In today’s political climate, one of the complaints often heard is that elected officials frequently seek to insulate themselves from the very people they are elected to serve.
On Nov. 5, Lincoln County Sheriff John Cottle sought to change that impression by making himself available for a question and answer session hosted by Rachel’s Restaurant in Elsberry.
“I was told by voters during my campaign that the sheriff wasn’t accessible,” said Cottle. “That was one of the things I promised people I would do. I’ve kept that promise. I’m accessible at the office and in the community.”
One of the ways that Cottle decided to make himself accessible was by informing the local communities within Lincoln County that he could meet with residents on a regular basis and give them the opportunity to voice questions or concerns.
“What I hope to accomplish through these events is to establish some transparency within the Sheriff’s Department and create trust within the community,” said Cottle. “We’ve already done that to an extent through ride along programs, Facebook postings and things like our inmate choir.”
Although this event was the first of its kind in Elsberry, Cottle has held similar question and answer sessions throughout other communities within Lincoln County and said the response has been mixed.
“I’ve been to some where nobody showed up and I’ve been to some where 12 people showed up,” said Cottle. “At those events we’ve talked about deer hunting, crops, Obamacare, the inmate choir and other things of that nature. Very seldom have we talked about anything to do with the Sheriff’s Department.”
Cottle isn’t surprised or discouraged by the types of things that people want to discuss with him and said that his purpose in initiating these events wasn’t necessarily to give people the opportunity to talk specifically about the Sheriff’s Department.
In fact, Cottle is far more interested in simply establishing a dialogue than in the topics of discussion themselves.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for over 25 years and it’s always been kind of a closed world,” said Cottle. “To me that’s not acceptable. I’ve always depended on the public to give me the information I needed to clean up the neighborhoods. You have to have the public. You need them behind you and you need their support.”
To that end, Cottle recommended that residents of Lincoln County take a more proactive role when it comes to getting acquainted with local law enforcement.
“I encourage people to visit the Sheriff’s Department and go through the jail as well as anything else they want to see,” said Cottle. “Everything is available to them and we can’t do our job without help from the community.”
According to Cottle, his appearance at Rachel’s received some pretty significant advance press.
“We started advertising this event in late August or early September,” said Cottle. “I didn’t want it to be a surprise and I didn’t want someone to say later on that they would have come if only they had known about it.”
Despite the early advertising, the crowd at Rachel’s was light and no direct questions were asked from anyone in attendance.
“I think because this is new people don’t realize what it is yet,” said Cottle. “They think it’s just me standing up here talking.”
While that is certainly possible, Cottle also offered a much more optimistic explanation for the quiet crowd.
“Maybe we’re being so transparent they already know everything that’s going on,” Cottle joked. “If nobody shows up maybe there aren’t really that many complaints after all. However, it’s important that I continue to make myself available. I don’t push myself on people. Some people don’t want to talk. They just want to sit in the background and listen. That doesn’t bother me. I didn’t come here with an agenda.”