Lieutenant John Ward was unanimously selected to take the place of Sheriff John Bishop when he departs Curry County at the end of September.
County commissioners, who interviewed Ward and Sgt. Joel Hensley last week, made the decision Tuesday morning in a special meeting.
“We were lucky to have two qualified and willing candidates to take on the tremendous challenges in Curry County,” said Commissioner David Itzen. “It’s my view that Lt. Ward is the best qualified at this point to take on this task.”
Ward will serve out the remainder of Bishop’s term and face an election in November 2016.
Bishop is headed to Salem to serve as CEO of the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association; his wife, Kris, a sergeant and director of the county Parole and Probation Department, has accepted a similar job with the state in Albany. Curry County Sheriff Lt. Dave Denney is taking her place.
“This is the hardest decision we’ll ever have to make as commissioners,” said David Brock Smith. “It was never one that we wanted — to appoint an elected official — but to run the sheriff’s department.”
“They both bring a depth of knowledge to the public safety system in Curry County. And we’re all looking at serious economic challenges with the Sheriff’s Office, only because it’s the last place to cut within the county,” Smith said.
Ward, a Gold Beach native, joined the U.S. Navy after graduating Gold Beach High School in 1975, he wrote in an email outlining his experience. He mostly worked in the logging industry after his stint in the military, and served for seven years as executive director for the Work Center for the Developmentally Disabled. There, he taught vocational and life skills to integrate the population into the community.
Ward began his career with the Curry County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 1, 1990, starting as patrol deputy. He was promoted to patrol sergeant in October 2003.
He supervised patrol, marine and detectives, and in 2005, was assigned as the Search and Rescue Coordinator, which he continues today.
He was promoted to lieutenant of the Patrol division in July 2009 and oversees Patrol, Marine, detectives, reserves, Search and Rescue and dispatch. And since Undersheriff Bob Rector accepted another job in March 2013, Ward has been second-in-command, he noted.
He has more than 2,000 hours of criminal justice training in criminal and civil law enforcement.
Hensley said he plans to talk with Ward soon about his management and leadership philosophies so there is a smooth transition when Bishop leaves.
“We’d both be a good fit,” Hensley said Tuesday afternoon. “Lt. Ward’s never given me a reason not to support him, so I’ll continue to support him; I’ll continue to be deputy for the Curry County Sheriff’s Office and serve our citizens.”
Commissioner Susan Brown said that she’d heard all over town support for Ward and his supervisory skills.
“I spent the last week talking with a lot of folks,” she said. “Many said the same thing — that both candidates are well-qualified, that we’d be well-served by both.”
The county — and primarily the sheriff’s office — faces a financial crisis since federal timber subsidies ended in 2012 and voters repeatedly reject ballot measures to increase property taxes to fund public safety.
Voters face yet another question Sept. 15 asking for a property tax increase of 68 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to fund solely the jail. If that measure fails, the state could take over operations at the county and the jail could close. Reopening a new one to current standards could cost up to $30 million, Bishop has warned.
“We have a lot of challenges to face, and it’s not going to be just me facing them,” Ward told commissioners Tuesday. “You made the right choice, and I appreciate it. I’ll do my best with what resources we have.”
Ward will be sworn in Oct. 1, the day after Bishop’s last day in office.
And in 2016? Hensley laughed.
“I never even thought that this position would come available,” he said. “If we have a great leader, no, probably not. But only time will tell.”