Next month, Sheriff Bill Hutton will end a 34-year career in law enforcement in Washington County.
The Stillwater resident is stepping down midway through his third term as sheriff to be the executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association. His last day with the county is April 30, and he’ll start the new job May 1.
“In law-enforcement years, I’m old,” said Hutton, 57, who said he didn’t plan to run for a fourth term. “Then I was approached by the sheriffs’ association. … I had to make a decision, albeit a very difficult one. I would’ve liked to complete my term.”
Hutton began his law enforcement career in 1983 as a part-time officer with the Oakdale Police Department, where he worked through 2006. During his time there, Hutton served in positions from patrol to investigations, working his way up to captain.
He was elected sheriff in 2006, and re-elected in 2010 and 2014. His current term expires at the end of 2018.
In his new position, Hutton hopes his experience as a sheriff will benefit others. He’ll replace outgoing Executive Director James Franklin, who is retiring after 14 years on the job.
The Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association was formed in 1885 with an educational purpose and is the oldest law enforcement association in the state, Franklin said. Today the St. Paul-based nonprofit provides training to more than 6,000 people a year, helps develop public safety policies and best practices, and supports sheriffs in other ways. All 87 Minnesota counties are members.
“The current executive director has done a phenomenal job,” Hutton said of Franklin, adding that he has relied on Franklin over the years. “I hope I can do that for others as well, where they can call me and hopefully I can either help them through my knowledge or get them to the right people.”
Franklin plans to stick around as a contractor for several months to ensure a smooth transition, but he’s confident in Hutton’s ability.
“He is well-respected in Greater Minnesota among the Greater Minnesota sheriffs,” Franklin said. “He is highly qualified and has all the skills of a metro sheriff, so he understands those issues.”
Plus, Hutton has the “wherewithal” and “tenacity” to make necessary changes and support good public safety policy, Franklin said.
Although Hutton looks forward to the new position, he’ll miss the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the people in it.
“The citizens of this county need to be proud of this sheriff’s office and the officers that work here,” he said. “They do unbelievable work day in and day out.”
That gives Hutton confidence that he’ll leave the department in capable hands. He’s recommending Chief Deputy Dan Starry to replace him as sheriff for the rest of the term, and on March 14, the County Board approved his appointment.
Starry has been chief deputy for the past six years, has played an active role in running the department and “really understands what it takes to be a sheriff,” Hutton said.
“If you like what’s happening the sheriff’s office now, Dan is behind most it anyhow,” Hutton told a county commissioner.
In January, the Forest Lake Personnel Committee sent Hutton and the Sheriff’s Office a letter requesting a proposal for performing contract law enforcement services in the city. City Administrator Aaron Parrish and Mayor Ben Winnick said that to their knowledge, Hutton leaving his position will likely have little to no effect on the status of the proposal or the time in which the city receives it.
“Based on my feedback from both Sheriff Hutton and the county administrator, I don’t anticipate we will have any delay in the transition,” Parrish said.
Winnick said he hadn’t spoken to the Sheriff’s Office about the transition but said he didn’t anticipate a long delay in the process.
Ultimately, the County Board chose a replacement to serve through 2018. According to Washington County Administrator Molly O’Rourke, state law doesn’t provide the possibility of a special election to replace an outgoing sheriff.
“We are really sad to be losing Bill,” O’Rourke said. “He has been an excellent sheriff to work with and very collaborative. We are going to miss his leadership.”
But she said Hutton also built up a group of capable leaders within the sheriff’s office.
“He leaves us in good hands,” she said.
– Ryan Howard contributed to this report.