MADISON — Madison Police Chief Chet Burgess said he believes that change is needed in the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, and he said that this is what inspired him to run for the seat in 2020.
“If you are happy and satisfied with what you have, don’t punch your ballot for me and I'll respect that,” he said. “If you’d like to see the Sheriff’s Office ran differently, with a collective focus on the entire county, then your vote for me would be appreciated and serve you well.”
The Madison resident will oppose Chief Deputy Chad Barker, also a Democrat, in the primary as the only two candidates in the race for the seat held by Sheriff Randall White. As there are no Republican candidates, the winner of the May primary will take office in January 2021.
Burgess, 63, serves as the chief of police and city manager of Madison. He also has maintenance-related responsibilities with the city in terms of scheduling employees and overseeing projects.
“When you are a small municipality, you learn to wear many hats and you learn to do more with less and squeeze the maximum out of every dollar,” Burgess said. “With what the county is facing (near 30 percent cut in budget to date), I think that experience and philosophy would serve me well as Sheriff.”
Burgess filed near the deadline and said that it wasn’t because he was waiting to see whether Barker would be opposed.
“This is a big decision for my family and I used that time to make an informed decision,” he added. “Once I commit, it’s time to get to work.”
Burgess is a 1974 graduate of Scott High School and earned a business and accounting degree from Center College in Charleston in 1977. He worked in the mining industry and for the West Virginia Division of Highways, from which he retired after 25 years.
“As a supervisor, I was responsible for anywhere from 30 to 90 employees at any given time,” he said. “When I was in my mid-30s, I was approached by the Mayor of Madison to come and work as a police officer under retired West Virginia State Trooper and Madison Chief Andy Galford.”
Burgess joined the department on a part-time basis, then when Chief Galford retired, Burgess took the chief’s position part-time. He resigned from the City of Madison briefly in order to wrap up his work with the state. Following his retirement two years later, he rejoined the Madison Police Department as the full-time chief.
“I’ve always worked when I’m needed day or night and it really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I think you have to be flexible. Anyone in law enforcement will tell you that.”
His father, Jim Burgess, served as the mayor of Madison for two terms in the 1970s.
“I was exposed to politics when I was young and I saw that from the inside with my dad during that time period,” he said.
Burgess has had as many as six patrolmen working for him in Madison and currently he has three full-time and three part-time officers.
“The thing that I am most proud of is the low rate of violent crime we’ve had in Madison over the years,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that we’ve kept our officers safe and we’ve had few incidents where they have been hurt. Like anywhere else, there is crime and that is why we’re here.”
Burgess said his department’s relationship with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office has been a healthy one through a mutual-aid agreement.
“We sign that agreement at the first of every year and we appreciate them and I think they appreciate us,” he said. “I think that maintaining a relationship with our municipalities and other agencies like the West Virginia State Police is essential.”
Burgess said that, if elected, he would have several interviews to do regarding his chief deputy selection. His opponent Barker has made public that Mark Abbott, who serves as a captain with the Charleston Police Department, would be his choice. Burgess, however, said there is a good chance his selection would come from within the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.
“There are very good, qualified people right there,” Burgess said. “I don’t see a reason to look outside for a Chief Deputy. I respect Mark Abbott and Mark knows how I feel about him as a person and an officer. I consider him a friend. I knew early on when Mark worked in Madison that he was special. We also have some pretty special people working here, too. I want someone to match my work ethic. I need to be proud of my people even when I can’t have my eye on them.”
In his first week of office in January 2013, Boone County Sheriff Randall White granted a nearly $10,000 annual raise to the position. Burgess said that if elected, that salary will revert back to what it was in 2012 and in turn, the $15,000 he could earn on top of his base salary through tax collections will be put back into the department for equipment needs.
“It inspires me more to collect taxes for the department needs than if I were keeping it myself,” he said. “I don’t care what their reason for bumping it up was. Several things have happened since then. Our tax base has changed. Our population has gone down. When the county rebounds, we’ll revisit that again.”
Burgess said that, while his philosophy embraces trust in his officers, if elected, he won’t spend his time roaming the annex.
“My office has been in my car for years and to some extent, that will change, but I’m the type of leader who won’t ask you to do something that I won’t,” he said. “I’ll get out there day or night, weekend, holidays — it doesn’t matter. If we need to make entry to a house I’ll go with them. Anyone who has worked with me knows that.”
Burgess has been married to Tammy Craft Burgess since 2012. He has two adult children, Katie Simmons of St. Albans and TC Burgess, who lives within the county. He has a stepson, Derrick Gleason.
Burgess has six grandchildren, for whom he makes time to attend ballgames and recitals.
Burgess said he is proud of his children and the adults they’ve become.
“They work very hard and they’ve never been in any trouble and they’ve worked since they were teenagers, but I’m most proud that they are both incredible parents. My son is the most critical of me, but my daughter can do the most with me,” he said, laughing. “You know how hard it is for dads to tell daughters no.”
