I first met Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross sometime back in the 1980s and remember thinking he was sort of a hero — my hero anyway.
He was a detective at the sheriff’s office at the time and a good one.
I was working two jobs — a reporter for the Bangor Daily News Mid-Maine Bureau in Pittsfield during the day and a bartender at a chinese restaurant in Newport at night.
One afternoon when I arrived at the latter job, I placed a fairly expensive camera, assigned to me by the BDN, on a dining table in front of the bar. In a flash two women who had been seated in a booth across the otherwise empty dining room bolted with my camera in tow and me in pursuit.
With a license plate number to work with Ross traced the vehicle to a Bangor address and knocked on the door to ask the two lovelies about my camera. They denied knowledge of said stolen item and Ross calmly let them know that was OK, but their car was involved in the crime and would have to be impounded.
Though it was a nice camera, the ladies apparently determined the car was worth more than the camera and gave it up.
Ross returned the camera to me. I was grateful and impressed and he seemed pleased as punch.
That was our first meeting.
As it turned out there would be others. Many, many of them, in fact, and not all of them were quite so delightful.
Most people who work in them will speak with frustration of the politics in the office.
In some county offices, those with elected leaders anyway, politics truly are in the office. The politics generally simmer quietly beneath the surface of the day-to-day routine, but every once in awhile a crack develops and like a sprouted seed looking for the sun, political leanings emerge.
And when it gets really bad?
The phones in the local newsroom start to ring and anonymous sources pop up all over the place.
That happened in 1995 in the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and those who were there can recall with frightening clarity those very dark days in the kingdom.
There were abrupt and badly timed demotions, false accusations, internal investigations, external investigations by the state attorney general’s office, finger pointing and nasty press conferences.
Ross was the chief deputy under the former and late Sheriff Ed Reynolds.
I provided much of the news coverage. I had some of those anonymous sources.
No, things were not delightful at all.
There were deep scars left behind and I certainly lost any favor I may have once had at time with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department.
I watched with some skepticism as Ross took the reins when he became the sheriff.
I kept thinking, “Dang, he was such a good detective.”
My skepticism was misplaced.
Ross rose to the occasion and set the department on a better and more unified path.
He helped develop and sustain cooperative partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, including the Maine State Police, nurturing what had been a feudal relationship for decades.
Despite some lingering resentment with the media, Ross became an accessible and accountable sheriff and used the media fittingly to spread the word, loudly when necessary, of the mental health crisis occurring in the county jail system.
In 2002 he developed a local coalition of law enforcement, mental health providers, case workers and substance abuse professionals to try to attack the multifaceted problem. That group still meets today.
We talked earlier this week about his decision not to seek re-election in November and to retire for real (he promised me he wasn’t going to turn up as a security guard at the federal building where so many “retired” police officers go to work.)
“Nope,” he said, “I’m retiring for real. If I was going to work anymore I would have stayed right here, run for another term.”
And that’s probably true, because Ross certainly has proven his commitment to the county over the past 36 years.
He really was a good detective. He could have gone other places, other departments, other agencies.
He was a good sheriff for Penobscot County.
We’ve done many interviews over the past 25 years or so since I moved to Bangor and began covering his turf.
Not all of them pleasant.
But earlier this week when I sat across from him in his office high up in the “old part” of the original jail and we told stories and reminded one another of certain “events” and goings on — it actually was quite delightful.
You can reach Renee Ordway at firstname.lastname@example.org.