Steve Salle expected to be appointed by Sheriff Dickerson, after county opts not to appoint from pool of 4 applicants

After interviewing candidates to serve as the interim Columbia County sheriff, county commissioners opted Monday, May 21, not to appoint anyone to the position, and instead allow the current sheriff to name a chief deputy.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Commissioners discuss options for appointing a new sheriff with current sheriff, Jeff Dickerson (left) during a meeting Monday, May 21. The meeting was called as an executive session, but the board then opened up the meeting after concerns from the press and Commissioner Alex Tardiff.  By appointment from Sheriff Jeff Dickerson, Steve Salle is slated to be named chief deputy of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, making him next in command when Dickerson leaves.

Following an announcement from Dickerson that he would retire early this June, Columbia County commissioners met several times to figure out how to fill the vacant sheriff position. They decided to open up the position to interested applicants and appoint from a pool of qualified candidates.

Last week, commissioners held five-minute interviews with four candidates vying to be appointed to the sheriff's position—including one current CCSO lieutenant—Brian Pixley.

Dickerson indicated Pixley was the best person for the job, and said he felt the other candidates would be detrimental to the Sheriff's Office.

After interviews and follow-up discussions about each candidate's background and qualifications, commissioners weren't set on any of the applicants, either.

They noted two of the applicants weren't currently certified with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and would need to be re-certified.

By Monday afternoon, the ball was back in Dickerson's court.

"If we were to not want to select someone from that pot and were to then decide to ask, in collaboration with the sheriff, that a chief deputy be appointed, could we still take that path?" Commissioner Henry Heimuller asked the county's attorney Monday.

Heimuller indicated he didn't feel comfortable appointing any of the four candidates, noting that he instead was in favor of having Sheriff Dickerson appoint a chief deputy. A chief deputy acts as second in command to the sheriff and automatically assumes the role of sheriff in the case of a vacancy. The county commissioners could still choose to appoint a sheriff later down the road if needed.

Public absent from most of the process

Oregon law states that meetings convened for the purpose of filling a vacant elected position must be open to the public, but Monday's meeting marked the fifth time the commissioners met to discuss the upcoming vacancy in the Sheriff's Office, with only one of the meetings—an interview session held May 16—being open to the public.

After initially convening in executive session Monday, the meeting was opened to the public soon afterward, following objections from the Spotlight and Commissioner Alex Tardif.

Tardif indicated he would leave the meeting if it was convened in closed session to discuss the qualifications of the four candidates.

"For me, my concern is, the statute makes it clear that we're not supposed to be filling a vacant position for an elected position [in executive session,]" Tardif said.

"We were discussing people's lives and the intimate details of people's lives, and I don't think that's an appropriate thing to be talking about in open session," Commissioner Margaret Magruder explained Monday, before apologizing to fellow commissioners for leading prior meetings in closed session.

Despite Dickerson's announcement in late April that he would retire this June, before the end of his term, he had yet to submit his official retirement notice to the county as of Monday afternoon.

Some speculated Dickerson was holding off on his exit until he was satisfied with the choice for incoming leadership at the Sheriff's Office. The interim sheriff will serve until voters elect a new sheriff during the November general election, who will take office January 2019.

The sheriff met with commissioners and county staff Monday to recommend Salle serve as the acting sheriff. He indicated Salle, who previously served as a police chief in St. Helens and currently works in the Sheriff's Office, was well qualified, but had no intention of running for sheriff this November.

"A lot of our success is because Steve's joined our team," Dickerson noted.

Commissioner Heimuller echoed Dickerson's support of Salle, noting he has experience in government budgeting and he's known Salle for many years.

"I do care about this community and I do care about you guys," Dickerson told commissioners. "I want you to know that. It's never been a power play … sometimes you gotta hold your cards to your vest until you know what's going on."

Immediately after the decision to leave a personnel appointment up to Dickerson, the sheriff noted he "felt comfortable with the process" and told the county's human resources director "there will be a notice filed with the clerk's office."

Salle said Tuesday that he "didnt choose to participate in a competiton," for the open position.

"I told the sheriff that if someone asked me to do it and he wanted me to do it, I would," Salle said.

The soon-to-be acting sheriff said he doesn't have any immediate goals for the Sheriff's Office, but would rather see it continue to run smoothly. Salle

"I don't have any big changes in mind," Salle noted. "My management style is very inclusive. I like to know what peope think before making decisions. I have experience working with the different divisions here ... I don't believe it's wise for someone—a new administrator—to come in and make sweeping changes immediately."

Salle said he plans to meet with Dickerson in the coming weeks to go over the budget and get up to speed on other organizational matters.

A previous version of this story misspelled Steve Salle's name.

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