Johnson, Vandenberg contrast in sheriff primary

Two will square off in June 4 Republican Primary


LEE COUNTY – The only primary election in the county features two newcomers to the Lee County Sheriff’s race.
Former Lee County deputy Elliott Vandenberg and career Fort Madison firefighter Daniel Johnson are both running on the Republican ticket to take on current Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber in the November general election.
Weber is a two-term incumbent who garnered close to 14,000 votes cast in the 2020 general election. He ran opposed and defeated Scott Bonar in 2016 after then-sheriff Jim Sholl retired. Weber is seeking his third term as the county’s top cop.
Vandenberg was a deputy for Weber for close to a year after moving back from Wyoming where he served as a State Trooper since 2015. He resigned from the Lee County Sheriff’s department and then announced his intentions to seek the office at the next meeting of the Lee County Republicans.
Vandenberg is a graduate of Keokuk High School and Culver Stockton College. He has a Master of Business Administration and an undergraduate degree in legal studies. He was field training officer in Wyoming and an instructor at Wyoming’s State Patrol Academy before returning to Iowa.
“With my outside experience and perspective, I have much to offer for the department’s future growth,” he wrote in an email to Pen City Current.
“My time as a trooper in a fast-paced environment has equipped me with the knowledge, experience, and skills beyond my years of service.”
Vandenberg has a wife and two children and lives in Van Buren County. He said he already has plans in place to move to Lee County if elected sheriff.
He said his outside experience with the Wyoming State Patrol and his master’s degree in business separates him from Johnson as the best candidate to challenge Weber, despite having nothing but positive interactions with Johnson.
“I know exactly what needs to be done on Day 1. It also can’t go without saying that on day one, Daniel can’t be your sheriff. Daniel must be accepted to, and pass, the law enforcement academy.”
Vandenberg said the state is doing an excellent job of supporting law enforcement, and also of holding officers who have done wrong accountable.
“It’s a great state to be in law enforcement.”
He said on the national scale, law enforcement officers are also supported for the most part, but said the media likes to put their spin on things and likes to focus on bad cops.
“As the sheriff, I will ensure we are not allowing these types of officers to operate inside Lee County,” he wrote.
He said running for sheriff was a result of deficiencies in training and leadership at the LCSO.
“I told myself I was going to correct it or not be a part of it. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” he said.
When asked what experience he had in managing a budget, Vandenberg referred to his master’s degree and said he was very conservative-minded and plans to crack down on what he called wasted spending.
Although he’s never overseen staff of his own, Vandenberg said as a training officer he typically had classes for anywhere from five to 20 troopers at a time.
With Body Worn Cameras at the forefront of news when it comes to nationally publicized investigations, Vandenberg said he supported their use and said they are a useful tool.
Lee County ties the salaries of the Chief Deputy and the Jail Administrator to the sheriff’s salary and Vandenberg said he hasn’t formulated a plan with regard to those positions.
“At this time, those positions have been decided. The process will be fair. Nothing will be promised or given under my administration.”
Johnson has been a full-time firefighter in Fort Madison for more than two decades and is the assistant chief at the volunteer Wever Fire Department. He has four children and is married. He graduated from Fort Madison High School and is an EMT after coursework at Southeastern Community College.
Johnson admittedly has no experience “in” law enforcement but has 22 years with the Fort Madison and Wever fire departments working alongside Lee County law enforcement.
Johnson said his residency has been in Lee County his entire life and he has spent more than two decades serving the people of this county.
“Vandenberg doesn’t even live in Lee County currently,” Johnson wrote in an email to Pen City Current.
“While Vandenberg has some law enforcement experience, the majority of his career was spent in Wyoming. Elliott was a deputy here in Lee County for just over a year before quitting to run for sheriff.”
Johnson said he and Vandenberg differ greatly when it comes to recruiting new deputies. At the forum earlier this month, Johnson said Vandenberg said he wants to recruit “elites” from colleges out of state. The Republican party held a debate in May where State Rep. Martin Graber (R-Ft. Madison) moderated the event.
“I’d like to recruit from within our own county. Folks that are already serving THIS county on a volunteer basis. In my opinion, someone that has roots in our community and already has a good relationship with the people would make a much better deputy than an someone right out of college from outside of the area.”
Johnson said we should always try to hire from our own county first.
He also has pledged to donated $15,000 of his salary to a program to stem drug usage that takes the county from “catch and release instead to catch and release to treatment”. He said he challenged Lee County Supervisors to match his donation, as well as Vandenberg if he were to win the seat.
Johnson said the Back the Blue has resulted in inflated sheriffs' salaries unnecessarily that’s why he’s committed to donating $15,000 back to a county drug program.
“Iowa has been good to law enforcement in my opinion even if I think the salary is a bit high for the sheriff,” he wrote.
However, he said the Biden Administration has not been supportive of the nation’s law enforcement officers.
He said he put his name on the ballot this year because he wants to continue to serve the county where he can make a difference.
“There was nobody else willing to run against the current sheriff and I did not want to see Weber run unopposed for the second time in a row,” he said.
“I don’t want to be sheriff because I have anything to prove or to further my career. I want to be be sheriff because the people in Lee County deserve better than what they are getting now."
As union president for the fire department, Johnson said he fought to make sure firefighters were treated fairly and could feed their families. "I’m a fiscal conservative and if there are places we’re wasting money, I’ll stop it. However, our law enforcement officers need the tools and resources to do their job properly and safely," he said.
His experience managing staffs is rooted in his time as the firefighters’ union president and assistant chief of the Wever Fire Dept.
He believes all law enforcement should wear body cameras.
“I don’t see any reason not to.”
The primary election is set for June 4 and early voting is now ongoing at Lee County offices.

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