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June 9, 2006

The sheriff hands in his badge

Roy Meachum

About Jim Hagy scarcely a disparaging word is heard. I have no doubt he would have been re-elected again. He chose otherwise.

In a telephone conversation, he allowed: A man's got to know when to quit. He didn't want to stay around until he was making bad mistakes. Always very polite, to everyone, Mr. Hagy thanked me for reassuring he hadn't. But I had only spoken the plain truth.

He has restored tranquility to the sheriff's department, in the sense that no one I know can remember the last controversy that swirled around his office. In a highly civilized fashion, he presided over collective bargaining negotiations that put the deputies' chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police on an equal basis with its city counterpart.

Since 1994 no hint of scandal has touched Jim Hagy and his administration.

On the contrary, to rephrase this column's opening sentence, the former state police sergeant's friends and admirers have multiplied immensely. His honesty and integrity did the trick.

Speaking of state police: Since my arrival some 23 years ago, all the sheriffs once wore those Smokey Bear hats. Jim Hagy's successor could break the string.

Ex-trooper Bob Snyder for eight years provided law enforcement for a still rural community. The 1980 county population count stood a little more than half of last year's estimate.

Successor Carl Harbaugh brought to the sheriff's department his background as a state police internal investigator. He served one term.

With still a month to go before the deadline for filing, you can wonder when candidates will stop coming through the cracks and ceilings. Most of the action is among Republicans, fellow party members with Sheriff Jim Hagy.

At this early point in the campaign, the race is ex-city police captain Harold Domer's to lose. He comes in with the strong support of whatever remains of the political machine that once had the county by its throat. And that's the kind of language Mr. Domer understands.

He brought a police attack dog to a teachers' demonstration in front of Winchester Hall back in the days when Richard Ashton still headed the department. I didn't know Mr. Domer at the time, so I turned to the chief and said it was no place for a dog. I reminded Mr. Ashton that the men and women on the street were trusted with the county's kids every day. I pointed out there were not likely to riot.

Chief Ashton replied that the K-9 was Lieutenant Domer's idea. The dog disappeared shortly afterwards. Of course, the demonstration remained peaceable.

Over the years, I watched the man who became temporary acting chief continue to bend the rules; seeking revenge for my reporting.

I am not the only one who has wondered how he and his wife, on retiring, stepped into high paying jobs with the county and the courts. Both draw fat city police pensions.

While Mr. Domer is the darling of the crowd that operates behind closed and locked doors, Charles "Chuck" Jenkins can rely on Republican regulars; he's been the party chairman for quite a while. At the same time, his performance as the sheriff department's chief detective is totally beyond reproach.

Even among supporters, Mr. Jenkins's election possibilities are questioned, however. By consensus, he's considered decent, honest, caring and all those other attributes we would like to find in public officials. His record in the sheriff's department can be admired.

But some Republicans say their chairman may not be forceful enough or dynamic enough to win against the organization that backs former city cop Domer.

Although least known among the top three contenders, Bill Folden figures as the favorite among his fellow departmental employees. Probably because they admire the way the FOP president organized, engineered and brought into being the collective bargaining agreement.

His strong leadership impressed many.

As for credentials: Mr. Folden stands as the sole candidate with county, state and military training and qualifications in law enforcement.

A member of the county delegation described the current sheriff's department sergeant "resourceful, intelligent and very articulate. He's impressive." (Until after September's primaries, Republican officials remain publicly neutral.)

This subject merits future columns as the campaign develops further.

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