PARKERSBURG - A new amendment could remove the two-term limit on county sheriffs elected in West Virginia.
The November ballot will read as follows: "To repeal section three, article IX of the State Constitution which provides that a person who has been elected or who has served as a sheriff during all or any part of two consecutive terms shall be ineligible for the office of sheriff during any part of the term immediately following the second of the two consecutive terms, and that the person holding the office of sheriff when this section is ratified shall not be prevented from holding the office of sheriff during the term immediately following the term he is serving."
The issue will be whether to repeal the term limits for the state's 55 county sheriffs.
Voting "no" on the amendment would allow limits sheriffs to two consecutive terms in office and not again until after the candidate has sat out a term.
Voting "yes" would permit sheriffs to be able to serve as long as the voters in their counties vote them into office.
The state's constitution originally limited sheriffs to serving a four-year term. In 1973, voters made the change allowing sheriffs to hold office up to two consecutive terms, eight years. Since then, there have been three attempts to remove term limits for the office altogether, but voters rejected each attempt in 1982, 1986 and 1994.
In 2011, the Legislature placed the proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the two-term limit in the Nov. 6, 2012, election.
According to reports, the primary group advocating for the revision to the amendment is the West Virginia Sheriffs Association.
Ken Merritt, current Republican candidate for the office of sheriff, said he will be voting for the amendment. Merritt served as sheriff for three terms (1993-1997, 1997-2001 and again from 2005-2009). He is also a former Wood County commissioner, serving from 2001 to 2004. Merritt noted the importance for the sheriff to carry out the two functioning tasks they are responsible for in the state: chief law enforcement official of the county and collecting county taxes.
"I'm going to vote for it," he said. "I've really done a lot of soul searching on this."
Merritt said he has always been proud of the deputies in the sheriff's office and was constantly given the chance to brag about them while he was sheriff. Merritt remembered a convention he attended as sheriff in Phoenix, recalling he told another sheriff his unit was "the best sheriff's office in West Virginia, if not, America."
Merritt said he is deciding to run again because of his love and experience for the elected office.
"I spent terms with the sheriff's office here and loved it," he said.
Merritt spent more than 20 years as a conservation officer with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources,1969 to 1990. He is a retired veteran and a former president to the West Virginia Sheriffs Association.
Current Sheriff Jeff Sandy said there are good and bad aspects to changing the law. Sandy said since there is already a term limit, the public can vote out the sheriff should they decide they don't like them.
"If they (legislators) would change (the law) to where (the sheriff) could serve more than two terms, younger people would take a chance to get involved," he said.
Sandy said there are facts pointing to younger people don't take the chance to run for the office in the state.
"The last five (sheriffs) for Wood County have been retirees," he said.
Sandy said as of now, if an older person should run, say in their late 40s or early 50s, and not get re-elected they may have a harder time finding another job. He said the two-term limit exists because of possible corruption. Sandy said he thinks the negatives from previous years and corruption that could have an opportunity to take place can be eliminated or reduced by the mandatory audits.
Sandy said if he is successful in being re-elected, he will not run for another term of sheriff, even if the amendment would be changed.