The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 26, 2012

State voters to decide on sheriffs’ term limits

Only two other states have similar restrictions

MORGANTOWN — Keith Wilson Jr. is one of West Virginia’s youngest sheriffs at 39, but even if he wins a second term on Election Day, his career with the Wirt County department will end in four years.

Term limits in West Virginia’s Constitution would prevent him from trying again to keep the job he loves, at age 43.

Wilson, a Republican running against Democrat and former sheriff Andy Cheuvront, is part of a movement to change that. He’s posted signs across his tiny county of 6,000, urging people to vote “yes” on a constitutional amendment that would give voters the sole authority to decide whether a sheriff can serve more than two consecutive terms.

“If I’m not doing my job, the community is going to replace me,” Wilson said. “But if the sheriff they want in is term-limited, then they don’t get who they want.”

His opponent was elected in 2000 and again in 2004, but was then prevented from running again in 2008, when Wilson claimed the seat. Cheuvront is now trying to take it back.

The term-limits issue has gotten little attention, but the West Virginia Sheriffs Association says it’s sent out thousands of mailings, asking voters to repeal the current term limits for the state’s 55 sheriffs. The Constitution currently forces them to sit out one term after serving two consecutive four-year terms.

Only two other states, Indiana and New Mexico, have similar restrictions.

A “yes” vote would support removing that language.

“If you’re an assessor, a prosecutor or any county officeholder, you at least have the option to put your name on the ballot for re-election. Sheriffs don’t have that opportunity,” said the association’s executive director, Rudi Raynes-Kidder. “We want to give the power back to the voters and basically empower them to make these decisions for themselves.”

In West Virginia, only the governor is subject to a similar term limit.

“We’re in great company,” Raynes-Kidder said. “We just don’t get the same benefits.”

Sheriffs, for example, don’t serve long enough to accrue retirement benefits. Nor do they serve long enough to work their way up the ladder at the National Sheriffs’ Association, where 12 years’ experience is required to serve on the board of directors.

State Sen. Bill Laird, a Democrat and former Fayette County sheriff who sponsored the amendment, calls term limits a disincentive for young, qualified law-enforcement officers who might want the job. Most people who run are older, nearing the end of their careers or already retired.

“Generally, not too many younger people do it,” he says, “because there’s no real future in it.”

State voters amended the constitution to allow sheriffs a second term in 1973. But voters have since rejected at least three attempts to allow additional terms — in 1982, 1986 and 1994.

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, was among the few to oppose the constitutional amendment, though he admits it was a tough decision. Second-term Sheriff Vince Shambaugh of Morgan County is “a super guy,” Kump said, eminently qualified with a military background, a professional attitude and popularity among constituents.

“I agonized about that vote, I really did,” he said. “But the policy trumps the personal.”

Kump opposes the idea that anyone can make a career of elective office, and he supports term limits for everyone, including state legislators.

“I just have a deep philosophical problem with any elected official, at any level of government, being allowed to run for unlimited terms.”

He understands the arguments for change. But Kump says there are other ways to encourage people to run, such as increasing and guaranteeing pension benefits for sheriffs who complete the maximum eight years.

“I also would be willing to accept more than two terms of office for sheriffs,” Kump says, “but not an elimination of term limitations.”

The state association says past support for term limits stemmed from the fact that West Virginia has what’s called “a high sheriff,” in charge of collecting taxes while also the chief law enforcement officer.

People worried a rogue sheriff would charge and collect whatever he wanted, hire friends and family as deputies, and mistreat others at will. But times have changed.

“Now, it’s audited like any other business,” Raynes-Kidder said, “and we have a civil service code so you can’t mistreat your officers. There are internal powers now that basically police the system.”

In Wirt County, Wilson says he’s heard similar concerns.

“There are so many people that are watching,” he said. “We are so closely watched by the state auditor that they can tell us when we’re off the books by 40 cents. The ‘powerful’ part of it is just not there.”

What is there, Wilson said, is a lot more work for a sheriff who wants it.

“That’s my biggest objection,” he said. “I’ve got so many things that are going to take years to finish. If the terms don’t get extended, I’m not going to be able to see those things through.”

Text Only
West Virginia
  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads