Sheriff Bill Hutton resigns position to lead state’s oldest law enforcement association

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton addresses a gathering of law enforcement, corrections officers, public officials and community members at the Washington County Historic Courthouse in Stillwater May 16 during a ceremony honoring fallen law enforcement officers. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton addresses a gathering of law enforcement, corrections officers, public officials and community members at the Washington County Historic Courthouse in Stillwater May 16 during a ceremony honoring fallen law enforcement officers. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Next month Sheriff Bill Hutton will end a 34-year career in law enforcement in Washington County.

The Stillwater resident is stepping down mid-way 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 added he never planned 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 the rank of 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 said 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 remainder of the term.

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 if anyhow,” Hutton told a county commissioner.

Ultimately, the county board will choose 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.

O’Rourke expected the board would discuss the appointment process March 14, because not all commissioners were able to attend the March 7 board meeting.

“We are really sad to be losing Bill,” O’Rourke said. “He has been an excellent sheriff to work with, and very collaborative.”

County Commissioner Gary Kriesel agreed.

“His leadership has just been fantastic,” Kriesel said. “The good news for Washington County is he’s built such an excellent leadership team. … He’s built such a culture of professionalism. It’s going to serve us well.”

“He leaves us in good hands,” O’Rourke said.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]

This story has been updated.