Fish wins sheriffs race, considers next plans

Enterprise Police Chief Joel Fish will be the sheriff of Wallowa County as long as he gets one or more votes in the November election, and is not defeated by a write-in candidate in that election.

He’s looking forward to a “smooth transition” to becoming Wallowa County sheriff, but Enterprise Police Chief Joel Fish is cautious to “not count my chickens before they hatch,” he said Thursday, May 21.

Preliminary results from Tuesday’s primary election gave Fish a 55.4% victory over incumbent Sheriff Steve Rogers’ 38.84% and EPD Officer George Kohlhepp’s 5.68%, according to Wallowa County Clerk Sandy Lathrop.

The vote breakdown was 2,088 for Fish, 1,464 for Rogers and 214 for Kohlhepp.

Lathrop said the primary vote isn’t final until June 2, the deadline for “challenge ballots” to be confirmed.

Those are ballots where the voter either did not sign it or the signature did not match the signature on record.

Since Fish received more than 50% of the vote, he will run unopposed — other than by a possible write-in candidate — in November under the Oregon Constitution. All he needs is one vote to become sheriff-elect.

“I’m humbled and extremely honored to have people who have so much trust in you,” Fish said. “The position of sheriff is a great honor.”

As Fish ponders his future role as sheriff, he said, “It’s still sinking in.” He said he’ll start making plans over the coming months. Many of those plans will be colored by the restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and how they play out by Jan. 1 when he is sworn in as sheriff.

Fish said the coming year’s budget will already be in place so he’ll be limited on changes he can make in purchasing.

As for personnel, “The deputies all know me and how I expect things to be done,” he said. “I’d like to encourage them to keep up their training.”

He said he has some ideas on “restructuring” the sheriff’s office, though he declined to give details. Fish said he and Rogers will “work together to have a smooth transition.”

Rogers has offered to attend the next Oregon State Sheriff’s Association meeting, likely in the fall.

For now, Fish remains Enterprise police chief and will be until Jan. 1 when he’s sworn in as sheriff. He said he hopes the Enterprise City Council will let him help select a replacement for him.

As for Rogers, he has no intention of pursuing a write-in campaign against Fish in November. He still has more than seven months left as sheriff, after which he’s not yet decided what he’ll do.

“I really don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s time for the next chapter. Time to do something new.”

Rogers said he’s not sure if he’ll continue in law enforcement, though he does know of part-time opportunities enforcing marine or Forest Service law.

“There’s always something to do for someone with experience,” Rogers said.

On losing the election, Rogers waxed philosophical: “You cannot do this job without making people upset,” he said. “It is what it is: an election. Everybody who takes this chair knows it’s only temporary.”

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