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Lea rejects appointing Dunford sheriff

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Lea rejects appointing Dunford sheriff

LOVINGTON — Lea County Commissioners declined to appoint Undersheriff Tom Dunford to the vacant sheriff’s position Thursday, primarily out of concern an appointment would lower his salary significantly.

Although former Sheriff Byron Wester announced his intended retirement from law enforcement in March, he later decided to stay on through April. By state law, Under-sheriff Dunford, the highest ranking officer in the department, assumed the sheriff’s duties on May 1.

The Lea County Commission on Thursday voted 4-1 against a resolution to appoint Dunford to the position.

A story in Sunday’s News-Sun stated the commission appointed Dun-ford sheriff. This was incorrect.

Introducing the resolution, Commissioner Jonathan Sena said, “Tom Dunford has worked hard in the sheriff’s department serving the people of Lea County. He served faithfully under Sheriff (Steve) Ackerman and he’s served faithfully under Sheriff Wester. Tom Dunford has given his commitment even when it was challenging to do so.”

Sena, the only commissioner who ultimately voted in favor of the resolution, noted a new sheriff likely will be elected in the Republican primary in June, since all three candidates are Republican and no other party candidate filed to run against the winner in the November general election.

“Why should we pass this today? Because if we do nothing, then we’re possibly rewarding a good lawman with unemployment when the election finishes in June. That’s very likely,” he said. “But if we pass this resolution today, then we give Tom Dunford the opportunity to finish his job and his career with the honor he certainly deserves.”

Commission Chairman Ron Black noted the appointment to the office of sheriff actually would result in loss of pay for Dunford. The salary for the undersheriff is just over $100,000 per year, while the sheriff earns just over $63,000, he said.

“We all appreciate the job he’s done. He’s done a super job, and we’re proud of him,” Black said. “This (would) actually cost him a great deal of money. The sheriff’s salary is set by state law and it’s lower than what the undersheriff makes.”

Black also suggested how the sheriff’s post may be filled next month.

“There’s also a strong possibility, since there’s no Democratic candidate, whoever wins the Republican primary, the commission might want to go ahead and consider appointing him to the sheriff’s position after the primary election,” he said.

The three Republicans who have filed in the sheriff’s race are Corey Helton, Jon Marti nez and Lorenzo Velasquez.

Dunford did not respond to calls for comment by press time.

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