Maury County Sheriff, challenger trade sharp barbs in debate

Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland appeared to label challenger Sam Barnes “a coward” during Thursday’s debate at Columbia State Community College.

During his closing remarks, Rowland said he would never pretend to be someone he’s not “because I’m not a coward.” Rowland was referencing social media commentary and videos by Barnes, a former Maury County deputy who has criticized Rowland as ineffective in fighting drug crime and for his rehabilitation practices at the jail.

“Everything I told you about me here is real,” Rowland said. “I will always give you the truth. Whether you believe it or not … is up to you. I will never purposefully say or do anything that I am not willing to put my name on or that would bring dishonor to my profession or my community.

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Sam Barnes

“I can back every decision that I have ever made, serving as sheriff, and every program that has been implemented under my leadership the last four years. I will never stoop to the level pretending to be someone or something I am not by social media or any other means because I am not a coward. I have often heard the saying, your friends want you to do well, but not as well as they do. That’s just not true for me. I hope and pray whoever takes my place one day is left with an amazing foundation that they can to build on. That is how much I love this county.”

Barnes, who left the Sheriff’s Department after Rowland’s election in 2014, said after the debate that he was floored by Rowland’s use of “coward” and pointed out he’s won a medal of valor.

“It was in extremely poor taste,” Barnes said.

Barnes took note of Rowland’s words in his closing statement.

“Cowards don’t save lives for 23 years,” Barnes said, referencing his years in law enforcement. “A man once told me in 2014, and numerous other officers and members of the community, if your own children were missing, I would want Sam Barnes to be the man to find them. That was Bucky Rowland.”

The debate Thursday was a back and forth on the rise of drug crime in Maury County, caused largely by opioid and heroin epidemics, and Rowland’s response to it. Rowland has made rehabilitating inmates and cutting the rate of recidivism a hallmark of his administration. He said he has allowed 72 programs into the jail, aimed at educating inmates and reducing their return to criminal activity when they leave.

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