Former Highland County Sheriff Richard Warner is set to step in as the new police chief in Lynchburg, new Lynchburg Mayor Terry Burden said Saturday, pending a village council meeting Tuesday.
A number of media organizations, including Cincinnati TV stations, reported Saturday that Lynchburg’s “entire police force” had been laid off, some citing as many as 12 or 13 officers impacted. But in fact, the village only had one full-time and two-part-time paid staff members. The rest were volunteers, said Burden.
Burden said he was surprised at the media attention given to the situation, especially by TV news organizations. Lynchburg’s police coverage has undergone shake ups for the last couple of years, ever since former Mayor Gary Jones laid off former police Chief Tim Heizer.
Before that, in April 2014, Heizer told The Times-Gazette he had essentially become a “one-man department” because of layoffs that were ordered.
The current chief, Jay Anderson, has another full-time job and has been serving as chief mainly to help out, said Burden. He said Anderson did not want to continue in the job.
Burden was elected in a three-way race against Jones and Heizer. Burden received 288 votes, compared to 124 for Heizer and 76 for Jones. On Friday, Burden’s first official day in office, he and Warner conducted an inventory of police department equipment and firearms, and everything seemed to be in order, said Burden.
He said he hoped that Warner would become the full-time chief after a council meeting set for Tuesday evening, and after that it will be Warner’s decision how to proceed with personnel, given the limited funding available for the department.
“We have a new budget to look at with new eyes,” said Burden. He said he wanted to focus on a full-year budget, and then come up with a five-year plan. Even though as mayor he can appoint a chief, he said he wants to establish an atmosphere where the village is operated openly with “‘everyone involved” in decisions.
Burden said he has been talking with Fred Beery, the village’s legal advisor, and county Auditor Bill Fawley about the financial situation and how to proceed.
Warner is a Lynchburg area native and graduate of Lynchburg-Clay High School. He started his career as a Lynchburg police officer in 1993, then served more than 20 years with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, including many years as a detective.
When Ron Ward resigned as sheriff before his term ended, Warner was appointed by the county’s Republican central committee to fill the spot until an election was held to fill the remainder of the term. That election saw Warner defeated by Donnie Barrera, who took office in November 2014. Barrera is seeking election to a full term in the 2016 election. No other Republican or Democrat filed for the sheriff’s race.
Warner said Saturday he is looking forward to the challenge, but agreed with Burden that long-term decisions can’t be made until everyone has a clearer picture of the village budget. He said his experience managing the sheriff’s department budget will help him in Lynchburg, even though the village budget “will be a much smaller scale.”