Ozark County election candidate profiles
These candidates are running in contested races in the Aug. 7 primary
The candidates whose profiles appear on this page are running in the four locally contested races in the upcoming Aug. 7 primary election – associate circuit judge, prosecuting attorney, presiding county commissioner and 155th District state representative. On Sunday presiding commissioner candidate Seth Smith told the Times he was withdrawing from the race, but at press time he had not done so officially, according to Ozark County Clerk Brian Wise.
Candidates running in uncontested county-office races are incumbents Wise, running for county clerk; Becki Strong, running for circuit clerk/recorder; and Phyllis Gaulding Turner, running for treasurer. Deputy county collector Darla Sullivan is running for the collector’s job, succeeding longtime collector Bill Hambelton, who is retiring.
The Ozark County Times sent brief questionnaires to the candidates in the contested races, asking them to limit their responses to a total of 400-500 words. The questionnaires asked the candidates for any personal information they chose to share, their skills and life experiences, and the greatest challenges they believed they would face in the office they were seeking. We asked most of the candidates what they hoped to accomplish if elected; in the case of the race for associate circuit judge, we asked the candidates to respond to an often-heard public complaint when court sentences anywhere are perceived as “a slap on the wrist.”
The profiles have been edited to fit the newspaper’s format, and the edited drafts have been approved by the candidates.
All candidates filed as Republicans.
Seth Smith, Isabella
Seth Smith has told the Times he is withdraw from the presiding commissioner’s race. Ozark County Clerk Brian Wise says Smith’s name will still appear on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot, but Smith says that, due to personal reasons, he’s unable to serve in the position at this time.
John Turner, Gainesville
Personal information: I’m married to the former Phyllis Gaulding. Together my wife and I have five children and nine grandchildren. I attended elementary school at Thornfield and graduated from Gainesville High School in 1972.
Skills and experience: I have four years of on-the-job experience as presiding commissioner. During this time I have presided over weekly commission meetings and have worked successfully with others to balance four years of multimillion-dollar budgets. In addition, I have 35-plus years combined experience as an Ozark County business owner and manager. My wife and I currently own the Antler Motel, and I worked previously in a supervisory capacity at Antler Package & Pizza. Prior to that I owned a gun shop on the square. I also have a Class A CDL and possess a strong construction background as a heavy equipment operator. I’ve spread gravel, installed culverts and built parking lots around the county.
Biggest challenge facing the county and the commission: The biggest challenge is always the creation of new jobs and attracting new business. Balancing a multimillion-dollar budget on limited funds is the second biggest challenge.
What do you hope to accomplish? I plan to keep an ear to the ground and search for ways to bring business to the county. I want to continue building on the strong working relationship I have with the other commissioners. Our accomplishments are a team effort, and I’m proud of the working relationship we have. There are a number of projects I’ve been involved with that I’d like to see through to completion, such as the new food pantry and the proposed improvements to the Tecumseh hill, just to name a couple.
What distinguishes you from your opponent? First and foremost, I have four years of hands-on experience. I can walk into the office on Jan. 2 and start work immediately. I’ve developed strong working relationships with other presiding commissioners, which has proven to be beneficial. My membership on a number of boards has given me the opportunity to become involved and be an active voice for Ozark County. I currently serve on the SCOCOG and Missouri Association of Counties boards. Previously I served as a member of the Senior Center board and was instrumental in assisting them sell their old building and improve the parking lot at their new location. Like many others, the presiding commissioner’s position was tasked with the responsibility of providing assistance during the 1,000-year flood of 2017. I’ve lived in Ozark County 50-plus years and believe I have a good understanding of the needs of the people here.
John Garrabrant, Tecumseh
Personal information: After high school, I served for seven years in the Marine Corps. I was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 1982 and began college at the University of Missouri – Columbia. I earned my bachelor’s degree in 1985 and my Juris Doctor degree in 1989. I am licensed to practice in all Missouri state courts and in our Eastern and Western District federal courts. I have served on the Missouri Bar Association’s Criminal Law Committee for almost 20 years.
Skills and experience: My career as a prosecutor started while in law school by interning as an assistant prosecutor in Cooper County. I have been an assistant and senior assistant prosecutor in three counties and was the elected prosecutor in three counties. I have served as Ozark County’s prosecutor since July 2016. I have also been appointed by courts as a special prosecutor in at least eight different counties in the 25th and 44th judicial circuits. For nine years, I was in private practice with a top-rated law firm in Rolla where I concentrated in criminal defense, insurance defense and general litigation. In all, I have almost 29 years of experience as a trial attorney and over 18 years as a prosecutor. I conservatively estimate I have participated in more than 75 jury trials in courts all across south central Missouri. I am one of the few prosecutors in the state who has tried a death penalty case to completion and was still around when the sentence was carried out.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the prosecutor? The office computer hardware must be upgraded to handle statewide case-management systems, and our procedure for victim services can always use improvement. There are two first-degree murder cases pending, with four defendants, that have to be tried along with several serious child abuse cases. I welcome these challenges, and I hope the people of Ozark County will allow me to finish the work I have started.
