MACHIAS, Maine — The only independent sheriff in Maine, Donnie Smith has announced he will be running for a second term next year.
Smith, 56, of Lubec, was the winner in a hotly fought three-way race for Washington County sheriff in 2006.
“I believe I have helped move this department forward, but there is still work to be done,” Smith said Tuesday. “I’ve learned that four years is a very short period of time.”
Smith filed his formal state paperwork Monday to register as a candidate. No other candidate has filed yet.
Running for a second term was an easy decision, Smith said. “I really enjoy what I do.”
Smith oversees eight full-time deputies, as well as two deputies specially assigned to Lubec and the Washington County Jail.
Although he has received high praise from his deputies for his leadership, Smith gives his staff the credit for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office’s ability to run smoothly.
He also has high praise for a resource-sharing agreement established in 2007 with the Maine State Police. By working together to cover open shifts within the county, Smith said, the two agencies have saved more than $40,000 a year in overtime costs.
“In 2008, the state police covered 90 of our shifts and we covered 86 of theirs,” he said. These shifts were open due to illness, injury or vacation time.
“When I first became sheriff, the most northern deputy we had was Chief Deputy Mike St. Louis, who lived in Marshfield,” Smith said. “Now we have three deputies who live and patrol in the northern part of the county.”
Smith also said the use of a board of visitors is critical to keeping the sheriff’s office on track. Each county is required by state law to have a board to oversee each sheriff’s department. Not all counties have them, however, or they are inactive, according to Smith.
“This group is a great asset,” he said. “This group [has been] very active, particularly during the jail consolidation period. They are honest and keep me on my toes. They don’t hesitate to make suggestions.”
Smith said he is proud of his 2008 crime clearance rate of 44.9 percent. “This is the highest clearance rate of any county in the state,” he said. “And we’ve accomplished this without a detective.”
Smith said the rate may be a bit misleading and that the actual clearance rate could be somewhat higher.
“The state uses only certain very serious crimes to compile the clearance rate,” he explained. “We’re doing very, very well.”
But, he added, he would like to see that top 50 percent during his next term.
Smith said instilling pride and professionalism in his staff is one of his guiding policies.
“We follow the chain of command here, but I am very aware that leadership begins at the top,” he said. “I can only be as good as the people that work for me. We’ve set the bar high, and the people that work here have met the challenge.”
That’s a long way from having cruisers that wouldn’t even pass state inspection when he was elected.
“I believe in transparency,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, I want the people of Washington County to know that I gave them everything I could. If they disagree, they can hold me accountable on Election Day.”