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Editorial: There's a new sheriff in town...

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon is retiring at the end of this month --with more than two years remaining in his term.

There is a lot of interest in the position, both inside the sheriff's office and outside -- and the temptation will be great among county commissioners to name their favorite candidate to the job, hoping to give him or her a leg up in the election two years from now.

After all, whoever holds the job at that point will have the advantage of incumbency, even though they will not yet have faced the voters.

It's not uncommon for elected officials to resign before their term expires so that their replacements can be appointed -- district judges are especially notorious for it.

Unless there's a legitimate reason for stepping down early, the maneuver smacks of manipulation and amounts to an end-run around the democratic process.

As a newspaper, we hate to see that, and as it happens, Gordon feels the same way -- perhaps because he was on the other side of the stick when he first ran for sheriff.

He is recommending that the county board appoint someone who is not interested in running for the office two years from now.

Gordon's chief deputy, Kelly Shannon, is one such person, and there may be others in the department or in the community.

The point is to provide a level playing field for all candidates when the term expires in 2014. If there is no "incumbent," then voters will have to weigh each of them on their merits.

Regarding Gordon's retirement, he says it is for personal reasons -- too many long hours, too much stress and not enough family time -- and we see no reason not to take him at his word. He is known to be a very hard worker, and he's been at it for 37 years -- 34 years with Becker County.

It's difficult to know what to make of an investigation, apparently being conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, into DNR boat and water contracts with the sheriff's department.

It appears to have a narrow scope, as other county officials have not been contacted by any investigating agency.

Gordon himself downplays the significance of the investigation, but declines to elaborate.

If it's not something the public would consider a big deal, we wish he would explain the situation more fully, because the stigma is clouding the retirement of a man who has accomplished a great deal in his time as sheriff.

Under Gordon's leadership, the county has solved a number of problems -- including overcrowding (and looming state sanctions) at its maximum-security jail and switching to a federally-mandated radio system (without tapping local tax dollars, unlike many Minnesota counties).

The New Generation E911 system is now up and running, as is the information-sharing computer system among the sheriff's office, the White Earth Police Department and -- more recently -- all law enforcement agencies within Mahnomen, Clearwater and Becker counties.

Gordon has made a difference in a number of areas, from handling administrative duties as part of a department head team, to planning regional disaster drills, to working with public health on emergency preparedness plans for a pandemic.

In between, he has handled law enforcement at WE Fest and other Soo Pass Ranch festivals, upgraded the dispatch center and set up a "Pharmaceutical Take Back" program, among many other things.

It's not an overstatement to say that he has helped save county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His replacement should be chosen at the polls in two years -- on a level playing field.