What do you hope to accomplish if elected? I want to continue changes I have already made to make the office more efficient and responsive to Ozark Countians. We now have a true open-door policy, and office appointments are readily available. A private probation service is used to supervise misdemeanor probations at the offenders’ expense. At my request, the county commission increased the allowable County Law Enforcement Restitution Fund assessments, and more money is coming back to county law enforcement rather than going to the state as fines. All legal research has been automated, and publication expenses have been cut. There has been a greater emphasis on treatment programs, including drug court, to deal with nonviolent drug offenders. Most importantly, I hope to continue the outstanding relationship I have fostered with elected officials and law enforcement with the goal of providing Ozark County with a safe and secure community.
What distinguishes you from your opponent? I have devoted my life to the practice of law and serving the people of Missouri as a prosecuting attorney.
John Russo, Gainesville
Personal information: I hold an associate’s degree in law enforcement from MSU-West Plains, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Missouri Southern State University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arkansas. I have over 33 years of law enforcement experience and thousands of hours of education and specialized training including fire, arson, homicide, major case squad, advanced crime scene procedures and training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, Georgia. I’m a husband of 34 years, dad of four and “papo” to nine.
Skills and experience: I’m a certified law enforcement officer in Missouri and an experienced homicide investigator. I’m licensed to practice law in state and federal courts of Arkansas and Missouri, including the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. I have experience as an assistant prosecuting attorney and deputy public defender, and I have extensive jury trial experience on both sides of the fence as well as education and training as a criminal trial attorney. I’m qualified to handle death penalty cases.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the prosecutor? Restoring the reputation of being tough on crime. We need to stop the revolving door, slap-on-the-wrist punishment for repeat offenders. Probation is fine for the first- or second-time non-violent offender. But repeat offenders should be treated as such, and their punishment should reflect their past and current crimes. I will aggressively prosecute repeat offenders.
What do you hope to accomplish if elected? I want to begin video arraignment and video first appearances for inmates, enhancing security for law enforcement and the courts. I want to install a MULES / NCIC terminal in the prosecutor’s office for criminal case preparation. My other goals are utilizing drug court or long-term drug treatment programs for new offenders instead of only probation, digitizing old paper files and instituting a computerized record management system. Enhancing the working relationship with all law enforcement agencies. I’d also like to use the prosecutor’s office to help bring advanced law enforcement training to our sheriff’s department.
What distinguishes you from your opponent? Integrity. First, my years of experience as a law enforcement officer and major crimes investigator combined with my years as both an assistant prosecuting attorney and deputy public defender give me unique insight into how to present a case and how to prevent criminals from using legal tricks to get away from facing punishment. Second, I am a conservative Republican. Two years ago, my opponent applied for the appointment as Ozark County prosecutor as a Democrat and was appointed as a Democrat. On his personal Facebook page, he says he is, “Other / Democratic Party.” Yet he has filed and is running against me as a Republican. I don’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat, but this is a major integrity issue. We must be able to trust that a prosecutor will always follow the truth, not politics. Integrity matters.
Associate Circuit Judge
Raymond Gross, Gainesville
Personal information: As a Missouri native, I attended the University of Missouri-Columbia and then pursued a law degree at St. Louis University. Prior to graduating, I worked for a private attorney in Gainesville during summer breaks. I have had an office in Ozark County since I began practicing law.
Skills and experience: Through-out my career, I have worked in every area of law that an associate circuit judge presides over – from probate to landlord-tenant to criminal law. I also have prosecuted criminal cases for rural Missouri cities, including Mansfield, Norwood and Gainesville. Outside of the courtroom, I have served our community as a board member for Ozark Action, Inc., coached the GHS Academic Team, sat on the board of Lions Club, volunteered for Hootin an Hollarin and was elected to city council. I think it is important for a judge to appreciate the needs of the people he or she serves. If elected, my public service has equipped me to better understand the county where my rulings would be enforced. Biggest challenge facing the associate circuit judge? Many cases are rooted in substance abuse and addiction. In those cases, it’s not only the defendant facing a criminal charge; it is the parent whose addiction requires the removal of children from the home, or the tenant who cannot make rent on time because of disruptions in his or her income/employment. While treatment courts have seen some success, more can be done.
It seems in every election of judges that readers/voters complain about those accused of crimes being given a “slap on the wrist.” How would you respond? An associate circuit judge does not usually pass sentence on felony charges. That is the responsibility of the circuit judge. Even then, decisions about sentencing are made after reviewing recommendations from the Missouri Department of Correction’s Board of Probation and Parole. These recommendations are based on statute and board guidelines. After sentencing, convicted felons are released on parole without significant, if any, input from the local judges who passed sentence or the prosecutors who filed the charges. Due to prison overpopulation, the Missouri Department of Corrections is releasing inmates sooner than their anticipated parole dates to make room for violent offenders. A current report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center outlines that Missouri may need to build and operate two new prisons if improvements are not made. In summary, oftentimes it is people far from Ozark County who influence sentencing decisions and the release of convicted felons. Judges can and do play a role in making improvements to the criminal justice system, but they are only one part of the solution.
What distinguishes you from your opponent? While I appreciate the question, I feel that it is an invitation to criticize my opponent, who happens to be a sitting judge in Ozark County. I do not plan to do anything that might erode the integrity of the office I seek to hold. I will let the voters decide if I have distinguished myself from my opponent.
Cynthia MacPherson, Pontiac
Personal information: I am truly blessed. I have three sons and nine very talented and beautiful grandchildren.
Skills and experience: I have been the Ozark County Associate Judge for the past five years. I brought to the bench over 40 years of experience in handling the type of civil cases necessary for a judge who is required to handle all probate, small claims, domestic matters, adult and child protective orders, collections, landlord tenant, restraining orders and civil cases. I also brought to the bench over 12 years of experience as a prosecutor; this is the very background necessary to be the judge this county needs on the front lines of its criminal court. I have tried over 200 jury trials, both civil and criminal. The criminal jury trials included multiple drug, murder, rape, armed robbery, assault and child molestation cases.
Biggest challenge facing the associate circuit judge? To me, this job is a special trust that deeply motivates me to be as good as the court personnel, prosecutor and law enforcement supporting my court. Every time I take the bench I also work to make sure the public feels this is their court–the People’s Court. If reelected, I will continue to work hard every day to remain worthy of this very special trust.
It seems in every election of judges that readers/voters complain about those accused of crimes being given a “slap on the wrist.” How would you respond? As a prosecutor, I worked very closely with undercover drug officers with the highway patrol and local law enforcement where I saw firsthand the crisis being created by the burgeoning methamphetamine and opioid crisis. There is no question that there are a lot of hard-core criminals violating the drug laws, but there is also that group of defendants whose problem is one of addiction, which we cannot solve without getting them into effective treatment programs. As judge, my number one priority has been to protect the public while also working toward getting help for those who are struggling with addiction. When I became judge, I set up a program of Supervised Bond Release with Court Probationary Services. This program allows a defendant to be released on bond under very rigid conditions that I set up on a case-by-case basis. Defendants report twice weekly and are drug tested twice weekly. Any violations whatsoever of the strict rules and regulations I attach to each individual’s bond results in a warrant being issued, usually within hours. This program helps us identify defendants who really want to get help by providing the defendant an opportunity to demonstrate to the court and prosecutor that they can report as ordered, maintain employment and pass multiple drug test weekly.
What distinguishes you from your opponent? My extensive experience over 40 years as an attorney plus an additional five years as Ozark County Associate Circuit Judge – and my demonstrated commitment and love for this community.
Personal information: I’m a life-long resident of the Brown Branch/Bradleyville area in eastern Taney County. My wife, Stacey, and I have been married 23 years, and we have two grown children, Shekinah Norwine and Mariah Henson, both set to graduate from College of the Ozarks this year, plus two children in the home, Jacquelyn and Greyson. I was the Bradleyville High School valedictorian in 1990, and I’m a 1992 graduate of St. John’s School of Radiologic Technology.
Skills or experience: I’ve been a Gospel minister for 19 years and a clinical instructor of radiologic technology for North Arkansas College for three years. I’ve also been a cattle farmer for more than 30 years. I have patience and self-discipline. I’m experienced in teaching and in conflict resolution, and I stress the role of continuing education to stay current in your trade. I believe in standing up for your beliefs.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the 155th District? The biggest challenge will be challenging the status quo and the jaded belief that things can’t be changed. I hope to help the district get beyond settling for “good” when we could do “great.”
What do you hope to accomplish if elected? I want to conduct myself in a way that will make my district proud to have elected me. I want to enact laws that will strengthen our families and fight against excessive government intervention in our lives. I would also like to see an increased emphasis on rehabilitation of criminals as well as punishment. Our law enforcement resources are being too often used to arrest and incarcerate the same offenders.
