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posted: 2/7/2014 2:52 PM

McHenry Co. sheriff candidates spar over morale, budget

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  • Bill Prim, left, and Andrew Zinke are running for McHenry County Sheriff in the March GOP primary.

    Bill Prim, left, and Andrew Zinke are running for McHenry County Sheriff in the March GOP primary.


The two candidates running in the Republican primary for sheriff in McHenry County have spent more than 20 years each in law enforcement, but hold starkly different views on what the office needs.

Andrew Zinke, 45, of Woodstock, is the current undersheriff; Bill Prim, 54, of Cary, is a retired Des Plaines police commander who works as a court security officer in Lake County.

Morale within the sheriff's department is low, Prim said.

"The rank and file, they're not happy with their leadership there, they are not satisfied with what is transpiring. They feel they are ruled by someone with an iron fist," Prim said.

But Zinke says Prim is talking only to a small percentage of disgruntled employees who are unhappy because of the department's accountability and performance standards.

He also touted the department's accomplishments, such as a "triple crown" award from the National Sheriff's Association last summer. "It says a lot about our staff and our office," Zinke said.

Zinke was endorsed by Sheriff Keith Nygren, who is retiring, while Prim was endorsed by McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi. Nygren and Bianchi have been at odds over the years.

Prim said he'd be able to usher in a new era of cooperation between the two agencies, especially relevant during criminal asset forfeiture cases that weave their way through the court system.

Zinke pointed out the sheriff's narcotics unit recovered just under $1 million in criminal assets last year.

"There is a strained relationship between the sheriff and Bianchi, and that's between them. It's caused us to be a better office," Zinke said.

Prim also criticized the sheriff department's $33.4 million budget, which he said has grown more than any other county department's budget in the last few years. That's with a county jail under capacity and fewer projected calls for service this year, he added.

"There has to be some cost-saving measures that can be built in," Prim said, adding he does not advocate budget cuts affecting rank-and-file staff. "The other departments are operating within fiscal constraints."

The jail's capacity is 530 beds, and now holds about 410 inmates, including federal detainees, Zinke said.

Zinke attributed cost increases to salaries, pension payments and health insurance premiums. The department has 425 employees, three more -- all court security officers stemming from three new judges -- than when he took his post in 2010, he said.

"We've been on a maintenance budget for 11 years now for the overall operations," he said, adding the department has reduced overtime costs by almost half a million in the last three years.

Prim also advocated creating more volunteer opportunities within the sheriff's office, to help during nonenforcement calls like road closures, downed wires or county fairs.

The sheriff's office already utilizes emergency volunteers through the county's Emergency Management Agency, Zinke said.

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