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Thursday, February 12, 1998

Burgess challenges a confident Gilless

The Commercial Appeal, February 12, 1998
By Kriste Goad

Despite troubles within the Sheriff's Department over the past two years, two-term Sheriff A.C. Gilless said he's more confident about a win this year than in his previous campaigns.

Former Memphis police director Melvin T. Burgess, who will enter the race today, said it will be a tough battle, but he plans to win by challenging Gilless's effectiveness at controlling his department and the Shelby County Jail.

Burgess has been campaigning for sheriff since last year but will officially announce in front of the Criminal Justice Center downtown.

"Ain't no question it's going to be tough. We have an incumbent candidate who's spent a lifetime with the Sheriff's Department," said Burgess, a 33-year veteran of the Memphis Police Department. "We're going to have to work hard and do a lot of door-to-door campaigning. We're going to have to get to all four corners of this county."

Burgess said he also needs to raise about another $150,000 to compete with Gilless, who already has about $275,000 in his campaign coffers and a built-in campaign team ready to spring into action.

Gilless, first elected in 1990, was re-elected sheriff in 1994 with 62 percent of the vote, handily defeating his former boss, Gene Barksdale, Republican U.A. Moore and six other challengers. Gilless ran as an independent in 1990 and 1994, but this year entered the race as a Republican.

Novella Smith Arnold, the 58-year-old executive director of We Care Inc./Kid Care (for-merly known as the Criminal Justice Ministry at Calvary Episcopal Church), picked up a petition for the Republican sheriff's primary but has not yet filed.

Without explanation, Arnold was banned from the Shelby County Jail by Gilless in March 1996. She now has limited access to the jail but lingering concerns about conditions there, particularly those involving AIDS-infected inmates.

Burgess, who will run under the Democratic Party banner, said he thinks "the whole picture of the jail needs to be looked at."

"I will have to address the area of the jail and how it's been run and the problems that exist there," said Burgess, noting the rash of escapes and drug dealing there over the course of the past two years.

"It's not any one problem. The whole thing needs to be evaluated, from the people housed there to the people that work there."

In April 1996, an 18-count indictment was returned against Chief Deputy A. Ray Mills.

The U.S. government contends that Mills sold jobs to prospective deputies for between $3,500 and $3,900. According to the indictment, former staff adviser Stephen Toarmina was Mills's bagman.

Mills took a voluntary leave of absence without pay, pending the resolution of his federal court case, and ever since Gilless has taken a more hands-on approach to running the department.

Gilless, 64, said he's confident, after reviewing his polling results, that he'll win a third term even if the problems in his department become an issue.

"The question is, did we have problems within the Sheriff's Department? Yes we did. Did I take appropriate action? Yes I did. That's all I can do," Gilless said. "Any organization, police department or governmental agency, has problems. You deal with 'em and you go on about business. I feel like I've dealt with all my problems efficiently, expeditiously and effectively."

Burgess - who retired from the Police Department in 1994 under pressure from Mayor Willie Herenton's administration - has raised $50,565 since last April but already has spent $43,548 of that, according to his campaign financial disclosure statement filed this month.

Burgess said the additional $150,000 he needs will come from smaller, home-based fund-raising events rather than the large, hotel events he hosted last year.

"We feel confident that the money and everything is going to come around as soon as I officially announce my candidacy," said Burgess, 59.

Burgess said his supporters will host at least a half-dozen smaller fund-raisers at people's homes before the May 5 primary. Gilless, on the other hand, said he already has enough money on hand for his re-election campaign.

Edition: Final; Section: Metro; Page: B1
Copyright (c) 1998 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN


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