MADISON - Lac qui Parle County Sheriff Lou Sager has tendered his resignation 11 months after having moved from the East Coast to take the job.
"It's time," Sager said. "At the end of the day I was hoping this to be a long-term, future thing. The citizens and everybody made it clear that is not going to happen."
His resignation is effective Monday, May 15. He took the oath of office June 13, 2016, after responding to a "help wanted'' ad posted by the county when Sheriff Rick Halvorson resigned with about two and a half years remaining in the term.
The Lac qui Parle County Board of Commissioners will have a special meeting Thursday, May 11, to decide how to fill the remainder of the term, which will be up for election in November 2018.
Sager accepted the position after retiring from a 25-year career in law enforcement with the federal government: His last post was with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal division of aviation in Washington, D.C. He grew up on the Jersey shore, served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the first Gulf War and with the U.S. Department of Corrections. He traveled throughout the country and overseas during his service in federal law enforcement. He had come to appreciate the Midwest because of those travels.
He told the Tribune when taking the position here that he saw it as an opportunity to lead and develop a department of dedicated servants. He also said he was looking forward to the opportunities to hunt, fish and live a rural lifestyle. The rural county is home to 7,250 people and one set of stoplights.
The demands of the job limited the hunting and fishing opportunities, he said Tuesday, May 9.
But he was able to achieve many of his goals for developing the office. "I am very happy with the office and the staff. They really came around. They have really committed people here,'' Sager said.
As sheriff, he said he helped establish a clear chain of command and executive staff in the department. The county recently appointed Allen Anderson to be its first chief deputy.
Sager helped develop an approved policy manual for law enforcement in the county. He successfully worked to have cameras installed in the county jail. It had lacked cameras despite suicides that occurred in it and write-ups by the Department of Corrections, he said.
Sager said the ability to add three part-time deputies and increase staffing in the jail and dispatch center, offer more leadership and training opportunities for staff, and increase public outreach are also among the accomplishments.
Going forward, the sheriff said the county needs to address the condition of its law enforcement center and jail.
He said the community has treated him well. "Everybody seems nice and friendly," he said.
But Sager said he's heard - and been told to his face - that he would not be elected as sheriff if a local person also ran for the office. He said he was surprised by how ingrained the favoritism is.
"I thought if I came here, did good work, I'd be measured based on the work," he said, adding: "I can't compete. I can't decide where I went to high school."
Convinced he could not win an election to be sheriff, Sager said he decided it was time to move on. "As such, I have done pretty much all I can do here. I feel to sit around for another year and just steal a paycheck would be a disservice to all involved."
He plans to take some time to travel in the weeks ahead, and push the reset button. He said he remains passionate for public service and may continue in law enforcement, but at this point has no definite plans.