It’s an open secret in Ashvegas that its top lawman is ailing and considering stepping down. As with any elected position, that means a lot of potential political intrigue.
The High Sheriff has ruled with imperial power since he was elected way back in 1994. In North Carolina, the sheriff’s office has lingered with the register of deeds office and the clerk of court’s offices (all elected positions) as the last bastions of all out political patronage.
Most county governments, and county board of commissioners, have rid themselves of the cronyism that was rampant in the old days and often got people into trouble. But sheriffs still rule with iron fists, and in the ’90s it was not unheard of to hear about mass firings after a new sheriff took office. It’s an interesting history.
The High Sheriff in Ashvegas did it a little differently. He played favorites, big time, and put people he didn’t like, or people of the Democratic persuasion, in low jobs. You have to remember that the High Sheriff is a former Asheville Police Department officer who was a car salesman when he got elected in ’94, also the year of the Republican Revolution felt so strongly even at the local level (can you say Larry Linney, the Asheville attorney elected to the state House that same year? He’s a fascinating character who has been waging a legal battle for years against charges that he embezzled money from an estate he was handling. For another time.)
The High Sheriff followed Charlie Long, a former State Highway Patrol officer who was well liked in Democratic circles. Long came after Buck Lyda, another colorful character.
Sheriff is a powerful position that commands a multi-million budget, commands hundreds of deputies and runs a high-tech jail packed with inmates.
So, what happens if the High Sheriff steps down before his term ends (sheriff is up for re-election next year)? According to state law, the executive committee of the political party of the sheriff gets to pick.
The sheriff is a Republican, so the local Republican Party will get to choose.
Some names: George Stewart is the chief deputy, the High Sheriff’s good friend and righthand man through thick and thin. Lee Farnsworth is a captain in the department who has served both Repub and Dem sheriff administrations. Pat Hefner and Randy Bradford have been popular detectives in the department who have worked high profile cases. Maj. Bill Stafford has been around for a long time, overseeing the jail operation.