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Falls has work to do to restore trust

Corey Falls is taking over the Jackson County Sheriff's Office with a huge vote of confidence from the electorate and the opportunity to change the culture of a department that has had its share of internal strife. While he navigates that new challenge, it's important the new sheriff stays focused on communicating with the public his department serves.

Falls was deputy chief of the Ashland Police Department when he filed to run against Sheriff Mike Winters, who was first elected in 2003. Bob Sergi, a lieutenant in the Sheriff's Office and night supervisor of the county jail, also ran, setting up a conflict with his boss.

Winters finished second to Falls in the primary, and in September announced he would no longer campaign, but said he would serve if voters re-elected him. Falls won the general election with 77 percent of the vote, helped by the endorsement of the Jackson County Sheriff Employees Association.

Under Winters, the Sheriff's Office was not known for openness with the public or with the news media. Reporters frequently found themselves unable to keep the public informed about crimes and investigations because they could not get information in a timely fashion.

Winters can point to several accomplishments during his tenure, including an expanded jail, a new department headquarters on Highway 62 and a consolidated 911 center. But the lack of confidence in his leadership was increasingly evident. He engaged in costly court battles with this newspaper over his refusal to release records considered public information under state law.

Falls says he wants to bolster public trust in law enforcement. That's a worthwhile goal, and one we heartily endorse.

For starters, Falls should concentrate his efforts on the law enforcement agency he has control over. We hope he can implement and encourage a culture of openness and accessibility, sharing what information can be shared without jeopardizing investigations, so the public his deputies work to protect knows what is being done on their behalf.