10 months of campaigning, one day to complete the vote, and
two weeks to sort it all out, but newly certified sheriff-elect
Len Hagaman says hes already shrugged off a post-election
delay and said hell be ready to take over the countys
largest law-enforcement agency on Monday, December 4.
said hes been busy since the county board of elections
certified his narrow victory over one-term incumbent sheriff
Mark Shook Nov. 22.
had been delayed, however, by a brutally close election, state
law, and the long-shot possibility that the incumbent, Shook,
could chase down enough stray votes to overcome the 98-vote
deficit he faced at the closing of the polls.
difference of less than 1 percent of the 15,572 votes cast,
state law authorized Shook to request a recount.
He did, and elections officials had to delay certification
of the ballots until all the votes could be re-tabulated.
Again, the counting took a few hours, but the process took
15 days and Hagaman said the resulting compression of
time, has got him running pillar to post,
trying to catch up.
hed formally asked Shook to provide verification of
evidence, significant investigations, property and assets
records, inmate count, and fiscal concerns to the proper personnel,
agencies, and officials.
havent had the chance to get in there and take care
of some things, Hagaman said. The most difficult of
the tasks ahead of him, he added, was where, and how much,
to change his personnel.
law, Hagaman pointed out, gives the sheriff explicit power
to hire, fire and position personnel any way he sees fit.
No. 153A-103 says, in part, that each sheriff elected by the
people has exclusive right to hire discharge and supervise
the employees in his office, Hagaman said.
preparing to go into a meeting with some of those personnel
that morning, he said.
would be some changes, he confirmed, but added he expected
nothing too big.
for the people whose jobs will be directly affected,
Hagaman said. I dont see anything earth-shaking
for the department. Will there be changes? Yes. Will there
be reorganization? Yes. But I think the employees there will
be very understanding as to why Im doing it. I hope
they understand it.
sheriffs office was stirred earlier this year, if not
entirely shaken, by a pair of sexual harassment lawsuits filed
in federal court by two female former employees. Both suits
named Shook and Watauga County as defendants.
One of the suits came when Shook fired his second-in-command,
Paula Townsend, in July 2005. Later that month, she filed
a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
alleging the sheriff fired her because shed rejected
his unwanted sexual advances.
earlier, Shook had fired the countys top communications
officer, Patricia Shook. She responded with allegations that,
before firing her, Shook berated her in front of subordinates
and sought to undercut her authority because she is a woman.
of the lawsuits had been circulating for months but no documented
proof of a pending legal action was made public.
time Townsends attorney filed her suit with Statesvilles
Federal District Court, in June, Shook had already buried
his Republican primary opponent, Ray Moody, in an 80-20 landslide
a month earlier. Hagaman had run unopposed on the Democratic
run up to the general election, neither campaign made mention
of the lawsuits, though early on Shook dismissed the allegations
as the fabrications of political rivals.
made it clear, immediately after filing for the seat in February,
that the lawsuits would not be a campaign issue.
the resignation of veteran detective Dee Dee Rominger marked
the departure of the sheriffs last female deputy with
election done, Hagaman still will make no comment on the allegations
that Shooks leadership had created a workplace atmosphere
hostile to women.
declined to say whether Townsend or Patricia Shook would be
offered their jobs back under the new administration.
havent talked to anyone related to the lawsuits,
he said. I just havent had any conversations with
Hagamans victory over Shook measured as a minor upset.
Never mind that incumbents are almost always a good bet for
re-election. Add to that, a county that, in recent history
at least, has typically supported Republicans for sheriff.
Whats more, since taking office in 2002, Shook had scored
a string of highly publicized successes.
murders in two years had yielded Shooks detectives arrests
in both cases just days after the crimes. So far, one man
has pleaded guilty with three more defendants set for trial
next year. The abduction of two small children in Jan. 2005
from a court-appointed foster home garnered Shook and his
office nationwide attention as they chased down the fugitive
parents and returned the children safely home.
most enduring success may be his assault on illegal meth labs.
Shook said hed never heard of meth until he took office
and his narcotics officers began showing him evidence of clandestine
labs throughout the county. Within two years, Watauga County
led the state in illegal lab busts with 48.
the numbers are back down to 2002 levels, and barely pushing
into the double digits. Shook gained added notoriety as he
rallied state and federal officials for laws making it harder
for meth cooks to obtain necessary ingredients for the drug.
crowned his first term earlier this year, when he moved his
office into the new, state-of-the-art law enforcement center
west of Boone.
Republicans, Shook was seen as a party up-and-comer. Hed
already allied himself with Republican rep. Virginia Foxx
at a congressional hearing on meth in America. The appearance
earned him some C-SPAN face time and gave him his first taste
of big time politics.
was also making a name for himself in Raleigh, where he lobbied
frequently for tougher meth laws.
From all appearances, it had been a politically profitable
four years for Shook. The lawsuits appeared to be the only
major blemish on his public face as he approached the Nov.
has refused to criticize Shooks tenure on any grounds.
much of Hagamans plan, as hes revealed it so far,
suggests hell continue with many of Shooks policies
the most important are Shooks efforts to suppress meth
labs, and Hagaman said hell most likely continue them.
see no real reason to back off, he said. We have
to be vigilant and let our narcotics agents zero in on that.
Hes already met with state attorney general Roy Cooper
and State Bureau of Investigation head Robin Pendergraft.
He said they discussed anti-meth efforts and noted that eliminating
local labs has failed to stem meth use, sending addicts instead
to supplies brought mostly from outside the country.
said his office would also concentrate on property crimes
such as home and auto break-ins, of which many are committed
by drug users attempting to support their addictions.
describes it, Hagamans crime-fighting approach tends
less toward putting more bodies in jail, and more toward community
involvement in preventing crime.
he wants to borrow from the model used by local volunteer
fire departments. The fire departments have to reach out into
the community for volunteers and funding, Hagaman said.
want to have more of a relationship like that with the citizens,
Hagaman said he hopes his experience as Boone town manager
and a multi-term county commissioner will give him a broader
perspective of budget negotiations.
guess it is always a challenge, he said. Ive
submitted budgets before, some have been accepted and some
have not. In a clear majority of the cases, I usually had
the information to support them.
been on the other side as a county commissioner, he
said. You have to ask yourself, is this needed
or not? And I understand the sometimes gnashing of teeth
as the commissioners are looking at the budget.
looking through a wide lens, Ill be looking more through
a magnifying glass to see what needs to be done. So, I understand
why theyre doing what they do.