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After sheriff declares departure early in third term, county grapples with how to fill vacancy

Members of the public were excluded from county discussions Wednesday about how to fill a vacancy in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif (right) opens the door to a conference room following a closed session meeting with Sheriff Jeff Dickerson Wednesday, May 2. The week prior, the sheriff announced his plans to retire from his post as of June 1. Six days after Sheriff Jeff Dickerson announced his plans to retire early from the Sheriff's Office post, Columbia County commissioners briefly conversed about their options for appointing an interim sheriff during an afternoon staff meeting Wednesday, May 2. Discussions about the sheriff's office weren't scheduled on the agenda until hours later, when Dickerson met with the county commissioners to address his exit, but when Dickerson arrived, the board of commissioners unexpectedly convened a closed executive session meeting.

Despite the lack of action Wednesday, state sheriff's officials say the county has a few options.

John Bishop, executive director of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, says typically when a sheriff leaves an elected position before the term is up, the county appoints someone to fill in.

"The norm would be that the county commissioners can appoint a new sheriff," Bishop said Tuesday. "They would appoint them until the next general election."

In this case, that means a person would take the helm until voters elect a new sheriff, or that same interim sheriff if the appointee chooses to run for office.

Bishop says the county could also choose from a pool of applicants.

"They can open it up, and anybody who wants to apply for sheriff, they could apply," Bishop noted.

Alternatively, the current sheriff could appoint a captain, which acts as the sheriff, until the next election.

Any person who fills the role, even temporarily, must meet standards set forth by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

To be elected or appointed to the office of sheriff a person must be at least 21 years old and have either four years' experience as a law enforcement officer or two years of experience and a requisite amount of educational experience.

To be eligible for election to the position, a candidate must have lived in the county for at least one year prior.

Commissioner Alex Tardif asked Wednesday if the appointment could be done after Dickerson leaves, assuming the Sheriff's Office has "command staff in place."

"You need to have somebody who can fill the role of the sheriff, whether that's a chief deputy, or a new sheriff," Sarah Hanson, the county's attorney, replied.

Dickerson's retirement comes a year and a half into his third four-year term.

In an email to the Spotlight last week, the sheriff said he felt "now is the right time to retire."

"I've known for some time now, that I would not be seeking a fourth term as Sheriff," Dickerson stated. "I have loved every day that I've been allowed to serve in this capacity, however ­— after nearly 10 years as sheriff and 30 years in this profession — I believe that now is the right time to retire for me and for my family who have stood beside me all these years with their love, prayers and support.

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