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Five seeking sheriff's post

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Most days, it is not hard to tell what Wayne Godwin does for a living.

The gold badge, blue uniform and gun are sure signs that he serves as Sheriff of Harrison County.

Although the way he dresses lets people know that Godwin is a lawman, enforcing the law is only a small part of what he has done for the past and 712 years.

"Law enforcement is just one of the things a sheriff does," Godwin said. "It's the one most people know about because it's more out front, and it involves public safety."

Next January, Godwin will step down as Harrison County Sheriff after eight years. He will make way for one of the five candidates who are vying for the job this year.

In reality, law enforcement is only one of many duties the next Harrison County Sheriff will face, Godwin said.

"The sheriff is also the treasurer," he said. "He is required to collect all the taxes. It's a major job.

"We have to try to collect all the delinquent taxes, have property sales, work with the prosecuting attorney's office and sue those who don't pay their taxes."

Godwin also is responsible for the operation of the Harrison County Correctional Center.

Running the jail is one of the toughest parts of the job, he said.

"We have 20 people sleeping on the floor over there now because we're overcrowded," he said. "We usually run about 80 prisoners a day."

Because of budgetary constraints, scheduling enough corrections officers on each shift can be a challenge, Godwin said.

The sheriff's duties touch on nearly every part of the legal process, Godwin said. Besides making arrests and guarding those in jail, he also is responsible for the process servers.

"We serve between 18,000 and 19,000 (subpoenas and civil complaints) a month," Godwin said. " We're getting 40 to 50 new ones a day."

In addition to serving papers, collecting taxes, making arrests and running the jail, the sheriff is responsible for courthouse security and providing bailiffs for the circuit courts, Godwin said.

He is not certain how county sheriff's acquired one other duty. Godwin also must serve as guardian and conservator for people found incompetent by the court, he said.

"We had 44 of them at one time," Godwin said. "I don't know how the sheriff got stuck with that duty."

So, with all of those duties, and the next sheriff scheduled to earn a salary of $49,000, according to a statement of salaries from the Harrison County Commission, why are five candidates trying to succeed Godwin?

"I think the sheriff should be a role model," said Ron Watson, one candidate. "If not for the mentors I had, I probably would have wound up a bad boy."

Watson, Jim Terango, Rick Miller, Jim Jack and Ronald Cork all are candidates for the post this year.

"I've wanted to run for sheriff since I was in high school," Terango said.

"I think the sheriff's position is the job that can make the most difference, and I want to make a difference."

Some have planned on running for years.

"It's been a lifelong dream of mine to become sheriff in Harrison County," Miller said. "I think I have a lot of good ideas that will benefit Harrison County."

For others, running has been a goal for only a few years.

"During the past five or six years, it became apparent to some that I have ideas that will be beneficial to the citizens of Harrison County " Jack said. "At the urging of friends and colleagues, I focused on running."

And the job can be addictive, Cork said.

"I love law enforcement," he said. "Being sheriff puts me in a position to help people. That's what I've always done."

Godwin decided to run eight years ago to continue the progress made by the prior sheriff, Joe Trupo.

"I was never interested in running, but Joe Trupo talked me into it," Godwin said. "I'm grateful that he did."

Even if state law did not prevent him from running for a third term, Godwin said he probably would not seek re-election.

But law enforcement still will be in his blood, Godwin said.

"When I hear a siren go by, it's just natural that I'll think about it and wonder what's going on. I don't think I'll ever get over that."

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