By Tim Eberly
Two Havre residents not affiliated with the Hill County Sheriff's Office have expressed interest in succeeding Sheriff Tim Solomon, who recently announced he plans to retire before the end of the year.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher declined to disclose the names of the individuals interested in the position, but said they have law enforcement experience.
"They were just inquiring at this time," Kaercher said. "Whether they actually come in and pick up an application" isn't known.
Applications for the job, which the County Commission hopes to have filled by Dec. 1 Solomon's last day can be picked up at the commissioners' office. Depending on the number of applicants, the commissioners could make their selection before Solomon leaves office, eliminating the need to appoint Undersheriff Don Brostrom as interim sheriff.
"It really depends on how many applications we receive," Kaercher said. "If we have to go through two dozen applications, that's going to stretch out the process a little longer. If we have only one or two applicants, we could set up interviews fairly rapidly."
Solomon's exit after 15 years at the helm caught the county commissioners off-guard, especially since he announced his retirement with a year remaining in his four-year term.
"It was quite a shock," Kaercher said. "But everybody has to look at what's best for him, and I think this is what ended up being the best for him personally."
The successful applicant will have to fill two jobs now held by Solomon sheriff and county coroner. Major duties for the coroner include determining cause of death, authorizing autopsies and investigating suspicious deaths.
The salary for both positions amounts to $36,729 $2,305 of which is for the coroner's duties. Each year the sheriff is in office, he or she receives a 1 percent salary increase, "because the state law has longevity worked in there," Kaercher said.
To drum up interest for the position, the county commissioners will place advertisements in the Havre Daily News, as well as on the commissioners' Web site, http//:co.hill.mt.us. Kaercher, however, said he and his co-workers would not be averse to searching outside the county for a replacement. Advertising for the position will last two weeks.
"If we don't like the applicants, we could do an extended search," Kaercher said. "Sometimes an outside (perspective) could be good too. But I think we're going to give all considerations to people inside the city. We just feel we would be doing a disservice if we don't go out and get all the prospects that are available to us."
The appointee will serve the remaining year of Solomon's term. Then the job will be up for election. The period to file for the 2002 general election is from Jan. 21 to March 21. The primary election is June 4, followed by the general election on Nov. 5. Filing for election takes place in the Clerk and Recorder's Office.
"The county commissioners' (office) is only appointing to fill the term for the current sheriff," Kaercher said. "Somebody will have to run for sheriff next year."
Although it is preferred, no law enforcement experience is required to apply for the sheriff's position. To fill a county-appointed position, an individual must only be eligible to vote and be a citizen of Montana.
"You don't have to have gone to the academy to be elected as sheriff," Kaercher said.
But Kaercher said the commissioners are looking for someone with some law enforcement experience, administrative ability, the ability to work well with other elected officials and residents, as well as the ability to coordinate one of the largest budgets in the county.