Democrat Irwin Carmichael rose from a volunteer in the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday to lead the agency.
Carmichael was elected with 60 percent of the vote over Republican Chris Hailey, who had 40 percent, according to unofficial returns.
In Mecklenburg, the sheriff runs the jail, oversees security at the courthouse and serves court papers. The sheriff serves a four-year term.
Carmichael, 50, campaigned promising to continue the programs and services put in place by his predecessors such as a program that lets youthful offenders get a high school diploma. He said he’d also work to make the Sheriff’s Office more visible and host quarterly town hall meetings. He also wants to start an interfaith council to get advice and suggestions from faith leaders.
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Still, when Carmichael is sworn in, it will be the first time that he’s been a full-time employee of the Sheriff’s Office. He has been a reserve deputy since 1986 – an unpaid, volunteer position. He’s a 9th-degree black belt in Shorinji Kempo, and the martial arts school he runs has been contracted to train Sheriff’s Office employees.
As a reserve, he achieved the rank of captain, but unlike the two men who served before him, he’s never been a law enforcement executive. He told the Observer he’s an experienced businessman with decades of organizational management experience, and that he’d lean on the expertise of the Sheriff’s Office staff.
“How we’ve accomplished what we have is because there’s so much talent in the agency,” Carmichael told the Observer after his victory speech Tuesday. “They’re going to help me. It’s going to be a learning process. Everybody is in place and they’re going to help me a lot. I’m ready to lead this agency now.”
Sheriff Chipp Bailey, who didn’t seek re-election, and his predecessor, Jim Pendergraph both endorsed Carmichael and were featured in campaign ads and literature. Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, former County Manager Harry Jones and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police also endorsed Carmichael.
In 2013, Mecklenburg commissioners set the salary for Bailey’s successor at $112,800, cutting it by roughly one-third. Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said she would likely negotiate a higher salary based on the winner’s experience and education. A county review showed the market rate for heads of large departments, such as the Sheriff’s Office, is about $159,500.
Hailey, 51, who lost to Bailey in the 2010 election, portrayed himself as a candidate with fresh ideas. He spent the months between the primary and general elections trying to court Hispanic and black voters, and received the endorsement of the Mecklenburg black political caucus.
He said he wanted to modernize the jail, opening satellite offices in the northern and southern parts of the county and allowing family members to visit inmates via video.