Editorial: The long arm of politics

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Board of Commissioners is letting things settle down a bit ó wisely so, in our opinion ó before making a decision on whether to appoint a replacement for former Sheriff George Wilhelm, and who that replacement might be.
The commission took no action on the sheriff’s post at its Monday meeting, which followed the Rowan County Republican Executive Committee’s weekend decision to recommend former sheriff’s candidate Tony Yon to fill the unexpired term. The committee selected Yon from among five potential candidates, including Kevin Auten, the former chief deputy who became acting sheriff with Wilhelm’s retirement.
Given that this is an elective position, it’s inevitable that the long arm of politics will be entangled with the long arm of the law. (There are strong arguments for why this should not be an elective position, but that’s a debate for another day.) However, in terms of any interim appointment, the political element should be minimized in favor of choosing a candidate on the basis of qualifications and experience. That was a point well made previously by Mac Butner, a stalwart Republican who disagreed with the committee’s decision to make any recommendation. While the committee was within its rights to weigh in, its action could, as Butner noted, make it appear the local Republican Party was trying to dictate terms to the GOP-dominated commission. It also could complicate the commission’s decision. If, in all good faith, a majority of the commission favored Yon as the best candidate to serve until next year’s election, would people now view that as an objective decision, or one swayed by party pressure? In that regard, Yon didn’t do himself any favors with his less than subtle message that ignoring the committee’s druthers could bring repercussions at the ballot box. There’s a big difference between appealing for party unity and treating commissioners as if they’re mere party puppets.
Fortunately, as Commission Chairman Carl Ford has noted, the board doesn’t need to be in any rush to do anything here. Auten is a veteran officer and a familiar entity within the department. If the commission chooses, it could leave him in place until the next election. Right now, the guiding goals should be professional leadership, departmental stability and a smooth transition from the Wilhelm era. This is one of the county’s most important positions. There’s a lot more at stake than the fortunes of any one particular party in the next round of voting.
The GOP’s executive committee has made its recommendation. Now, the best course is to let politics recede into the background and take a more deliberative approach. Give commissioners some breathing room to evaluate and discuss their options.