Editor, It’s that wonderful time again when politicians seeking office put on their best (and worst) theatrical performances in an attempt to convince voters to favor them with the currency of political economics we commonly call "votes." Some of us call this time the "promise season" due to the abundance of pledges made concerning taxes, education, crime, entitlements, Social Security, defense spending and so forth.
Rest assured, there is such a plethora of preening, posturing, posing and proselytizing among the candidates that there should be no doubt among the voters as to who is the most deserving in the race.
One race in particular that deserves close and serious attention is that of the office of sheriff.
The sheriff is the highest law-enforcement executive in the county. He is also a sworn state constitutional officer with a substantial amount of legal power (some might argue too much) and liberal discretion to use that power.
A sheriff is accountable only to the governor and state attorney general, with token esteem given to the voters every four years. In matters of local politics, a sheriff can use his incumbent position to mount campaigns that, with few exceptions, result in numerous re-elections. An enterprising sheriff can remain in office for decades. There are several local counties that come to mind as having had multiple long-term sheriffs, many with stories of corruption, malfeasance, favoritism and other unsavory activities.
As a constitutional officer, a sheriff can set the budget for the areas of responsibility the office encompasses such as the sheriff’s department, jail, courthouse security and emergency vehicles. As with other departments within county government, the sheriff presents his budget to the county commissioners for inclusion in the county budget. The major difference is that if the sheriff’s budget requires a property-tax increase and the county commissioners refuse to accommodate the sheriff, the sheriff can file suit against the commissioners to force the required property-tax increase.
A sheriff has the responsibility of protecting the constitutional rights of all citizens, regardless of race, color, sex, creed or religion. When a sheriff or his subordinates state they will do "whatever it takes to make it to the end of the shift," it’s a pretty good indicator that they might violate the law and your rights in order to do so.
A sheriff and his subordinates are bound by law to maintain the peace and enforce the law equally, even if doing so puts them in harm’s way. If they can’t or won’t perform those duties, they should seek employment elsewhere.
And speaking of employment, a sheriff — for all the power afforded him — is first and foremost an employee of the citizens of the county. He gets a paycheck just like everyone on his staff. Granted, there may be ways a sheriff can enhance his income while in office, but sometime during the month he gets a paper check (or direct deposit, if he so chooses).
In addition to the legal and political power a sheriff possesses, he also has tremendous responsibilities. How he handles his department not only reflects on his character and those employed by him, but also defines the character of your county.
It is an important office.
J. Wayne Collingsworth