The Erath County Republican Party held a forum at the Bond Auditorium Monday, giving local candidates a chance to plead their cases before voters.

Candidates for commissioner precinct 1, commissioner precinct 3, constable precinct 2 and sheriff, answered questions about their qualifications and why they should be elected.

One race that has been particularly heated is the race for sheriff with Kent Howell challenging Sheriff Matt Coates.

Howell voiced concern for how the sheriff’s department is being run, stating he “didn’t agree with how some of the previous employees were terminated when he [Coates] first took office.”

“I want to bring a positive change to this department. I want to put more officers on the streets. I want to restructure the department. I want to dedicate one deputy into the schools. We have to protect our schools and we have to protect our children. That, to me, is very important and a priority in this department,” Howell said.

Coates countered and noted that two days after he was appointed sheriff, Howell approached Coates and expressed interest in being Coates’ chief deputy or captain.

“I told him, ‘I would love to have you as my deputy, but you have no experience. I can’t have you running something that you have never done.’ I guess he decided now that he doesn’t agree; he certainly agreed back in 2017,” Coates said.

The sheriff candidates were asked, “Should the county be working with other law enforcement entities in the county to reduce duplication of services? If so, what are some ways the county can partner with other law enforcement entities to more efficiently use tax payer money?”

Howell said a swat team was started with the county that he doesn’t agree with due to “safety reasons.”

“The city has a lot of trained personnel that could handle what’s being done...The sheriff’s office is not equipped to handle all of that information,” Howell said.

Coates responded by saying the swat team is “very trained.”

“We are more than capable of doing it and he was on the swat team prior to his leave so what does he agree with? You don’t agree with it now, but you did then?” he asked Howell.

“It's not that the guys are untrained,” Howell said. “I don’t have an issue with anyone on the sheriff’s department. I'm talking about combining the swat team. The guys have busted their butts and done a great job with all of their training, but I feel like we need to combine our resources and have one team.”

Coates simply stated, “Alright, and we do.”

The candidates were each given four minutes for closing statements.

“I care about this community and I will do whatever I can to protect this community and by doing that, I need to be in a position to do that,” Howell said. “I want to be able to build better relationships with the community to where they’ll have faith in this department and know that if they call, someone is going to show up and help them. This is a very unique race. We both love what we’re doing, we both care about it and I promise you that I will be the better sheriff. I promise you that I'll be there if you call.”

Coates closed by asking the audience who they want running the department.

“Are you here to vote for somebody due to popularity, or are you here to vote for someone who has spent their adult life training to be where they’re at and doing a good job?” Coates asked. “This is the largest law enforcement office in the county. Do you want somebody that has done it for three years and has 20 years of getting ready to do it behind them or a guy which he says has two? Two years at the sheriff’s office, 13 years of service, two years of actual sheriff's office experience...to me it’s a no brainer, who do you want?”