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New sheriff in town; that's no puzzle

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Column by Jim Clark

It was Saturday, the second of two brutal news days in which we saw a sheriff suspended, a new one appointed, and two sheriff’s officials put on paid leave.
I had spent much of the day working on the story you see on the front page that was first posted on our website. When it got to be 4 o’clock, I collapsed into my recliner and turned on the Mets game.
A little more than three hours later, the game was over, and in going around the dials I came across “Wheel of Fortune.” The first puzzle that came up was “there’s a new sheriff in town.”
I kid you not.
I laughed out loud when I saw that puzzle. I mean, what could be more appropriate that weekend?
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few days, you know that Sheriff Chris Blair was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of perjury and one count of official misconduct. Governor Rick Scott suspended him, and appointed Emery Gainey of the Attorney General’s Office to serve until a new sheriff is elected in November.
Gainey then placed two of Blair’s staff leaders on paid leave. A third, the chief deputy, announced his retirement.
This whole thing has left me with some major questions.
Both Scott and Gainey have said that the suspension is until after the election in November. But what if the matter is resolved before then? What if charges are dropped? Will there be any legitimate reason to keep Blair on the sidelines?
Second, since he hasn’t been convicted of anything, can Blair stay on the ballot and be re-elected? What happens then?
Should there be a special prosecutor appointed in this case, to take the prosecution out of the local State Attorney’s office?
Here’s another question. When former Sheriff Ed Dean decided a couple of weeks ago to run, much of his criticism was aimed at the running of the Sheriff’s Office by Blair. So if Blair isn’t going to run, will Dean continue with his campaign, or will he drop out? A bigger question, is it just a coincidence that Dean entered the race a mere two weeks before the Blair indictment was announced?
After the sheriff’s election fiasco of 2012, when Dan Kuhn was forced to withdraw after a scandal but after he defeated Blair in the primary, it came down to the ballots having already been printed so people had to vote for Kuhn to actually vote for Blair. There were a lot of questions at the time as to whether voters clearly understood this.
There’s one thing that has to be pointed out. There are a lot of good people working at the Sheriff’s Office. We’ve seen comments condemning the entire department, and that’s not fair.
We have to hope that this year’s sheriff election is not another confusing set of circumstances. We deserve to have one good person elected as sheriff, with no disputes or discrepancies, to lead the hard workers in the office in protecting all of us.
Hopefully that’s the way things will play out this fall.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen.