Incumbent sheriff faces challenger in March election

Deb Burchett, Christopher Clark seek Republican nomination for county law enforcement leadership.

Incumbent Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett will face off against Madison Twp. Fire and EMS Chief and former sheriff’s office Maj. Chris Clark on March 19 in the primary election.

Both candidates touted their law enforcement backgrounds and commitment to the community as reasons to vote for them for the Republican primary.

Burchett has been sheriff since 2017; she defeated longtime Democrat Sheriff Gene Kelly in a year Republicans swept the county in November 2016. She is the county’s first ever female sheriff and the third female sheriff in the state.

Clark served in the sheriff’s office in various roles from 1997 until early last year. He started as a dispatcher, then worked his way from deputy to major who often provided public briefings on incidents for the sheriff’s office.

The primary winner will not face an opponent in the November general election.

Qualifications and experience

Burchett has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience, including 29 years as a sheriff’s deputy. She retired from the sheriff’s office in 2011 to serve on the South Vienna Police Department, to “develop plans to run for sheriff of Clark County,” she said.

The sheriff has worked in “every division” of the sheriff’s office, she said, starting in the jail, becoming a school resource officer, serving on road patrol, then being promoted to the detective section.

“During my time in the detective section, I worked with the drug task force and investigated various high-profile cases, and also worked in the sex offenders registration and notification division,” Burchett said.

Burchett said she received numerous awards at the sheriff’s office, including the Meritorious Service award and the exceptional service award, homicide apprehension award and Sheriff’s Award. She was the first female in the county to be promoted to sergeant over the detective division.

Burchett is currently on the Municipal Court drugs and criminal justice board, she said.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Clark said after becoming a deputy, he worked his way up to detective, sergeant, lieutenant, then to major. In 2011 he received the Ohio Distinguished Law Enforcement Valor Award from then-Attorney General Mike DeWine

In his 26 years at the sheriff’s office, he received various awards including a homicide apprehension award, Meritorious Service awards and the Sheriff’s Award. Clark was in charge of training and education of deputies and the community, including active shooter training.

He said he developed and designed the sheriff’s office’s special response team and was the first commander of its SWAT team.

“The majority of my career has been spent conducting investigations or supervising investigations,” Clark said. “A portion of that was supervision of our narcotics unit.”

Clark has been with the Madison Twp. Fire Department for 32 years, serving as its chief for almost 17 years. He said he believes this experience has taught him community leadership and given him incident command and crisis response expertise.

“It’s like juggling flaming chainsaws constantly, so if you haven’t, you eventually get good at it,” Clark said.

Burchett fired Clark from the sheriff’s office last year just after the combined dispatch center opened with a letter the News-Sun obtained using public records laws and signed by Burchett saying Clark was “terminated because I have lost trust in you as my fiduciary.”

She declined to share more specific reasons for his firing last year, but Clark said he believes it was due to his intentions to run for sheriff once she no longer served in that role. He decided to go ahead and run against her after being fired.

Changes to the sheriff’s office and goals

Clark said if elected, he hopes to increase recruitment, waiving application fees and improving the work environment at the sheriff’s office.

“We want to try to attract more people to apply here, make it a welcoming place to come and work and increase that morale,” Clark said. “If people enjoy working at a place, they’re going to recruit for you.”

Burchett said staffing has increased recently, following a decline in the past few years that reflected nationwide trends. Under her, she said deputies can now be hired without first working in the jail.

“Law enforcement across the country has been facing declining numbers,and what we’ve been doing by being able to contract with our union to let us hire deputies right off the streets instead of being in the jail for five or seven years, we’ve been able to get very qualified people to come to the sheriff’s office,” Burchett said.

The sheriff’s office currently has six sergeants on road patrol, 12 deputies in schools, five in New Carlisle, two in Moorefield Twp., one in Springfield Twp., one in South Vienna, one in Mad River Twp., two in Bethel Twp. and one at the Springfield Metropolitan Housing Authority. It has a total of 23 other deputies on first through third shifts, Burchett said.

Burchett recently was involved in negotiations for deputy pay raises in 2024 and 2025 to match the salary of Springfield Police Division officers.

Clark said under him, employees would get more continuing education and the sheriff’s office would take advantage of the department’s intimate partner violence trained sergeant’s nationally recognized expertise to train more officers.

He said he would focus on preparing staff members to replace him as sheriff in the future, hoping they could be as good or better a sheriff as him when it is time to pass the torch.

“We need to continually move forward, and it just seems like my opponent, with a lot of things (believes) good enough is just good enough, and it’s not for me,” Clark said.

Under Burchett, she said a therapist was hired at the jail, who sees incarcerated people more quickly than previously, decreasing the danger the person presents to themselves or corrections officers.

Clark said more needs to be done to support the mental health of sheriff’s office staff as well, particularly after traumatic situations.

He said he would also crack down more on drug crimes, which often lead to other crimes.

911 combined dispatch center

When he was a major, Clark oversaw the opening of the combined dispatch center, but he said he was fired before he could work out some of its issues. One of these is a lack of enough dispatchers, with Clark saying the center is down 10.

Burchett said the sheriff’s office is only allowed to hire as many dispatchers as county commissioners decide.

Clark said there is also an issue with data transfer and intended technology that can inform first responders of a person’s or address’s criminal history not working how it should, which would help them be more prepared to respond.

“We’re relying on dispatchers now to tell us everything, and these are dispatchers who may have only eight people working in there to cover the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Springfield city police, Springfield city fire, another nine townships and another nine police agencies,” Clark said. “So you might have nine people, and they’re taking on calls and trying to dispatch 20-some departments and they’re missing things. That’s not their fault; they’re great people. They’re hard workers. They just need help.”

Burchett said she was against the way the dispatch center was developed “from the very beginning.”

“Not because I didn’t want safety for the community, because anything I could do to make this community safer, I’m 100% behind it,” Burchett said. “A facility like that, you need to get someone in here to build that facility that large.”


Clark said a major concern of his is the sheriff’s office budget. He said through public records, he learned that in 2022 and 2023, the office has almost $2 million in overtime budgeted.

He said when Burchett took office, the overtime budget was $207,000.

“We need to take a good hard look at the budget and make sure that we’re being fiscally responsible,” Clark said.

Burchett said salaries and overtime costs are on the same budget line, and they need to be separated to get an accurate number. She said in 2022 she returned $91,005 to the county, and $281,418 in 2023.

She said she hired a grant writer who works to source outside funding to avoid more county money going into the department.

Community policing

Both candidates said if elected, they will work to ensure the safety of Clark Countians and spend time out in the community.

“I have always cared about this community,” Burchett said. “I have always been out in this community (and) anything I can attend in this community I attend because I just want people to be able to see me and know who their sheriff is.”

Clark disputed this, saying that Burchett is not out in the community how she should be. He said he would be a different kind of sheriff.

“I’ve seen firsthand the way the current administration is, which is leadership from behind a desk, and that’s not me,” Clark said. “I believe in leading by example, being out (in the community). That’s really one of the big things I want people to understand; though I worked for her, her and I are completely different.”

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