Finding new sheriff to be open process

CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission has begun officially accepting applications for the position of sheriff, though it has been informally accepting applications over the past several weeks.

Commissioners voted unanimously to begin advertising the position at their meeting last week, and also decided to reject the advice of Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Grove, who argued that the selection process should be confidential to protect the privacy of the applicants.

Commissioner Lyn Widmyer, who noted that the panel was not hiring a paid staff person, said the process should remain open.

“I think we ought to interview in public and make the choice in public,” Widmyer said.

An ad issued last week by County Administrator Debbie Keyser informs applicants that candidates’ interviews will be conducted in public and their name will be made available to the public.

The only requirements contained in the advertisement are those specified by statute, namely that the applicant be a Jefferson County resident, have a high school diploma and be a member of the Democratic Party. The final requirement follows from the fact that Robert “Bobby” Shirley, who resigned his post last month before pleading guilty to beating a suspect, was a Democrat.

Commissioner Walt Pellish repeated his concern that a requirement for applicants did not include a police background. He said he believes that more emphasis should be given to the sheriff’s role as the “chief law enforcement officer” than to the job duties including “chief tax collector.”

“Given the nature of this county … I want a chief law enforcement officer,” Pelish said. “I don’t want somebody who’s just going to be an administrator. I want someone I can trust going out on calls with the other deputies.”

Grove said while it would be improper to include requirements beyond those contained in state law in the advertisement, the commission has broad authority to consider whatever additional factors – including law enforcement experience and education level – when it makes its decision.

The commission is expected to discuss the hiring process at this week’s meeting. Among other questions, the commission may decide whether it will hold a public hearing where citizens may voice their preferences for sheriff.

In related news, the West Virginia Counties Risk Pool – the county government’s insurer – filed a motion last week to drop its request for a judge to relieve it of the obligation to indemnify two deputies named in a lawsuit filed by Mark Daniel Haines, the since-convicted bank robber Shirley admitted to kicking and beating during his 2010 arrest.

The Risk Pool had initially filed a motion to be relieved from covering Deputies Joseph Foreman and Terry Palmer, in addition to Shirley. Last week, following an executive session with the County Commission, it decided to continue extending coverage to Foreman and Palmer, though they still wish to drop coverage of Shirley.

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