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A new sheriff’s in town


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Columbus Police Department Lt. Matt Myers is ready to transition to his new job as Bartholomew County sheriff, even though he hasn’t officially been elected to the position.

Myers, the Republican candidate, has named a transition team to assist him because he has no opponent for the Nov. 4 general election. No Democrat, third-party member or independent candidate filed by the June 30 deadline. The write-in deadline was noon Thursday, and no such candidates filed to run.

Myers defeated three other Republican candidates in the May 6 primary to earn the party’s nomination. On Jan. 1, he will succeed Sheriff Mark Gorbett, who begins a transition of his own on the Bartholomew County Council.

State law bars Gorbett from seeking a third consecutive term as sheriff.

Beginning in August, Myers said, he will use saved vacation time and excused absences from the Columbus Police Department to spend more time at the sheriff’s department. His replacement as the police department’s public information officer is expected to be announced this month, Myers said.

Myers named four people to his transition team:

Judy Johns Jackson, director of community development under former Columbus Mayor Fred Armstrong and daughter of former Sheriff J. Walter Johns.

Mary Ferdon, executive director of Volunteers in Medicine

DeWayne Hines, chairman of the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals

Bill Lentz, Bartholomew County Council member at-large.

“These are all good people well known in the community who bring a lot of experience to help me make a smooth transition,” Myers said.

Among the committee’s tasks will be to advise the incoming sheriff on personnel matters.

Myers said he also wants to use the leadership already assembled under Gorbett’s administration to help in the transition.

“The pressure is on me to prove I care about the sheriff’s department as much as the deputies do. I’m going to have to earn those deputies’ respect from Day 1,” Myers said.

‘Opportunity to advance’

He will begin interviewing current deputies and staff members Aug. 4, something he said he arranged with Gorbett.

“My goal is to talk to every employee and discuss what their goals and visions are for themselves and the department before I make any decisions regarding administrative positions,” Myers said.

Another goal is to use those interviews to get a better grasp of the inner workings of the department, Myers said.

After the interviews are completed, Myers expects he will select a chief deputy, who will be responsible for managing the daily operations of the department. That position currently is held by Maj. Todd Noblitt, who came in second to Myers in the primary.

No decision has been made whether a current staff member or outside officer will be brought in as chief deputy, Myers said.

“All the other positions, including captains, I plan on posting them and having an interview process. I want to give everyone the opportunity to advance,” he said.

Noting that his election has created anxiety regarding the future in the department, Myers said he also hopes to use the August interviews to alleviate worries of widespread personnel changes after the first of the year.

As long as current employees follow proper procedures and have the best interests of the community and department in mind, there’s no reason for anybody to be fearful of losing a job, Myers said.

Different way of thinking

Following the completion of a new, weeklong sheriff’s academy sponsored by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association in early December, Myers plans to spend much of the holiday season with his family before being sworn into office Jan. 1.

Besides explaining rules and regulations to newly elected sheriffs, the academy updates existing sheriffs on legislative changes that will affect their jobs, said Kenny Whipker, an administrator with the Indiana Department of Correction, who served as sheriff from 1999 through 2006.

Gorbett, who had less than two months after winning the 2006 election before taking office, doesn’t think six months of preparation is excessive.

“As Bartholomew County sheriff, you are the CEO of a $6 million-a-year operation,” Gorbett said. “It’s a 24/7 job that controls your life.”

Being a sheriff requires an entirely different way of thinking from being a law enforcement officer, Whipker said.

“At the jail, you must deal with personality and medical issues among 180 felons under your care,” Whipker said. “In terms of total staff, you have to manage close to 100 people.”

The sheriff’s responsibilities also involve complicated budgets; merit board operations; county, state and federal regulations; tax sales; required judicial services; courthouse security; and civil process, Whipker said.

With one out of four deputies likely to retire over the next four years, recruitment also must be a top priority for the new sheriff, Gorbett said.

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