Sheriff John Bishop has issued a press release that pointedly states the Sheriff's Office is not taking a stance on the Home Rule Charter on the May 20 ballot.
Measure 8-76, crafted by citizens last fall, would change the form of government in Curry County from one of general law to home rule. Under the terms of the proposed charter, the board of commissioners would be comprised of five, part-time, elected citizens who receive an annual stipend of $10,000. Commissioners would hire an administrator that would oversee the county's 20 departments, freeing up the board to address issues at the state and local level that affect the county.
The measure has divided voters, many of whom are frustrated by the commissioners' inability to solve the county's financial woes and seem to be interpreting the ballot question as a way to address that. Both sides of the argument agree the two are separate issues.
The PAC fighting the measure has taken the angle that citizens would lose their right to vote for four of the elected positions: assessor, treasurer, clerk and surveyor. The district attorney and sheriff would remain elected positions.
In Bishop's press release, he wrote: "Recently a flyer has been mailed to citizens of Curry County. The flyer states that all elected officials for Curry County are opposed to measure 8-76. It should be noted that I have from the beginning taken a neutral stance on this issue.
"While the Sheriff is an elected position, it is my opinion as well as other Sheriff's in the state, that the Office of Sheriff when it comes to these types of measures should remain neutral. Our job as a Constitutional Officer is to protect our citizens and their constitutional rights. We (are here) to help foster a feeling of safety and security with the resources we are given no matter what form of Government we operate under.
"My deputies and I may have personal feelings about this issue and those of you who are close to us know what those opinions are," he wrote. "We will cast our vote; however, that is a private matter.
"I do not believe that people should be swayed one way or another regarding these types of issues based upon what Law Enforcement thinks. While we have public opinions in areas that we have expertise in and issues that directly affect us regarding laws we live under, our job is to enforce policy (laws) not make them.
"I have talked to both committees and have made my opinion clear that the Sheriff's Office will not take a stance on Measure 8-76."
The state's campaign finance reporting website, Ore-Star, reported that he had made a $300 contribution to the PAC opposing the measure. But Bishop said the check was from his wife, who has a different opinion on the issue than he. Bishop planned to have his name removed from the website and replaced with that of his wife's Thursday.
"I'm not for or against it - even privately," Bishop said, in a phone interview Thursday. "My wife - she's against it. I'll probably skip over it. There's parts of it I like, parts of it I don't like. I am neutral.
"I think the sheriff should be neutral," he added. "They should not have to weigh in on these type of issues. In regards to the way government is run, we do our job regardless what form of government it is."