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CHARLESTON -- The union representing Coles County sheriff's deputies is backing the candidate opposing the current sheriff's re-election bid.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 207 is endorsing Steve Spear, currently a patrol sergeant with the office, in the March 20 primary election.

Spear is seeking the Republican nomination for sheriff along with incumbent Jimmy Rankin, who's in his first term in the office.

In a Sunday news release announcing the endorsement, the union said "there has been a consistent lack of presence and leadership" from Rankin.

It said Rankin hasn't maintained the office's training and overtime budgets which resulted in a high turnover rate and "drop in morale."

It also said Rankin did not attend most contract negotiating sessions between the union and the office. That caused the negotiations to "drag on longer than necessary" because administration representatives who were present couldn't speak on Rankin's behalf.

When contacted Tuesday, Rankin said he hadn't been aware of the union's endorsement but added that "there are a lot of things that can be done" about training matters.

"I'm doing my best to put people in positions to make the department and the county better," he said.

Rankin also said there were administration representatives at contract negotiating sessions, with whom he later conferred to make sure requirements were met.

"I was always there for input," he said.

The news release also cited the various positions Spear has been in while with the sheriff's office, "encompassing all branches" of the office. It said union members believe Spear will "take the necessary actions" to correct the alleged problems.

Deputy Butch Beadles, the union's secretary, confirmed the endorsement, which he said was based on a vote by members at a meeting on Nov. 5. He said about half the union's 40 members were at the meeting and the vote in favor of endorsing Spear was unanimous.

Rankin and Spear are currently the only two candidates for the sheriff's position.

That means whoever wins next month's primary will likely be unopposed in the November general election. There is a period after the primary during which the county Democratic Party could fill the ballot vacancy and name a candidate to run, however.

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