Keep P.J. Tanner as Beaufort County sheriff

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner deserves another term in office, and it is our hope he emerges as the winner in the Republican primary on Tuesday.

Challenger JoJo Woodward is a fine man, but did not make a strong enough case to unseat a leader who has performed credibly for 20 years.

Woodward said that at age 55 and with more than 20 years of experience in the department, he felt it was his time to become sheriff. That’s not a good enough reason for voters to toss out a proven veteran.

Tanner, 58, is a native of the Pritchardville area of Beaufort County who began his law enforcement career in 1981. He has been sheriff since 1998.

Over that period, there have been bumps in the road.

Serious errors were made in a case involving the shooting death of an innocent 8-year-old child on Hilton Head Island in 2012. But after the mistakes became public, corrections were made within the department. And eventually all suspects were convicted.

Many were not pleased with the way the Sheriff’s Office handled re-entry after evacuation for Hurricane Matthew in late 2016, stopping people at the county line after the governor had announced the mandatory evacuation order had been lifted. But the sheriff’s office was not the only one culpable in that situation, and, again, corrections were quickly made. A year later, when the county was evacuated during the approach of Hurricane Irma, Tanner’s office was much more proactive in coordinating with other local agencies and in using social media to get information to the public.

We think the department should push harder into the digital age, making all its reports available online.

Woodward, who resigned as captain and head of the department’s southern division in order to run for sheriff, questioned the growing sheriff’s office budget. Some of it may have merit, particularly questioning the need and local expense of maintaining and staffing helicopters, even if they are initially provided without cost from the federal government.

But it is not fair to claim “irresponsible budgeting” as Woodward did in a recent mail-out. Tanner answered criticism that he has a top-heavy department, which keeps boots off the ground, by saying he has a command staff of 15 for 340 employees.

Neither is it fair for Woodward to claim that Tanner has a “disregard for school safety” and is “botching disaster preparedness.” Both are overreaches.

The sheriff’s office recently had a major win for one of Tanner’s initiatives: revisiting cold cases to see if justice can prevail. In a case that showed dogged police work followed by admirable teamwork between the sheriff’s office and the solicitor’s office, a rapist and murderer was finally arrested, tried and convicted for crimes committed 36 years ago.

Tanner has not faced opposition in 16 years, and this time there is no competition in November for the Republican nominee.

Woodward has done the community a service by raising questions and challenging the status quo, but we see no compelling reason to turn out a sheriff with Tanner’s experience and record.