Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton, who drew 98.98 percent of the vote while running unopposed for his third term in 2014, will leave his job this spring to become executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association.

“Is there any way we can legally prevent him from leaving?” County Commissioner Gary Kriesel asked during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Commissioners, I did my best,” sighed Washington County Administrator Molly O’Rourke.

Having grown up on St. Paul’s East Side, Hutton, 57, worked his way up through the ranks in the Oakdale Police Department for 23 years before he was elected sheriff in 2006. His family has a tradition of law enforcement careers and includes officers with the St. Paul police.

Personal connections

Kriesel described Hutton as a “remarkable leader,” adding: “I can’t think of anyone who’s done a better job with community outreach and personal connections in every stage of life he existed in.”

The board will appoint an interim replacement to serve through the 2018 election. In an interview Tuesday, Hutton didn’t hesitate to say that he is recommending his chief deputy, Dan Starry.

Hutton said he chose Starry six years ago with an eye on his own eventual departure. The Sheriff’s Office includes more than 250 full-time employees along with part-time workers and volunteers.

“I saw that in him,” meaning a capacity to lead, Hutton said of Starry, “and I was right.”

Statewide issues

Hutton, of Stillwater, said that the key statewide issues he will take on in his new job starting May 1 include guns, court security and the problems at jails with mentally ill inmates.

“I’ll be at the Legislature a lot of the time, and it will be important to have a unified voice,” he said.

“Each sheriff is elected independently but it’s important to speak with a unified voice. No sheriff stands alone.”

Hutton will replace James Franklin, who was executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association for nearly 15 years.

The Sheriffs’ Association, formed in 1885, consists of the state’s 87 sheriffs and their staffs.