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Editorial: Sheriff has some nerve

“The sheriff is a constitutional official elected by the qualified voters of the county. Therefore he works directly for the people of the county, not the county government, and is subject to the approval of the people by the election process every four years. I truly believe I work for the people of Rowan County.”
ó Sheriff George Wilhelm
Quoted in the Salisbury Post
Sept. 1, 2002
George Wilhelm has changed his tune about working directly for the people of Rowan County. After taking office as sheriff in 1998 and declaring himself independent of the county board of commissioners, now he wants all the benefits of a county employee without having ever conducted himself as one.
No timecard. No supervisor. No policy concerning vacation and sick time.
Apparently Wilhelm anticipates leaving office soon, or maybe he’s just reviewing his stock portfolio. Either way, the good sheriff has started figuring out that he wants to take something with him when he leaves office. If he can’t have the full trust and confidence of the voters of Rowan County to savor in retirement, how about their tax money?
Wilhelm is asking for vacation and sick pay for the 11 years he has been sheriff. It’s not that he hasn’t taken vacation ó far from it. It’s just that, unlike county employees, the sheriff hasn’t been able to accrue unused vacation/sick time that he could eventually cash out on ó which, by the way, seems like a bad policy for all county employees, but that’s a subject for another day.
Let’s be realistic. District Attorney Bill Kenerly recently sent the state Attorney General an 11-inch-thick file about goings-on in the Sheriff’s Office. Suspicions about possible embezzlement by an employee prompted the Sheriff’s Office and Kenerly to ask for the SBI investigation, and the probe took more than a year. No one has been charged, and maybe no one ever will. But the timing of this investigation and Wilhelm’s change of heart about being a county employee seems like more than coincidence.
Obviously, Wilhelm went into the Sheriff’s Office with both eyes open, wanting to be the county’s top lawman and wear the badge. As an elected official, he has a duty to serve the public and abide by the rules set forth for his office. To claim after 11 years of employment that it’s time not only to change the rules but to do so retroactively is ridiculous. The request would be funny if it weren’t so full of gall ó or possibly desperation. Let’s hope it’s just a matter of nerve and not pending indictment.
They say it doesn’t hurt to ask, but Wilhelm’s request is an insult to taxpayers, many of whom would be happy just to have a paycheck. If he really was planning to run for re-election in 2010, he might as well forget it now. The “people” for whom Wilhelm once said he worked will have no part of this.

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