THE NEXT LEXINGTON County sheriff will need not only to protect life, limb and property, but to restore and protect the department's tarnished image.
While the four candidates in Tuesday's Republican primary in the special election for sheriff readily embrace those challenges, only two are prepared to get the job done -- Lexington assistant police chief Jay Koon and West Columbia police chief Dennis Tyndall.
Both men have the experience and managerial skills needed to oversee the sheriff's department. Although neither has run a department -- let alone a jail -- of this size, both would be quick studies.
But Mr. Koon possesses the polish, professionalism and smarts needed not only to restore public confidence but to propel the agency forward into a new era. That's sorely needed at the department former Sheriff James Metts shaped in his image during a 42-year tenure, only to leave it in disgrace when he resigned and pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge.
The department would benefit from Mr. Koon's calm, steady demeanor and commitment to treating employees and residents with equity and respect. He said he sees employees as assets that are to be used effectively and efficiently to serve the residents of Lexington County.
And don't expect him to play favorites. He pledges to treat everybody equally under the law, regardless of who they are, and to run a shop that sticks to the basics. "In the previous administration we got way too political,"Mr. Koon told us.
Mr. Koon has served at the Lexington Police Department for 20 years, nine of them as assistant chief. He has helped manage a $5 million budget and been responsible for initiating the hiring and promotion of officers.
Having worked in close proximity to and in conjunction with the sheriff's department over the years, he is familiar with the agency and its people. After Mr. Metts' departure, Mr. Koon spent five months as a member of the transitional leadership team for acting Sheriff Lewis McCarty, which allowed him an up-close look at how the department operates as well as its challenges. That experience, while not extensive, should serve him well.
While the sheriff's department has a sizable budget, it is essential to spend wisely and not assume more money is the answer to every problem, Mr. Koon said. He said he intends to scale back or farm out duties -- such as security at the courthouse entrance -- to gain efficiencies and free up deputies.
Although Mr. McCarty wisely removed four top aides after Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to replace Mr. Metts, it would be naive to think that alone is enough to change the culture established over four decades. The next sheriff must be willing to confront any residual problems and, if need be, do even more house cleaning.
On Tuesday, voters should charge Mr. Koon with that task.