Lt. Ward aims for sheriff slot
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
July 11, 2014 07:18 pm

Lt. John Ward

No one can fill Curry County Sheriff John Bishop’s shoes — but Lt. John Ward is going to give it a try.

“There’s no one else qualified to do it,” he said. “I know the ins and outs of the Sheriff’s Department, I know the people, I know the county, I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

He plans to submit his letter of interest Monday.

“Anyone in their right mind would have to think twice about it,” he said, in regards to the budget situation at the county, “but I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Bishop announced his resignation last week, citing work-related stress in his struggle to keep his department financially stable as the county approaches what commissioners have called the “fiscal abyss.”

His wife, Kris, who has worked for the sheriff’s office — notably in parole and probation — for the past 19 years and their 11-year-old son, Byron, will move to Salem with Bishop. She is applying for a lead parole and probation position in Albany.

Others in law enforcement declined guessing who else might be a good replacement. 

 But Gold Beach Police Chief Dixon Andrews said he is appreciated by the city and sees no reason to leave. 

Port Orford Police Chief Marvin Combs said he’s about ready to retire.

“I’m not interested in getting into the political mess — honestly?” he said. “(The county’s) broken. Someone’s going to have to come in and spend a few more years to fix it, and that wouldn’t be a good thing for me at this point.”

Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace declined, too, saying he’s happy where he is, for whom he’s working and what they are doing.

Sheriff Lt. David Denney and Dep. John Ensley, two other potential candidates, did not return phone calls.

Ward said he realizes Bishop leaves behind big shoes.

“No one’s going to be able to fill them,” he said, noting that Bishop is the fourth sheriff under whom he has worked. “Sheriff Bishop has been remarkable for this office. He’s just destined for bigger and better things.”

Bishop has accepted a desk job as the executive director of the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, whose members asked him to lead the nonprofit organization that fights on behalf of law enforcement issues affecting sheriffs throughout the state.

The last day of his six-year term as sheriff will be in late summer, Bishop said.

In light of his resignation, county commissioners will now have to appoint an interim sheriff who will then be up for election in November.

Prior to that, however, voters will decide the fate of a third property tax hike proposed to keep the jail open. The measure, on the September ballot, asks voters for a 68-cent per $1,000 assessed valuation increase; it is expected to raise $1.6 million and be spent exclusively in the jail.

The election, however, is a special election, and subject to a “double majority” vote. That means that at least 50 percent of registered voters must turn out to vote — and a majority of them must vote in favor of the tax measure.

If it fails, and no other solution presents itself in the interim, the county will use up all its funds — including pension and unemployment reserves — by next summer. That scenario, which commissioners dubbed early on the “burn the county down” option to solving its fiscal woes, doesn’t yet have an exact date, but would likely occur around the end of June 2015.

“Who knows what’ll happen next year?,” Ward said. “I’m concerned about the future of the Sheriff’s Office,” Ward said. “Mainly the employees. I want to try to keep stable funding to keep us in operation.

“But it is what it is; we’ll just keep on keeping on,” he added. “We will get through this. If we fall off the (fiscal) cliff, we fall off the cliff, but at least we’ll go down in style. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. We need to fight tooth and nail to keep afloat.”