With the recent controversy surrounding the sheriff's decision to terminate three deputies who filed to run against him in an upcoming election, "should" and "can" are two words that are being tossed around as a result.

"SHOULD" a sheriff be able to do this? This question is left up to opinion. However, "CAN" a sheriff do this? This question can be answered.

Kentucky and many other states are what is known as at-will employment states. This means that, generally, employers can hire and fire employees at their discretion and do not need to provide a reason or notice in order to do so.

Many wondered these questions after Logan County Sheriff Wallace Whittaker terminated his captain, and two detectives working for him all within a week after finding out they wanted his job.

See election/page 6

All three have many years of service with the department, and all three said they saw it coming.

Whittaker initially told the ND&L he was acting on county policy. There is no county policy about this, however. Whittaker then said he was acting on his department policy when terminating the deputies. The sheriff stated he has always operated under this policy, and the employees know it. Whittaker said he could not find the manual where his department policy is written down.

Even though there is no written policy for the county specifically covering running for office, or department policy the sheriff could locate; there is a section explaining an "at-will" employment status between the county and employees.

The policy reads, "The employee or the county may terminate the employment relationship during or after the probationary period for any lawful reason, or for no reason at all."

Sheriff Whittaker says he adheres to this policy because keeping employees on the force that file to run cause a hostile work environment by doing so. By terminating the individuals, it keeps order, clarity, and unity inside the Logan County Sheriff's Department.

"This decision I made was difficult and undesirable," said Whittaker. "But I have prided myself on having a unified department. I feel it the utmost duty of the Logan County Sheriff's Office to provide the citizens of Logan County public service excellence, by providing a safe secure environment, free from the fear of crime, and protecting lives and property. To continue in achieving these standards, I believe it is key to have a department of deputies that show loyalty and support to their peers and their command staff."

A case similar to this was heard by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 after Paul Parsley, the former sheriff of Bullitt County, Ky., fired deputy sheriff David Greenwell immediately after he learned through a newspaper article that his deputy intended to run against him in the next election.

Greenwell filed suit against Parsley claiming the termination violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment right to run for political office.

According to a news story by a CBS affiliate, the dispute arose in September 2005, when the Louisville Courier-Journal and another newspaper published articles that discussed deputy sheriff David Greenwell's candidacy for sheriff in the county south of Louisville.

Parsley summoned Greenwell to his office and asked him about the reports. When Greenwell confirmed them, Parsley said, "That's all I need to know." He fired Greenwell the same day. The deputy sued Parsley in federal court but lost.

In the end, neither man got the job. Parsley lost the Democratic primary and Greenwell, a Republican, lost the general election.

There are many agencies that have written policy regarding running for office. The Administrative Office of the Courts states in its personnel policy that any employee must resign before filing for a partisan elected office.

This policy affected two races in the 2018 election in Logan County. Both Mary Orange, a Republican, who is running for circuit court clerk and Brooke Brown Waldrup, a Democrat who is running for PVA, had to resign their positions with the Justice Center before running because of this policy.

"I was aware of this policy before I registered to take the Circuit Court Clerk's Exam," said Orange. "I understand the reasoning behind the policy, although it does create a situation where progress can be hindered, as interested candidates who are also employees of the Kentucky Court of Justice cannot step up without risk of losing their benefits and retirement. This policy is the reason there is rarely a contested election for Circuit Court Clerk."