SOUTH BEND — Ferrill “LeRoy” Johnson, 80, isn’t just Sheriff Scott Johnson’s dad. For at least the next seven weeks, he’s also Pacific County’s new undersheriff.
Sheriff Johnson appears to have appointed his father, a retired county road-crew worker, to his new job a week before losing his bid for a third term as sheriff.
Appointment from the past, oath from the future
It’s not clear how long the decision has been in the works, because there are conflicting dates on the sheriff’s Certificate of Appointment, and his father’s Oath of Office.
The appointment and oath are printed on the same page. Scott Johnson dated and signed the appointment portion on Oct. 31. The oath portion originally said it was “subscribed and sworn” in October. However, someone scratched out the month and wrote in ‘November’ by hand. The sheriff filed the form at the Pacific County Auditor’s Office on Wednesday, Nov. 7. However, the same document says LeRoy Johnson signed his oath at the time of notarization on Friday, Nov. 9, two days in the future.
The Chinook Observer reached out to the sheriff through email, phone and text message on Nov. 8. He has not responded yet.
The outgoing sheriff hasn’t had a second-in-command since former Undersheriff Ron Clark resigned to work at a hospital in June. When Clark left, the sheriff said he would wait until fall to make a new appointment. He did not give any indication of whom he might select, but most people in law enforcement predicted he would choose Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock or another veteran deputy who is already a member of his command staff.
The Observer on Nov. 8 asked the county to provide copies of the undersheriff job description and information about LeRoy Johnson’s pay and benefits. The county has not provided the records yet.
‘A little unusual’
Generally speaking, the undersheriff is an at-will employee who serves at the pleasure of the sheriff. Many undersheriffs handle scheduling, disciplinary matters and other high-level administrative task. They also, make public appearances and perform ceremonial functions. However, it’s also common for them to answer calls for service and oversee investigations.
Speaking on background, a Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s staffer with knowledge of police recruitment practices said virtually all undersheriffs have experience in law enforcement. He called Johnson’s decision to hire an aged relative with no known police training “a little unusual.”
Is it nepotism?
“In government, nepotism is typically the practice of those with appointing authority giving jobs to relatives,” according to Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit organization that provides guidance to small governments in Washington. Hiring family members is not illegal. State law says almost nothing about nepotism, but many cities and counties have their own guidelines about when it is and isn’t acceptable to hire a relative.
It can be ethical to hire a relative if they are qualified for the job, hired through the standard procedure, and given pay that is commensurate with that of their peers. Many cities and counties do not allow staffers to supervise, or be supervised by a close relative.
The Observer is still trying to reach the new undersheriff to learn more about his qualifications.
County Administrator Kathy Spoor referred a question about whether the county has an anti-nepotism policy to a public records officer.
Hiring and firing
The Observer asked Sheriff-elect Robin Souvenir whether he plans to keep Undersheriff LeRoy Johnson on when he takes office on Jan. 1. Souvenir has not responded yet.
Most incoming sheriffs make significant changes to the command-staff lineup after taking office. When Scott Johnson took office in 2010, he demoted then-undersheriff Clark, and replaced him with Todd Fosse, a long-time reserve officer who helped run his campaign. Johnson abruptly fired Fosse in 2015 and reinstated Clark. Earlier this year, Fosse filed a wrongful termination suit against the sheriff. That case is ongoing.
This is a developing news story. Check back later in the week for updates.