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Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon to retire early

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Come Jan. 1, Jim Yon will no longer be sheriff of Linn County. He tendered his resignation Tuesday morning and made it official before the Board of Commissioners that he is retiring early from his term.

“In my heart of hearts, I know it’s time to go,” Yon said. “It’s been the most tremendous honor of my life.”

Yon said in a follow-up interview that while he’s retiring from the job of sheriff, he isn’t done working just yet.

“I’ll take a little bit of time off and then will do something different,” he said. “When and what that looks like exactly, I’m not sure of just yet.”

Yon has spent his entire 28-year law enforcement career at the department, starting out as the resident deputy for the city of Harrisburg. He also worked in the traffic, sex crimes, narcotics and support divisions of the LCSO before being promoted to undersheriff in 2014.

When making the announcement before the Board of Commissioners, Yon pointed to his experience rising through the ranks and experiencing multiple divisions of the office as reason for why he’s seen success as sheriff.

Yon’s tenure at the helm included responding to catastrophic wildfires, a public health crisis, and all the other policy and funding crises that come with running a taxpayer-funded department.

“Sheriff, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude,” Commissioner Will Tucker said after the announcement.

Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger, who was once a sheriff’s deputy herself, said Yon has demonstrated the qualities that make for a good law enforcement officer.

“I know the more you advance in the ranks, the harder the job gets because you take home the … issues of all your people with you each time,” she said. “I simply want to say thank you for your service. I trust you will look back on it and see a whole lot more wins than bumps in the road.”

The writing was on the wall when Yon announced in September that he would not run for re-election next year. He said at the time his primary focus was getting the law enforcement levy passed this fall and that he would decide afterward whether to step down from his term early.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure with about 62% of the vote, which increased the property tax that funds the sheriff’s office and other departments, like the district attorney’s office and the county’s juvenile department.

Even at that time, Yon was suggesting that he may not finish out the remainder of his term, which runs through next year. Despite not having formally announced his retirement, Yon had already begun talking up his hoped-for replacement: Undersheriff Michelle Duncan.

It is typical that an outgoing sheriff steps down early and the undersheriff is appointed to the position, essentially allowing the acting sheriff to run as an incumbent on the next ballot before voters.

That’s exactly what happened when Yon first became sheriff. He was appointed by the commissioners in 2018 to fill in for outgoing Sheriff Bruce Riley and then Yon ran unopposed for a full four-year term. Yon thanked the commissioners for that appointment and said this tradition is important for continuity within the department.

“Michelle has the experience to do it,” Yon told commissioners. “She’s just done an excellent job in every position she’s held. I’m asking you to appoint her as the next sheriff to finish out my term.”

Ultimately, the decision falls to the commissioners, who said they will appoint an interim replacement as soon as possible.

“I have every intention of making the undersheriff interim sheriff until the voters have their say on who should the job for the next four years,” Commissioner Roger Nyquist said.

If appointed, Duncan would become the first woman ever to lead the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. She has said she will run for election on the May 15 primary ballot.

She has one opponent so far in Deputy Jon Raymond, who announced his candidacy in October. If no third candidate emerges, Raymond and Michelle will appear on the Nov. 8, 2022 general election ballot.

The election would be the first contested sheriff's race in more than 15 years.

If a third candidate does file, the race could essentially be decided in May. Any candidate who receives a majority in a three-or-more candidate race would automatically move uncontested to the November general election.

If none of the three (or more) receives an outright majority, voters would decide between the top two vote-getters in November.

The deadline to file for candidacy is March 8.

Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or troy.shinn@lee.net. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn. 

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