Commissioners to vote on new sheriff Tuesday

By Jesse Campbell -

JEFFERSON-After more than a month of speculation, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners should finally have a definitive answer on who will serve in the office of sheriff until 2018.

Former Ashe Sheriff James Williams announced his sudden retirement in late November – much to the dismay of the overwhelming majority of voters who threw their support behind the man and the badge two years prior. He ran unopposed in 2010.

For him to retire halfway through his term came as a surprise to commissioners.

Since Willaims stepped down Dec. 31 of last year, at least three individuals have come forward expressing interest in the position.

For now, Bucky Absher is wearing the sheriff’s star until the board officially appoints someone to the post. Absher is a veteran of the Ashe County Sheriff’s office and was known to be Williams’ right-hand man.

Initially, early indications pointed to the assumption that the long standing commander would follow in Williams’ footsteps, as he was highlighted in the departing sheriff’s succession plan.

County commissioners appeared poised to adopt the plan that included Absher as sheriff on Jan. 3, but Commissioner Gary Roark urged the majority of the board to take an additional two weeks to interview other candidates, including Terry Buchanan, who is a former sheriff’s deputy better known for his position in courthouse security.

The controversy that has since flared up in light of Williams’ succession plan has also been challenged by long-time lawman Jimmy Hendrix, who said he plans to run for the post in 2018.

Hendrix approached the Jefferson Post in December with a copy of a North Carolina General Statute that through his interpretation indicated the commissioners had little or no choice in the matter. Hendrix claims the will of the people, which was determined through the 2014 election, should be adhered to by commissioners in following Williams’ new plans for sheriff and allowing Absher to simply take over and maintain the status quo. Simply put, he believes the commissioners should follow plans in place by the outgoing administration, which earned 70 percent of the county’s vote during the 2014 election.

The statute is listed as follows:

“If any vacancy occurs in the office of sheriff, the coroner of the county shall execute all process directed to the sheriff until the first meeting of the county commissioners next succeeding such vacancy, when the board shall elect a sheriff to supply the vacancy for the residue of the term, who shall possess the same qualifications, enter to the same bond, and be subject to removal, as the sheriff regularly elected. If the board should fail to fill such vacancy, the coroner shall continue to discharge the duties of the sheriff until it shall be filled. In those counties where the office of the coroner has been abolished, the chief deputy shall perform all the duties of the sheriff until the county commissioners appoint some person to fill the unexpired term.”

“I think the people should have the mandate of who their sheriff should be,” said Hendrix in an earlier interview. “He was elected sheriff two years ago and the majority of the people voted for him. When I run in 2018, I want the mandate of the people behind me. I think the sheriff should be elected by the people. According to statute, the commissioners can appoint someone or fail to do nothing and the chief deputy would continue as acting as the sheriff.”

Buchanan would disagree with Hendrix’s assessment as evident by earlier interviews.

Because the board of commissioners is a Republican led board, Buchanan suspects the county’s voting populous, which installed the current board, would want commissioners to fill vacant county positions with Republican candidates.

“I felt it is a huge opportunity for Ashe County to stop with the status quo,” Buchanan said on his decision to run. “Bucky (Absher) has been in there for 35 years. He won’t have any new ideas to advance the county. We need new ideas. The sheriff’s office is in desperate need of new structure and career development.”

As of now, Buchanan said there is “no room for advancement” at the lower end of the department in terms of deputy promotion.

Alleged internal conflicts within the sheriff’s office also fueled his decision, he said. Buchanan then referenced the recent departure of deputies Joe Francis and Jeremy Munday as evidence of the supposed dissatisfaction within the department.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at the Ashe County Courthouse to vote on how will complete Williams’ term. Filing for the 2018 sheriff’s race opens in February of next year.

Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.

By Jesse Campbell

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