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Sheriff’s Race Heats Up

Octavia Johnson, Frank Garrett and Brian Keenum
Octavia Johnson, Frank Garrett and Brian Keenum

Octavia Johnson was the first woman and first minority to be elected Sheriff of Roanoke. Johnson was elected in 2005 in an upset victory over George McMillan. Previously, she was appointed deputy sheriff in 1979 and has served the city of Roanoke for almost 30 years.  Johnson is responsible for the operation and management of the Roanoke City Jail, for providing courtroom security and for the service of all civil process and mental hygiene warrants in the city of Roanoke.

She manages approximately 250 deputies and civilians, and administers a budget of $16 million dollars. Under her leadership, additional security cameras have been installed in the intake area, the deputies have updated radios, a computerized visitation system was implemented and there are new metal detectors in the jail and courthouse.

Frank Garrett has spent most of his life in law enforcement, retiring after 24 years with the Roanoke City Police Department, with the last five years in the Sheriff’s office.  He provided courtroom security, served on the bicycle and mounted patrols and taught the D.A.R.E. program in the city schools.

Brian Keenum was born in Roanoke and graduated from Patrick Henry High School.  He received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Ferrum College.  He is currently a high school and Division Three NCAA football official and a volunteer with the Special Olympics.  Keenum says he has 10 years of law enforcement experience, including jail security, inmate transportation and inmate visitation.

Q:  What is your party affiliation?

Johnson:  Republican.

Garrett:  Democrat.

Keenum:  Independent.

Q:  Who influenced you as a child?

Johnson:  Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress.

Garrett:  My grandparents’ strong work ethic.

Keenum: My parents and also my grandfather, who was a very hard worker.

Q:  Why are you qualified for Sheriff?

Johnson:  I have served as Sheriff of Roanoke City for four years.  I have a total of 29 years of experience with the Roanoke City Sheriff’s Office.  My experience spans administration, the jail, court services and civil process.

Garrett:  Thirty years of police and sheriff’s office experience.  I have put on a uniform every day since 1979, and helped protect the citizens of Roanoke.

Keenum:  I have been involved with public safety since the age of 16 and was an EMT for eight years.  I was a 911 dispatcher and eventually moved into the corrections department and have 10 years experience in the Roanoke City and Roanoke County sheriff’s offices, five of which were as sergeant.

Q:  Name three major endorsements.

Johnson:  Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Senator Ralph Smith, community activist Evelyn Bethel and her sister Helen Davis.

Garrett:  N/A

Keenum: N/A

Q:  How will you improve the jail?

Johnson:  We recently received a $169,000 grant. Part of the funds will be used to replace radios and add cameras.  I will continue to update technology and replace old equipment.  We will continue to enhance safety and security within the jail.

Garrett:  Provide strong, positive decision making, improve morale, create a recycling plan, add additional inmate work crews and additional D.A.R.E. deputies, help create a new firing range and try to negotiate on the retirement supplement that the deputies lost.

Keenum: First and foremost would be to improve the accessibility of the sheriff to the public.  I will be the face and voice of the department.  I will retain deputies through better career development and more in-house training.

Q:  Name two good reasons people should vote for you.

Johnson:  I have restored integrity, professionalism and quality service to the sheriff’s office.  I have successfully managed a $16 million dollar budget.  During these difficult economic times, I have provided the same service with half a million dollars less due to budget cuts.

Garrett:  Experience, along with strong leadership qualities.

Keenum: I am the only candidate that brings years of supervisory experience to the table and I have hands-on experience in just about every facet of the sheriff’s responsibility and I am a good communicator.

Q:  What is your religion?

Johnson:  Christian.

Garrett:  Baptist.

Keenum:  Christian.

Q: Did you vote in the last three elections?

Johnson:  Yes.

Garrett:  Yes.

Keenum:  Yes.

Q:  Tell me about your spouse.

Johnson:  I am married to Mark Neese and he is employed with the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office.

Garrett:  Principal of a local elementary school, married 18 years.

Keenum: I am not married.

Q:  Say something nice about your opponent.

Johnson:  I admire my independent opponent’s work with Special Olympics.

Garrett:  N/A

Keenum: I believe that they have both worked very hard during the campaign.

Q:  How long have you lived in your district?

Johnson: I lived in Roanoke City from 1976 to 1993.  I married and moved to Roanoke County for a short period and returned to the city in 2001 and live there now.

Garrett: Almost one year.

Keenum:  I have lived in Roanoke all my life.

Q:  Who do you admire now?

Johnson:  My mother, Alice Johnson.  She was a strong and courageous woman and knew how to survive.

Garrett: Employees of the sheriff’s office and teachers.

Keenum: Gerald Holt, sheriff of Roanoke County.

Q;  Do you owe any back taxes?

Johnson: No.

Garrett: No.

Keenum:  No.

Q:  How old are you?

Johnson:  56

Garrett:  51

Keenum: 33

Q:  Have you had any major obstacles to overcome in life?

Johnson: Integration, it was a very difficult time.  However, it gave me the strength and mettle that I have called upon many times in my adult life to stand for what I believe in.

Garrett: Single parent raising my daughter, age two, and son, age seven, for five years before I remarried.

Keenum: I paid my own way through college while working full time and being a father to two sons.

By Carla Bream
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