We understand the supervisors’ seeming preference for an election to pick Wapello County’s next sheriff. But we’re not yet convinced it’s the right move.
Former sheriff Mark Miller’s departure leaves a two-year gap until the next regular election. It’s entirely unreasonable to have the department go without a sheriff for that long, and the supervisors are right to be cautious about appointing someone for that length of time. But this is very much the kind of decision they are elected to make.
Many of the comments we’ve heard from people focus on the cost of an election. That’s a reasonable concern. Elections cost several thousand dollars at minimum, and that’s for the county. Candidates have their own expenses. They’re not cheap for anyone.
Calling an election isn’t necessarily a cop-out for the supervisors, as some would say. Right now the public simply doesn’t have enough information to be able to say with any confidence whether an election is the right move.
The decision would probably be much more clear if the public knew more about the four people supervisors say have expressed interest in the office. One we know: Chief Deputy Don Phillips. The other three aren’t publicly known.
We don’t believe numbers alone clarify the situation. If you have four candidates, only one of whom is qualified, the decision hardly requires the expense of an election. When you have multiple candidates of roughly equal qualifications the situation is murkier and an election may be justified.
Without information on the prospective candidates, the public is being left in the dark. We believe the supervisors should name names. If someone is willing to tell the supervisors they want to be considered, it’s not much of a leap to think they will run if there’s an election. By naming those who have inquired about the appointment, the supervisors can shed considerable light on the situation.
And the supervisors need to take such a step before making a final decision on whether to hold an election. That’s both for the public’s good and for the supervisors themselves. A week for the public to mull over the names will not hurt the county. But it would prevent the kind of second-guessing that would inevitably follow a failure to do so.
Iowa code shows the supervisors have 40 days after the vacancy occurs to appoint a new county officer. That gives them until early February. So there’s a deadline, but no requirement to rush.
Even if the supervisors appoint someone to the position, nothing prohibits a vote. State law says a petition may be filed within 14 days of the appointment to force a special election.
This is an important decision. Given Iowans’ general habit of re-electing officials year after year, it’s not a stretch to say the next sheriff could easily be in office for a decade or more. It’s the supervisors’ decision to make, but they would be well served to let the public know why they’re making it and what went into that decision. That means telling the public who is involved.