JEFFERSON-There’s a new sheriff in town.
Going against the recommendations from a few of the deputies that will serve under the new administration, county commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to select Terry Buchanan to complete the term of former Sheriff James Williams.
Buchanan will serve as sheriff until 2018 when county voters will head to the polls to start the process anew.
Commissioners Larry Rhodes and William Sands voted against Buchanan’s selection. Rhodes declined comment following the vote. The commissioners voted following executive session. No discussion was held prior to the vote.
The news came as a shock to a strong contingent of supporters for Bucky Absher, who has worked in law enforcement for 34 years. He is currently second in command at the ACSO and was serving as acting sheriff since Jan. 1. Many felt Absher would be a clear-cut winner in the interview process as he has worked with Williams for three decades. Williams’ succession plan also included Absher to take over the office.
Buchanan’s selection is also in direct defiance to Willians’ plan for the office. Before Williams rode off quietly in the sunset on Dec. 31, he wanted to make sure his house was in order and the status quo would remain until a new sheriff could be selected.
The planned installation of Absher by Williams, who announced his retirement shortly before Thanksgiving, was almost immediately met with controversy
Buchanan challenged Williams’ choice in December by citing the lack of advancement at the sheriff’s office and how inner grumblings were indicative of a need for change of power. He also said that the county’s overwhelmingly conservative voting body would want an all-Republican board to choose a sheriff of the same political affiliation as them. Williams ran as a Democrat despite earning more than 70 percent of the vote in 2014 and was unchallenged in 2010.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Hendrix, who said he wants to run for sheriff himself in 2018, said the commissioners should adhere to the will of the people who voted for the current administration. Hendrix reasoned that although Williams is stepping down, his current administration, which is the one the county voted for, should be held intact and led by the departing sheriff’s right hand man.
He referenced a state statute that addresses how to fill such vacancies.
N.C.G.S 162-5 states the following:
“If any vacancy occurs in the office of sheriff, the coroner of the county shall execute all process directed to the sheriff until the first meeting of the county commissioners next succeeding such vacancy, when the board shall elect a sheriff to supply the vacancy for the residue of the term, who shall possess the same qualifications, enter to the same bond, and be subject to removal, as the sheriff regularly elected. If the board should fail to fill such vacancy, the coroner shall continue to discharge the duties of the sheriff until it shall be filled. In those counties where the office of the coroner has been abolished, the chief deputy shall perform all the duties of the sheriff until the county commissioners appoint some person to fill the unexpired term.”
As promised during their Jan. 3 meeting, commissioners interviewed three candidates, including Buchanan, in closed session prior to the vote.
Before that could happen, however, several officers who said they are made from the same cloth as Absher and Williams, came up to the podium to urge commissioners to pick the lawman who had the most experience.
Deputy Tony Blevins told commissioners Monday they have a “grave decision before them” and should appoint the most qualified candidate at this time.
“Bucky has spent a lifetime serving Ashe County,” said Blevins. “He’s been vetted for decades in the public eye. He’s done his job honorably and we have to also consider while they may be others qualified for the job, we’ve only had a couple of weeks to vet. We’ve had decades to know and trust Bucky Absher. As a member of the Republican party, we often like to uphold ourselves that we do the right thing. I truly believe the only right thing to do here is to appoint Bucky Absher.”
Sgt. Aaron Reed also didn’t make it a secret his support of Absher.
“I was afforded every opportunity by Sheriff Williams and Sgt. Absher, without regard to my political affiliation. I was judged only on merit. I ask for you to do the same for Bucky,” said Reed.
Sgt. Dennis Anders said commissioners should choose a man that can handle the stress of any harrowing crime scene with poise and reverence for affected family members.
“I worked many crime scenes with Bucky,” said Anders. “I want you to think about something: homicide. You have people crying and upset. You need someone as sheriff to take control. I’ve been at those crime scenes with Bucky Absher. He takes control. That’s not just one crime scene. That’s every crime scene.”
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.