Burgess said he sets aside time for his grandchildren and that family time is of the utmost importance.
The police chief said that he was moved by the people in the county who urged him to run and it gave him confidence.
“They don’t know what those words of support mean to me,” he said. “I think people are ready for a change up there.”
Burgess said he thinks the combination of Barker as chief deputy, his father-in-law Randall White as sheriff and his mother-in-law Pam White as administrator isn’t ethical.
“I don’t think any family in any county should have that much power and control,” he said. “I would say this about any family in those positions.”
Burgess said the changes he’d like to make would make a major impact on the county.
“I want all of our officers to be more accountable for their time, first of all,” he said. “I want them to understand that we furnish them a vehicle and I know there are nights we are covered up, but it is important to the tax payers and the people that we serve and protect that when they call and we have a breaking and entering at their house, that it doesn’t take three hours to get there. If it does, there had better be something very serious going on.”
Burgess said he’s learned a lot through talking to citizens around the county.
“There are people in Spruce, Julian, Big Coal and Pond Fork who feel that they aren’t getting the coverage they need,” he said. “Sometimes things will happen and an officer never shows up. This is unacceptable. They don’t care what color the uniform is, they just want someone to show up and investigate and talk to someone.”
The police chief said he feels he’s maintained a good relationship with employees and co-workers alike.
“I’ve had to discipline people and I’ve had to fire people, but if you do this long enough, you’ve had to do that,” he said. “If you don’t have the courage to do that, you’re in the wrong field. I don’t sit on any boards nor will I; I don’t coach sports, and if elected Sheriff, that will be my focus outside of my family, which we all have. You’ve got me 24/7.”
Burgess said he wants to thoroughly explore any and all available federal grants, and he will look for outside guidance to assist him in that search.
“Any safety equipment that we need or that comes out that will keep us and citizens safe, I’ll go to the ends of the earth to find a way to get it,” he said. “Safety is important to me.”
Burgess also said he wants to use K-9s more within the sheriff’s office if elected, and he has witnessed what they can do through his own department’s trainer Captain J.T. Adams, one of the most certified and trained law enforcement officers in Boone County who works with K-9 Rival, a 7-year-old Dutch shepherd.
“I’ve seen what they can do and I’ve seen what they can do hold up in court,” he said. “I don’t need to be convinced when you have a quality handler. Without the handler, they just become biscuit hounds. You’ve got to know your stuff.”
Burgess addressed the City of Madison’s recently discovered federal tax debt, which could exceed $1.3. million, including fees and interest, when an ongoing forensic audit is completed. The federal government has put liens on all city property.
“People who don’t understand how a city operates may struggle to understand what is going on,” he said. “They may take my title as city manager and think I dropped the ball. People accuse the council or the mayor. Again, that isn’t how it works. The employees make the deposits and handle money. The council makes decisions in council meetings. They, nor the mayor have a key to get in the building. The financial part is not the city manager’s responsibility. I take citizen complaints, plan jobs for maintenance and order supplies for those jobs. Billing is handled in the office by employees and is overseen by the city recorder. When this process is complete (audit and investigation), we’ll all know what happened and who is responsible.”
According to Burgess, it was he who found the first clue that something was wrong in 2017 in a piece of mail he opened while an employee was on vacation. The mail was a tax statement from the State of West Virginia, which has since been satisfied; but it made Burgess want to dig further into federal tax payment schedules within the city.
“I immediately took it to the mayor and this whole process began,” he said.
The Madison resident spoke about the drug epidemic in Boone County and how it has affected the county financially. He is a supporter of recovery groups and said the more tools that officers have in their box, the better off the community will be.
“I know that we’ve always had a couple of officers on the DEA task force and others,” he said. “If people want to know, they can find out how many indictments have been handed down in Boone County. There is a considerable amount of overtime handed down on those task forces. The DEA and the Federal Government pays that until that officer retires, and his retirement is based on that overtime and our county foots the bill. I’m not against a man making money, I am against us sending our forces out to work in other counties and other parts of the state when Boone County is eaten up with drugs. If we have the man power and we can find the resources, I will create a drug unit in Boone County. I want to work Boone County. There is plenty to keep two or three officers busy.”
Burgess said he wants to reevaluate the safety of Boone County Schools and look at what other rural school districts have done across the country and do a comparison between what has worked and what has not. He said he wants resource officers in the school system to focus on education and crime prevention awareness as much as the criminal activity.
“I’m not a politician and I’ve never ran for anything,” he said. “Obviously, if you look at my salary now versus what my salary would be as sheriff, I’m not doing this for a raise. I’m doing this because I want to make a difference in law enforcement and I want to have a hand in curbing wasteful spending in this county while being a part of bringing this county up out of the ashes. We’ve got to come together and move it forward. It starts with strong, determined leadership.”