Nicholas Hunter appointed Marion County Sheriff

The Marion County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously appointed Lt. Nicholas Hunter the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Hunter, who’s worked in the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years, will complete the term of Sheriff Joe Kast, who plans to retire at the end of June.

Hunter will serve as sheriff until voters decide the county’s top cop in the next general election on Nov. 5, 2024.

He will be sworn in on June 30.

“I believe that I’m prepared to have this opportunity, but certainly humbled to be here,” he told commissioners during his interview. “This is not the end of the road, this is not the middle of the road, this is the beginning of a journey.”

The next step, he said, is running for sheriff when it comes time for the election.

A Marion County resident for 28 years, Hunter first joined the sheriff’s office in 2008 after four years at the Independence Police Department.

He most recently served as a lieutenant overseeing the enforcement division of the sheriff’s office and has been a SWAT commander since 2016, according to his application.

As sheriff, Hunter will oversee a law enforcement agency serving nearly 350,000 people, including 37 unincorporated communities in Marion County. The sheriff’s office also oversees the county’s parole and probation division, its 470-bed jail and 144-bed transition center. The office has an annual budget of about $88 million.

Commissioners selected Hunter to take over as sheriff after interviewing six candidates on Wednesday.

Other candidates interviewed were Christopher Baldridge, director of safety and risk management services for the Salem-Keizer School District, Sgt. Donald E. Parise of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Operations Division, and four officers in the sheriff’s office Enforcement Division: Lt. Nicholas Hunter and deputies Chad Jones, Chris Kennedy and Stacy Rejaian.

Hunter told the board on Wednesday that one of the sheriff’s most important duties is fiscal responsibility. 

“Where am I at in the next five years? That’s the fiscal responsibility with our contracts, with our programs, other things that are going on. And as we’re seeing costs rise and potentially we’re seeing revenues going down, how are we managing that?,” he said. “The basis of that is in communication. It is in constant and clear communication and transparency.”

When asked about employee accountability, Hunter said he has learned from his work in professional standards investigations that a forward-thinking approach is the best way to ensure outcomes are fair and just.

“We’ve got to look at what’s happened before, we’ve got to be progressive and understand the world is changing and as the world changes, we have to be willing to change with the world and understand,” he said.

Commissioner Danielle Bethell said Hunter’s “steady confidence” in believing he can lead the agency stood out to her.

“I do think change is really difficult and I know that the sheriff’s position is a really difficult position,” she said. “While I heard a lot from the rest of you on what leadership looks like and how you’d go about that, I just heard something different from Lt. Hunter.”

Commissioners Kevin Cameron and Colm Willis both cited Hunter’s extensive experience at the sheriff’s office as a key reason for their selection.

“You’re asked to make decisions where nobody is there to give you the answer. Nick’s experience in those positions, whether it’s leading a SWAT team or making a call about when people have to get out of that fire, those things for me tip the balance,” Willis said. “I’ve seen, in my experience here, that the sheriff is asked to make those decisions, and whether or not they make the right decision has a huge impact on us.”

Kast announced his retirement publicly in a news release on May 4 after a three-decade career in law enforcement.

When there is a vacancy in an elected county office, the board appoints a successor to fill the seat until the next general election.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.