Sheriff Jay Armbrister: Why I’m supporting the county sheriff election and recall amendment (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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I write this letter on behalf of myself and all sheriffs in the state, but mainly for any future sheriffs. As with any political issue and especially a Constitutional amendment, I want everyone to vote for what they feel is best. But, even if you disagree with what I say or the points I make, I want you to cast your vote from a position of information and reality. 

My own local party, the Douglas County Democratic Party, endorsed a “no” vote on the Sheriff’s Preservation Amendment. I respect the fact that we disagree, but I would call on party leadership to more clearly explain their reasoning. 

Our state representatives were good enough to explain to me why they voted against this measure when it was before them. Their consistent concerns were with the state telling local governments how they must operate. 

I respect that stance, but other than that, I have been given no other reason for advocating a “no” vote. I have, of course, listened to and read opinions about the fact that a local county or district attorney is removed from the ouster process, which can remove the local perspective and knowledge if a sheriff is being “naughty,” and the local district attorney won’t be able to “investigate” the sheriff. 

This is just simply not quite accurate, and I wanted to share why this information is misleading. 

First off, the Kansas County & District Attorneys Association as a group supports this change because local prosecutors typically don’t want to be caught up in an ouster proceeding and would prefer the state attorney general handle it. And as we have seen not only locally, but in surrounding counties, the local sheriff and DA or county attorney work very closely together and at times find themselves at odds. It’s best that local politics or personal feelings not be part of any ouster proceeding decisions. 

I would rather the Kansas attorney general have the power to determine if and when an ouster proceeding should begin. And for clarity, the AG has that authority now. This amendment does not move that authority but simply leaves it solely with the AG. And a citizen will always have the ability to file a recall petition for the sheriff or other local elected officials. That right of the people will not be affected. 

And lastly, the term “investigation” is misleading at best. It makes it sound as if a DA could no longer look into a sheriff for any kind of misconduct. That simply is not true. 

If a sheriff is alleged to be a part of any criminal misconduct, the DA will and should investigate this and file charges if necessary. This amendment makes absolutely no changes to this. What this amendment simply does is removes the local DA’s ability to file the quo warranto (ouster proceeding) alone if they believe the sheriff has violated their oath of office, but has not committed criminal misconduct. And if a local DA believes an ouster proceeding is needed against the sheriff in their county, they would simply present their allegations, findings and information to the AG’s office and let them take it from there. 

Finally, here is my main reason for supporting this amendment. The office of sheriff is different from all the other heads of law enforcement agencies in this county because it is an elected position. Police chiefs are selected by a small group of people — city council members or commissioners and a city administrator. That chief is selected because they represent what that group would like to see in their community. Therefore, that chief could be beholden to those who chose them. The old saying goes, “A police chief is re-elected every day, and the sheriff is re-elected every four years.” 

The sheriff is beholden only to the voters. If the sheriff does a good job, the voters decide to keep him or her. If they do a bad job, voters can also decide to remove him or her. And this constitutional amendment will codify into our Constitution the protection of your ability to always vote for your sheriff. The people should have the ultimate say in one of their law enforcement officials and that has always been the sheriff, and it should always remain the sheriff. 

Your sheriff, 

— Douglas County Sheriff Jay T. Armbrister #S203

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