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Process to pick new sheriff to begin as soon as council makes request

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder walks to his office after announcing that he will leave his elected position to become Moab's police chief during a press conference at the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder walks to his office after announcing that he will leave his elected position to become Moab's police chief during a press conference at the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder prepares to leave his position to become the new chief of the Moab Police Department, the process of selecting a new sheriff is about to begin.

But that process recently changed — something Winder wasn't even aware of when he held a press conference earlier this week announcing his departure, pending approval from the Moab City Council.

Winder said he expected the Salt Lake County Democratic Party to pick three candidates for the Salt Lake County Council to vote on. But a new process approved earlier this year by the Utah Legislature went into effect about a month ago.

Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairman Quang Dang said the County Council has to first notify the party that a vacancy needs to be filled and officially request that names be submitted. At that point, the party has 30 days to submit a name to the council for consideration.

During that time, all eligible candidates can file their intention to seek office with the county clerk. In order to be considered for sheriff, a person must live in Salt Lake County and be certified as a police officer.

After allowing about two weeks for those candidates to campaign before the 1,100 members of the Salt Lake County Democratic Central Committee, the committee will vote. If a candidate gets at least 60 percent of the votes on the first ballot, then that person's name will automatically be submitted to the Salt Lake County Council for consideration. If not, then a second ballot will be held for the top two vote-getters, and the winner of that vote will have their name submitted to the council.

The council will then have five days to consider the nomination.

When a new sheriff will be selected depends partly on when the County Council sends official notice to the party notifying them of the vacancy, Dang said. As of Thursday, that had not happened.

Winder said this week that he had approached an unnamed person to ask if that person would be interested in filling the remaining 18 months of his term. Dang said Winder is free to campaign for any person he chooses, just as the other candidates will likely have supporters and endorsements.

Winder has said he wished the politics could be kept out of the process so that important issues, such as jail space, could be focused on instead of campaigning. That's why Winder hopes the person who replaces him is someone who has no intention of running for sheriff when the term ends in 18 months.