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Keep Limits On Sheriffs’ Terms

September 28, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Here in the Northern Panhandle, we've been fortunate to have several excellent, popular county sheriffs during the past couple of decades. In some counties, regret has been expressed that good sheriffs have to be retired after two terms in office.

Regardless of how popular a sheriff becomes in West Virginia, eight years in office is the limit. Prior to 1973, the state Constitution held sheriffs to just one term. In that year, voters agreed to allow two consecutive terms.

Occasionally it is suggested the limit should be done away with entirely. Why should voters have to kick a good man or woman out of the sheriff's office in eight years, and take their chances on a newcomer?

Voters in the Nov. 6 general election will have the opportunity to decide whether the limit should remain locked in to state law. If they approve a change, sheriffs will be permitted to stay in office indefinitely, or at least until their counties' voters have had enough of them.

Therein lies the problem and the reason why the state's founders decided in the first place that there ought to be a term limit.

Sheriffs are among the most powerful office holders in local governments. They control both law enforcement and tax collections. That gives them control over many patronage jobs as well as, for the unscrupulous, the ability to have other influence over county employees and taxpayers. Some of the most powerful political machines in the state's history have been controlled by county sheriffs.

The longer a sheriff is allowed to remain in office, the more powerful and unbeatable at the polls he can grow.

That is reason enough to retain the limit of two consecutive terms for sheriffs.

Even with the limits, complaints about corruption centered on sheriff's offices are heard from time to time in some counties.

On Nov. 6, then, West Virginia voters would be well advised to retain the limits by voting "no" on the proposed constitutional amendment concerning sheriffs' tenures.

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