartman and the county illegally retaliated against her after she refused to pursue charges against Lee Lech, a former officer she claims raped her during an out-of-town training session in 2011.
She has since brought her allegations to the attention of the Dane County district attorney's office and prosecutors there filed charges against Lech Sept. 18. He is due in court in Madison later this month.
The River News does not normally identify alleged victims of sexual assault, however in court papers related to the federal lawsuit Welcenbach has publicly identified herself as Lech's accuser.
Both Mathein and Gardner appear interested in speaking to local groups about their goals and qualifications. For more information about Mathein's candidacy, or to arrange for a speaking opportunity, call 715-612-5514, or email him at MatheinforSheriff@gmail.com.
Any group wishing to invite Gardner to discuss his campaign may arrange a visit by contacting his campaign at GregforSheriff@gmail.com or by visiting his website at www.GregforSheriff2018.com. The public can also connect to Gardner's campaign via Facebook at Gardner for Sheriff or Twitter/Instagram @GregforSheriff.
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