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Voters will decide the fate of sheriff

Misbehavior of the type in which Brooke County Sheriff Larry Palmer was caught is precisely the reason why the work of the West Virginia Ethics Commission is important.

Palmer’s misdeed was relatively minor — but still serious. He broke faith with voters who elected him in 2016.

According to the ethics panel’s report, Palmer drove his sheriff’s cruiser to a store in Steubenville on July 14, 2018, to purchase items for personal use. As he was leaving, the shopping cart he was using accidentally struck another vehicle, causing some damage to it.

Steubenville police, relying on surveillance video and witness statements, determined Palmer was at fault. They called his office and were told by a deputy that Palmer would take care of the matter.

What he did was to submit an invoice for $1,969 to the Brooke County Commission to cover damages to the other person’s vehicle. He claimed in writing that he had gone to the store to purchase items for his department and accidentally struck the other vehicle with his cruiser.

Palmer agreed to pay the repair bill himself after being questioned about the situation.

So the sheriff, having used a county vehicle for personal business, lied about the mishap and attempted to have Brooke County taxpayers foot the repair bill.

Commissioner Stacy Wise, who initially questioned Palmer’s invoice, pointed out he is an elected official, not subject to disciplinary action by the county commission. Wise added, however, that the sheriff was reminded state law prohibits use of public vehicles for personal use.

But the ethics commission does have some authority in such matters, and it was exercised. Palmer was ordered to pay a fine of $5,000 and to undergo ethics training.

That’s a substantial penalty. But Palmer has incurred another one — loss of trust among those who elected him.

Wise is right. County sheriffs are accountable to the voters. Should he choose to run for re-election this year, he will have an enormous amount of explaining to do.

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