Community members express doubts regarding sheriff's department policy

BALDWIN — Lake County Sheriff Dennis Robinson is facing criticism from members of the community for enforcing a policy which states any member of the Lake County Sheriff's Department must take a 60-day leave of absence if they wish to run for county office.

Because such offices include the position of sheriff, Robinson's critics argue he is enforcing the policy to prevent his fellow department members from running against him when he is up for re-election in November of this year.

"My main concern is the timing of this policy in an election year; and that it doesn't seem appropriate," said County Commission Chair Karl Walls. "The policy itself might have some basis for it and it does not appear to be illegal in any form, but it does seem to emphasize some of the shortcomings that would occur if a county employee runs for office."

Robinson counters by saying the policy is a state law designed to make departments run more efficiently. The law is an optional one in Michigan and it is up to local department leaders, such as Robinson, to decide whether they want to enforce it.

"If you want to run for office, you can run for a local office such as school board, but county positions require you to take a 60-day leave of absence prior to the election," said Robinson. "The policy is there to stop any confusion and tell people how to run for office if they want to. When you don't have this policy in place, itcan cause disruptions, and my job is maintaining public safety."

Robinson was sworn in as Lake County Sheriff in November following the retirement of former sheriff Robert Hilts to finish the remainder of Hilts' term. He began enforcing the policy several weeks later. Under this law, the sitting sheriff is notably exempt from running for reelection.

"Everything he did was legal, but I think it's immoral if it prevents his deputies from running against him," said County Commissioner John Brunn. "I think he should lift his restrictions on his guys. I think the deadline to run is March or April so he should do it soon. If there is this rule in place, I think it should apply to the sheriff, too. There should be no exceptions."

Robinson maintains he is merely following a law intended to prevent disruptions within his department.

"It's not fair to decide who gets a leave of absence or not. The turmoil that happens when someone is there and running can be very disruptive," remarked Robinson. "It's a common policy and it's based on state law, so I'm just following the law."