Sheriff Appointment Editorial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Much depends on board’s decision

Panola County sheriff for life.

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That’s what the board of supervisors may be deciding when they select an interim sheriff to fill the existing unexpired term. The last two elected sheriffs served until their deaths.

Fourteen months is a long interim term. Anybody paying attention knows that an incumbent candidate with that much time in office has the opportunity to gain a clear advantage by the time the November, 2010 election rolls around.

Clearly who is selected for the interim spot will be an important decision by the board of supervisors — one that will affect every citizen of this county.

That is why the decision should be made using sound judgement rather than  political expediency. Input needs to come from throughout the citizenry and not just one group of supporters. And the process needs to be transparent.

A group of supporters (including many sheriff’s department employees) who want Chief Deputy Otis Griffin to have the position may have done Griffin more harm than good when they converged upon a meeting of the supervisors Monday.

Surely they have the right to voice their preference, but the manner in which they came across had some supervisors feeling they had been backed into a corner.

Griffin should certainly be considered. He has experience. As chief deputy he is part of a team put in place by the former sheriff that had the jail, deputy patrols, investigators and task force operating in an orderly manner. But one group of supporters should not dictate who is appointed.

And employees are not usually allowed to choose their bosses, although their support will be valuable in the transition and the aftermath.

The tradition of appointing the widow to the position was most recently followed in Panola County with the death of the late Judge James Appleton. Supervisor Vernice Avant was appointed to the position of her late husband, Robert. Ida Bryan was appointed sheriff following the death of her husband and she quickly appointed head deputy James Rudd as under sheriff to run the department.

The tradition was begun throughout the state as a way to provide income and health benefits for widows and families of the deceased officials until other arrangements could be made.

Whether that traditon is now outdated is being questioned and Bright’s widow was unclear of her desire to hold the office according to county officials. Her appointment would be an easy out for supervisors.

But would it be best for the county?

During Ida Bryan’s appointment, many employees of the sheriff’s department chose to run for office. It was a low ebb for law enforcement in the county as divisions within the department occurred and loyalties were questioned.

Supervisors should set parameters for those county employees who choose to seek office to assure the citizenry that politickin’ is not occurring on “company” time.

Please say a prayer for Panola County and its leaders during this time of transition.