Curry County commissioners posed a total of 10 pre-written, generic questions to sheriff’s candidates as part of the hiring process to find a replacement for John Bishop who is leaving in late September.
Only two candidates — Curry County Lt. John Ward and Dep. Joel HHensley — submitted letters of interest for the position. Short interviews were held Monday afternoon; commissioners will select a new sheriff Tuesday, Aug. 26, at a 10 a.m. meeting.
Bishop is taking over as executive director with the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, a nonprofit organization that lobbies the legislature on behalf of sheriffs’ issues, in Salem. His last day is Sept. 30.
Bishop said even he expected more than those 10 questions to be posited to the candidates.
“My questions were meant to be discussion points,” he said Monday after the meeting. “One question (is supposed to) lead into, ‘How do you think it could be better, and how would you do that?’ I’m amazed.”
The only extra question commissioners asked the candidates was if they had anything more to add to help the board in its decision.
The questions Bishop suggested — and the only ones the board posed to the candidates — asked why either of them would want the position of sheriff knowing the financial challenges facing the county, what the role is between the sheriff and community, to explain the Brady Law — not the Brady Bill — and to identify the main issues facing the department today.
Other questions asked the candidates to name the nine divisions within the sheriff’s department, explain how well city, county and state agencies work with Curry County’s Sheriff’s Office; identify goals they have for the next two years; and share what other sheriffs in Oregon might know about them.
Commissioner David Itzen said immediately following the interviews that he was ready to vote on a candidate, but Commissioner Susan Brown indicated she wanted to talk with Bishop before she decided. Smith repeatedly noted that this decision will be among the most important the board faces during their respective terms.
Tuesday, Brown said she wants to hear from the community, and Smith said the meeting next Tuesday could represent an opportunity to ask more pertinent questions, namely regarding the jail’s finances and why each candidate believes they are superior to the other. Itzen could not be reached for comment.
Both Hensley and Ward easily answered the questions asking them to list the nine sheriff’s department divisions and the gist of the Brady Law, which has to do with transparency during investigations and not the Brady Bill that addresses gun control.
“That’s a typical question I ask all new people,” Bishop said, adding that he’s not surprised the two candidates knew the answer. “I don’t expect (new hires) to know the answer, but it segues into a discussion.”
Both Hensley and Ward agreed the main challenge facing the department is the county’s financial problems, and both indicated their willingness to work with commissioners to develop a sustainable source of revenue for public safety.
The differences were slight.
Ward noted that he has many years of supervisory experience, while Hensley noted that he has leadership experience, but not much to indicate so in the titles he’s held over the years.
Ward said he knows all the sheriffs in the neighboring counties, including the two in Siskiyou and Del Norte counties in California; Hensley said the nature of his jobs in the past years have not put him in the position to work closely with many of them.
“That’s paramount,” Ward said. “You have to rely on them, being as we’re so low-staffed. We have to work together to solve issues like funding. Those relationships are primary.”
Ward said the sheriff’s role is as the leader of the community and to provide protection for that community. Hensley said it is to help the public — even if the immediate crisis at hand is something as minor as a power outage — being honest, and knowing that the public feels secure in relying on the office.
“You have to earn the integrity,” Hensley said, adding that while it’s important to hear citizens’ concerns in town hall meetings, it’s equally as important for them to be able to discuss issues with the sheriff when they bump into him at the local grocery store. “You always want to build a bridge with people. Whether you live in an incorporated city or live in Denmark (between Sixes and Langlois), we’re all Curry County citizens. We’re here to help each other.”
Ward replied, when asked why he wanted such a stressful job: “For 24 years, I have given my all to this county and community. It’s 50, 60, 70 hours a week. I know what challenges we’re facing. I know the ins and outs of the department. I’ve worked under four sheriffs, been in management for 11 years, and it’s going to take some leadership to get us through this. I feel obligated.”
“I want to lead the dedicated members of the Sheriff’s Office into this uncertain future,” Hensley said. “The position of sheriff is larger than any one man. I have a vision of a very successful Curry County and a very successful Sheriff’s Office. The things we can accomplish are amazing.”
Hensley added that he wants the employees within the office to feel secure in their jobs, know that their sheriff understands their needs and goals and keep morale high.
“I want to have the most trained and competent staff I can, who feel they can be successful in Curry County,” he said.
Brown said the board didn’t have a lot of time to craft questions between the applicant deadline last Friday and the interviews Monday.
“And I’d like to hear from people in the community who their choice is for sheriff,” she said. “We should be listening to the citizens.”
“We left it up to the sheriff as to what questions were necessary,” Smith said. “We could possibly bring them back and ask more defining questions about the future of the department.”
Bishop said the interview questions, at least, were more than were posed to him when he was hired six years ago.
“All they said to me was, ‘Hey, do you want the job?’ and I said, ‘No,’” he said, with a laugh. “I had it nice where I was at (Brookings Police). But several people called, and so I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’”
Bishop purposely scheduled meetings in Salem this week to avoid having the interviews be “about me,” he said. “I talked with Smith, I talked with Itzen. I gave them the strong and weak points of both candidates. But I don’t run the county, and they’ve got to stop acting like I do.”