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Sheriff's job fair attracts new candidates

Job candidates talk to sheriff's officials about positions in the department. Job candidates talk to sheriff's officials about positions in the department.

Adam Merrill finished a tour of the Henderson County's Sheriff's Department and headed out to meet his wife and children, hopeful that the steel-barred warren of the Grove Street complex might be his next workplace and the start of a stable career. He applied for a job as a detention officer.

Merrill was among more than 30 people who showed up this morning for a job fair, one of several Sheriff Charlie McDonald has held in an effort to enlarge the pool of applicants and publicize employment opportunities.
"We're really trying to expand our rolls for reserve officers and we're trying to get to the place where we have folks trained waiting in the wings," he said.
McDonald said the washout rate for applicants for deputy sheriff jobs is close to 85 percent, making it a challenge to keep a large pool of candidates who are "ethically and morally and skill-set-wise trained" for the job.

McDonald has placed a strong emphasis on professional standards and vetting job applicants since he was sworn in to office in February 2012 after the resignation of Sheriff Rick Davis under an ethical cloud. Davis took medical leave the day before Thanksgiving in 2011 and later resigned after Henderson County paid a discrimination claim brought by a female deputy. (The county was responsible for the deductible amount on a claim its insuror paid.)
Merrill, 34, is married with three children. After joining the Marines in 1999, he took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He left the Marine Corps as a corporal in 2003 and bounced from job to job in local industries.
"So the last time I got laid off I decided that to take and do something useful with my degree," he said.
A graduate of East Henderson High School, Merrill earned an associates degree from Blue Ridge Community College and received a degree in criminal justice from Brevard College. Since he does not have Basic Law Enforcement Training yet, he applied for a job as a jailer, intending to pursue BLET certification.
For now, the Sheriff's Department hires new deputies who have gotten BLET training on their own.
"One thing we'd actually like to do is pre-identify and select folks that we're willing to invest in and send them through (BLET) school," McDonald said. "We have got to consider appealing to that kind of person that is looking to serve in something bigger than themselves and also that has the high moral standards that we need to have."
Years ago, he said, the state police academy in Salemburg trained officers for local agencies throughout North Carolina.
"The need got bigger than they could handle," he said. "Then we basically said community colleges can teach BLET, and even back then you have to have a letter of recommendation from a police chief or a sheriff. Now they've gotten away from that."
Job candidates on Wednesday learned about jobs in telecommunications, at the jail or as patrol deputies. Starting pay is roughly $13.39 in the 911 center, $14.84 in the jail and $15.97 as a deputy.
"Our main goal is to obviously recruit the best qualified candidates for employment," said Lt. Emanuel "Manny" Zaragoza, who heads the recruiting unit. "Then when an opening comes up we can employ the best of the best."
Zaragoza was part of a core group of officers McDonald appointed to review hiring and recruiting practices and make recommendations for increasing the quality and quantity of the candidate pool.
"Eventually that became the recruiting unit," Zaragoza said. "We're blessed to have the support of the sheriff. Ultimately this is going to benefit the future of the department.
"For instance, if we have five openings, instead of having 10 candidates our goal is to have 20 candidates," he added. "The recruiting unit is for active recruiting for current openings and for information and education" about employment opportunities.
Jeff Buley, now a jailer in Buncombe County, was a sergeant at the Henderson County jail until 2006. Buley said he was among seven employees Sheriff Rick Davis let go when he took office.
"I was here for seven years," he said. "The day I had to leave I cried."
He lives only a couple of miles away, he said, and would like to swap the drive to Asheville for "a 2½-minute commute." He came to the job fair and applied for a detention officer job.