Election of local officials is a serious matter; most elected officials are elected for a four-year term. They remain in office until the end of the term unless they resign, retire, die or are removed for some legal reason. Elected officials are not required to earn or take vacation or sick leave; they serve in their elective position regardless of the work time required to perform their duties, either personally or through their lawfully appointed deputies. The disability of a Sheriff is a particularly serious problem due to the critical nature of the law enforcement and public safety responsibilities with which he or she is entrusted. However, the Board of Supervisors has no legal authority to remove, fire, suspend or force the retirement of the Sheriff. For removal from office, only a court order from a court of competent jurisdiction, possibly an emergency order from the Governor, or a difficult legal removal process involving a petition submitted by the public, a subsequent court order setting a special election on the question of removal and then the holding of the special election. It would not be possible to accomplish this special election process before the current primary and general elections scheduled for this August and November for the next term.
When our current Sheriff was not able to perform his duties as Sheriff due to the result of a serious medical issue, the Circuit Court, based on a narrow set of legal circumstances, ordered the appointment of an Interim Sheriff who will serve as Sheriff until two conditions are met. Those conditions are that the elected Sheriff’s physician must release him as fit to return to law enforcement duties and the Circuit Court must review the physician’s release and issue an order authorizing his return to duty. Since the Interim Sheriff is the lawful Sheriff with all legal authority and responsibility of the office of Sheriff until the elected Sheriff is legally able to return to his duties or until the end of the current term of office, the Circuit Court ordered the Interim Sheriff to receive the full statutory salary for the Office of Sheriff. The Interim Sheriff was previously serving as the Chief Deputy Sheriff, so his salary as Interim Sheriff only added about half of the additional Sheriff’s salary cost to the budget. Also, no new Chief Deputy has been hired, so the cost to the county budget is as little as possible.
Regarding the question of similar treatment of other local government employees: appointed or hired employees earn and accumulate vacation and sick leave under the County’s personnel policies. If they have a personal or medical issue, they may take their earned paid leave or take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks per calendar year under the Federal Law – Family Medical Leave Act. This leave policy does not apply to Elected Officials who are elected for a specified term of office as described above and do not earn vacation or sick leave.
While some may have encouraged the elected Sheriff to retire, we cannot force him to do so even if it would be to his and the county’s economic benefit. Our elected Sheriff has had a long and respected career in law enforcement. We appreciate his service to our citizens and wish him the best with his health and recovery.
If you have a question about county government, please contact me at 601-847-1418 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Rhuel Dickinson, Simpson County Administrator.