Macon County Sheriff's Office Becomes Focus

Of Attention

​   ​​The Macon County Sheriff’s Office has been generating more than its normal amount of news during the past several months.
    First, Sheriff Tom Schneider announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to the position. He has worked in Macon County law enforcement since 1988 and has served as sheriff since 2008.
    Three command officers from the sheriff’s office stepped forward to run for his position --  Lt. Tony Brown, Lt. Jon Butts and Lt. Jim Root.   
    Last week, Schneider announced that he would retire from the office before his term was up next year and that Schneider had picked Howard Buffett to replace him to serve the remainder of his term.
    Buffett was sworn in as sheriff in a ceremony Friday before some 100 guests at the Scovill Golf Course Banquet Facility.
    Buffett, the son of multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffett, has donated tens of millions of dollars to Decatur area projects and organizations during the past few years.
       He has also been heavily involved in the Macon County Sheriff’s office as undersheriff, according to  Schneider, and has received extensive law enforcement training.
      Although the sheriff has the right to select his successor, normally, the Macon County Board holds the ultimate approval, but  there is no indication when, or if, a board vote will be taken. Any vote on the selection must be taken within 60 days.

• Reaction To The Appointment

    The reaction to Howard Buffett being appointed sheriff has received a generally favorable reaction, but certainly there are those in the community who feel that he “bought” the sheriff’s position because of his generous donations to the community, and law enforcement, in recent years.
    The question posed on social media (consider the source) is, would he have been selected if he had not been so generous to the Decatur area?
    That’s probably a fair question.
    If Buffett had no law enforcement experience at all, and was named sheriff by the retiring sheriff, the question would probably have more validity.
    Sheriff Tom Schneider was named sheriff the same year that I left the mayor’s office, but  I worked with him some in his position as deputy.  I’ve appreciated his efforts and openness in my contact with him in my editor’s role.
    With three command officers in his office involved in an election campaign, and the danger that the sheriff’s office’s atmosphere might become “politically charged”, with employees choosing up sides during the months before actual voting takes place, it was probably a sound idea to bring someone to the office who wasn’t involved in the campaign -- and who had no desire to run for election to the office.
    Under normal circumstances, one of the command officers would be named to serve the rest of the term of the retiring sheriff -- as approved by members of the Macon County Board.
    Obviously, these weren’t “normal circumstances”.
    I wish Tom Schneider the best in his retirement and thank him for his service to Decatur and Macon County.

• What About Buffett?

    Except for the news that he has made, both locally and internationally, I really don’t know Howard Buffett.  He  became more active in our community several years after I left the mayor’s office, but I do know that he has a passion for this area and a lot of the positive things we’ve seen happen locally, have been the result of his generosity and concern for the area.
    We have benefitted from his role in the Decatur area, when those dollars could have gone to places and projects other than Decatur.
    I’m sure that I will get to know the new sheriff better in the days ahead, although my beat and experience are  more about city government than county government.
    I certainly wish Sheriff Buffett the best in handling his new role in our community -- and it is apparent he has some great, experienced personnel in the sheriff’s office for him to work with until an elected sheriff is sworn in after the next general election.
    If Buffett is successful as sheriff, it will certainly benefit all of us.

• Transparency Needed 
    There’s no question in my mind that the announcement of the retirement of Schneider and the appointment of Buffett could have been handled a little better.
    Although I heard through the grapevine the appointment was coming a few weeks before it happened, it seemed far “less public” than it should have been.
    The “official” announcement came to this newspaper from the sheriff’s office Friday morning at 10:00, only six hours before the swearing in ceremony. 
    It would have also been better, in my opinion, for the Macon County Board to have voted on the appointment.
    It seems some feathers were ruffled on the board, not only about the selection, but the way it was handled.     Voting on any selection after the sheriff has been sworn in doesn’t make much sense to me.  What if the board voted against the new sheriff?
    I would be surprised if the board even has a vote to approve the appointment within the 60 days period allowed.
    As a former public official, and decades-long editor of this newspaper, I think that part of the appointment could have been handled better through more transparency in the process.    

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