Two Republican candidates running for sheriff currently work for the office.

The other is a former sheriff.

Republicans Patrick Wells, Tony Lennartz and Ray Newton will face off in the May primary for their party’s nomination as Jay County Sheriff.

Patrick Wells, a 1991 Jay County High School graduate, worked for Overhead Door Company of Hartford City and FCC of Portland before he started in 1996 at Portland Police Department. About seven years later, he took on a position at Jay County Sheriff’s Office. Wells also volunteered as at Portland Fire Department for about six years. He has served in a variety of positions at the sheriff’s department over the course of his career, having previously served as chief deputy. (Wells, now captain, said his role switch earlier this year was not a disciplinary action but rather because of differing opinions between him and Sheriff Dwane Ford.)

Tony Lennartz is a 1989 Fort Recovery High School graduate. Throughout his childhood, his family owned a turkey and hog farm along the Indiana-Ohio state line. Lennartz worked in the agriculture field for a few years before switching to J and M Manufacturing, where he was employed for about 17 years. He started working for the Jay County Sheriff’s Office reserve officer program in 2004 and was hired by the sheriff’s department around 2007. Lennartz became patrol sergeant in 2019 and lieutenant of investigations in 2020. His specialization, he said, is in drug interdiction.

Newton, a 1981 graduate of Jay County High School, served for four years in the United States Navy. He worked in plumbing construction for his father for about 20 years. Newton worked for the Portland Police Department reserve program for four years. In 1991, he started at Jay County Sheriff’s Office. He served as sheriff for two terms from 2007 to 2014, and he retired from the department in 2018.

He currently works as a police officer at IU Health Jay and serves on Jay County Council.

Newton recalled during his time as sheriff when the jail was overcrowded and outdated.

“The old jail was very dangerous,” he said. “It was just getting to the point the jail was out of control.”

He oversaw the jail’s expansion, increasing the number of beds from roughly 48 to about 150 and as well as updating equipment and other necessities. Newton said while serving as sheriff, he achieved a goal to update vehicles with mobile data terminals or computers and updated camera systems. They installed antennas in four areas of the county to increase radio signals.

Lennartz said he’s currently working to increase training and help officers to be better prepared for any and all situations they may encounter, such as recognizing and handling citizens suffering from mental health issues and drug interdiction. He would like to see more training implemented as sheriff.

“I feel like that’s very important to better equip these guys because the landscape is changing every day out here, and it’s not necessarily for the better,” he said.

It is a liability, Newton said, to not have enough training for officers. He also plans to offer more options, specifically crisis intervention training.

Officer retention, all three candidates noted, is an issue that needs to be addressed at the sheriff’s office.

Increasing pay and morale among officers are some ways Wells hopes to draw and keep more employees. He would like to see more law enforcement in the rural areas of the county, beyond town and city limits.

Lennartz, Wells and Newton are keen on keeping budget spending in check. Wells and Newton expressed disagreements with how some funding has been used in the past.

“It’s not so much how we can spend, it’s how we can save,” Newton said.

The sheriff’s office and Jay County Jail are now undergoing various maintenance projects, Wells noted, and said he thinks it “takes the right person to step in and make sure it’s done” in a financially responsible manner.

“I’ve got to sit back and watch for the last few years, and there’s some things that I would definitely change,” he said. “The economy’s not the greatest right now, so maybe we need to tighten our belts and close the toy chest.”

Lennartz is focused on bringing rehabilitation programs back to Jay County Jail.

“I know our job is to arrest people that commit crimes, but I also want to see them helped in the end,” he said. “I don’t want them coming back. I want to see them prosper and become … prosperous citizens.”

Newton chastised the department for halting programs when the coronavirus pandemic started. He plans to implement them back into the jail.

All three candidates advocated for having a school resource officer in Jay Schools. Newton said he would love to see more officers or involvement with the schools but will leave that decision up to Jay School Corporation.

“We’ve got to protect our kids,” Newton said. “You can’t put a price on your kids.”

Each candidate believes they’re the best person for the job.

“I know I have the knowledge and the experience and the work ethic that it takes to be sheriff, and I know that I can lead that department in the right direction,” Lennartz said.

Wells encouraged the public to listen to others in the community, not just him and the other candidates, to make an informed decision on the party’s nomination for sheriff.

“I think my experience and my accomplishments up to now speak for my character,” said Wells. “I’ve spent the majority of my life as a police officer, and I like to think that I’ve gained a lot of respect in the community, and I want the chance to prove that I can do more.”

If elected, Newton said, he believes he’s the only candidate that could transition to the role seamlessly.

“I think the community has lost faith in the department and it needs to be fixed. A lot of people believe I’m the only person who can do it,” said Newton. “I want to bring back leadership and professionalism to the department.”