Commissioners: No quick pick on sheriff

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners aren’t going to be pushed into quick action on naming a new sheriff.
Top elected county officials said Tuesday it will be January at the earliest before the board considers appointing someone to fill the unexpired term of George Wilhelm, who retired Nov. 30.
Chairman Carl Ford and Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell expressed confidence that the Sheriff’s Office is in good shape under Chief Deputy Kevin Auten.
Despite pressure from the Republican Executive Committee to immediately appoint Tony Yon as sheriff, Ford said nothing will happen until Jan. 4, adding he’s not sure anything will happen then.
“The sheriff’s department will not suffer from any lack of authority in any shape or form,” said Mitchell, expressing confidence in Auten’s ability to lead the department.
“It’s a big decision. We should not be rushed,” Mitchell said, adding that making the appointment could alleviate concerns of employees in the department.
On Sunday and Monday, commissioners were swamped with messages and e-mails from supporters of Yon, who was selected Saturday by the Republican Executive Committee as its choice to fill the vacancy.
Some of the e-mail messages appeared to suggest Republican commissioners would be disloyal and face retribution at the polls in May if they didn’t pick Yon, who is currently a deputy in Davidson County.
Ford said Tuesday the calls and messages have evened out with many now supporting Auten and other potential candidates.
Under state law, commissioners have the final say in the appointment and aren’t required to heed or consider recommendations from political parties.
Commissioners opted not to deal with the appointment Monday evening. Instead, they approved the required bond for Auten as acting sheriff.
Ford said commissioners initially had some concerns about whether Auten would have full authority as sheriff.
County Attorney Jay Dees provided commissioners with an opinion Monday that Auten “has assumed and will discharge all of the duties of the sheriff until such time as the Board of Commissioners elects new sheriff.”
Dees noted that if the Board of Commissioners fails to elect or appoint a new sheriff, “the Chief Deputy shall continue to discharge all of the duties of the sheriff until such time as the election is made.”
In his e-mail to commissioners, Dees noted he has met Auten and with District Attorney Bill Kenerly to discuss the transition period and Auten discharging the duties of sheriff.
Mitchell said commissioners have three choices: accept the Executive Committee recommendation; appoint Auten as sheriff; or select someone else who is not going to be a candidate for sheriff in the 2010 election.