What distinguishes you from your opponents? I differ from my opponents in our vision. My vision for my community, district and state is every husband loving his wife like Christ loves the church, every dad being positively involved in the lives of his children and every mom getting behind him and supporting him in this endeavor. The next part of my vision is to have the state govern in ways that enhance and encourage the family, as Ronald Reagan did with Executive Order 12606-The Family. The disintegration of the home has affected almost every aspect of our lives. Until we strengthen our homes, we will continue to “spin our wheels,” throwing money at problems that can’t be fixed with money.
Karla Eslinger, Wasola
Personal information: My husband David and I both graduated from Gainesville High School. For the past 34 years we have lived on the Wasola farm where David’s parents raised turkeys and cattle. David, a retired vocational teacher, has also owned and operated Dave’s Body Shop for 35 years. Our youngest daughter, Katy, teaches in Ava; her husband, Garrett, works for Century Bank. Chelsey and her husband, Justin, work at Gainesville High School, where he is high school principal and she teaches business classes. We’re proud to be a sixth-generation Ozark County family, now raising our grandbabies here.
Skills and experience: In my 36 years of public service as a teacher, principal, superintendent and state assistant commissioner of education, I have developed leadership and communication skills, plus the ability to work with community leaders and folks of all ages. I enjoy being of service, helping to find solutions and overcoming challenges. I earned my B.S. degree from College of the Ozarks and my master’s and specialist degrees at Missouri State University. I earned a doctorate in leadership and policy analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia while maintaining full employment, a combination that pushed me to sharpen my most important skills: dependability, determination and dedication.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the 155th district? An essential need is to remain connected to those in the district. I will remain connected with constituents through emails and phone calls, the use of radio and community newspapers, and by attending city and county meetings and events. Another challenge is protecting the family farm and supporting our largest industry, agriculture. We also need to increase overall job growth and development
and rescind regulations that hinder small business growth.
What do you hope to accomplish if elected? To increase employment opportunities, I will work to increase affordable access to high-quality internet service, support enhancements to our transportation infrastructure as well as support career and technical-education programs at the secondary, post-secondary and adult levels that can provide graduates with industry-recognized credentials. Our success in these three areas would ultimately support our children, farmers, small business owners and our tourist industry while attracting new industry as well as expanding individual opportunities.
What distinguishes you from your opponents? Working as an educator for the past 35-plus years and owning and operating a small business with David, I have a good understanding of the needs of our district as well as the knowledge, skill and dedication necessary to resolve issues and provide individuals and communities opportunities for success. I have found success through my faith, hard work and dedication to our community. I have the courage to lead and the conviction to deliver.
Mike Lind, Thornfield
Personal information: I am age 63. My parents were Henry Lind of Nottinghill and Annabelle Haskins Lind of Thornfield in Ozark County. For much of my childhood, I lived on a farm at Thornfield with my grandparents, Basil and Alma Haskins, graduating from Gainesville High School in 1972. After a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, I returned home to Ozark County, worked locally, attended the School of the Ozarks and graduated in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in both agribusiness and business administration. After graduating from college, I worked in nearby states and traveled to Alaska, where I met my wife, Mary; we have now been married for 34 years. We have lived in the Thornfield area on a small farm for nearly all of the last 31 years. We raised and home-schooled two daughters, Molly and Megan.
Skills and experience: My experience has included working for the U.S. government in the military as well as in Civil Service on a Coast Guard Station, but my much varied experience has mostly been in the private sector. I have had occupational licenses as a stockbroker, commercial fisherman, real estate agent and commercial truck driver. Among other things, I have worked in factories, on a natural gas drilling rig, as a carpenter and a livestock farmer. And, very importantly, since 2008 I have had an enormous amount of personal experience as a self-represented litigant in our local courts, learning court procedure and how to research the law.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the 155th district? The biggest challenge is in people maintaining their standard of living and saving for the future and in businesses maintaining their profitability without taking on any more debt and in spite of constantly escalating prices and lagging wages and incomes.
What do you hope to accomplish if elected? I would be willing and able to bring to the attention of the people and the General Assembly the practices and instances of serious maladministration by state and county governments and seek to obtain correction, whether by legislative action or other means. Otherwise, for more permanent and far-reaching corrective solutions, I would work with as many legislators as would be willing and with groups around the state to enact constitutional reforms to make government serve all people impartially, justly and economically in accordance with law.
What distinguishes you from opponents? I read history and take to heart the compelling lessons for republics to act with fiscal responsibility and restraint. I know firsthand how court corruption is occurring and am highly motivated to work for judicial and criminal justice reform. Not only do I oppose ever-growing spending, taxing, regulating and property seizing by government in our state, I am willing to work with the General Assembly or the people via initiative petition for reduction of all of these issues.