POLK COUNTY — Mark Garton made it his goal to become sheriff several years ago.
Wednesday, that objective — at least temporarily — was fulfilled when the Polk County Board of Commissioners appointed him to serve as interim sheriff for 13 months starting in December.
In his 18 years with the sheriff’s office, Garton has served many roles, from cadet to jail deputy to detective sergeant.
He’s spent the last six or seven years learning from Sheriff Bob Wolfe, who has held the post for 16 years.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do,” Garton said.
He’s also running to hold the job permanently, as is Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Sgt. Todd Whitlow, who applied for the interim job, as well.
They are the only two candidates who have filed for the office in the May 2016 primary so far. The deadline for candidates to file is March 8, 2016.
Polk County Commissioner Mike Ainsworth said he was impressed with both candidates, saying Whitlow is more than qualified for the job.
His decision for the interim post hinged on creating a smooth transition after Wolfe retires and he and the board thought Garton was the best man for that job.
“I think probably more than anything, it was the continuity,” Ainsworth said. “Mark has an understanding of the department.”
Garton said his objective once he takes over is continuing to rebuild the office with money provided through a tax levy passed in May. Top priorities are restoring 24-hour patrol and the Polk Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT).
He said, no matter who voters choose next year, it will be his responsibility to have the office ready for a newly elected sheriff.
“That’s my job for the next 13 months,” he said. “That is what I will focus on.”
Garton said the office is ahead of schedule in restoring full patrol hours because of a number of “lateral,” hires, or officers already working in other departments.
“We got lucky hiring certified police officers,” he said.
Certified officers don’t have to go through officer training with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, a process that takes four months, making the transition to the field quicker.
If field training of new officers goes as planned, full patrol hours could be restored by this summer, a little more than a year after the levy passed.
Getting POINT running again will take longer, as the department wants to make sure it’s hiring the right officers for the job.
“We don’t want to compromise our standards,” Garton said.