ELKIN — After a decade in office, Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson will be missed by the members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
Fighting back tears while noting Surry County will lose a great sheriff, Commissioner Larry Phillips offered a motion to accept Atkinson’s resignation at the board’s meeting Monday at Elkin High School.
This came after County Manager Chris Knopf read aloud the long-time sheriff’s letter announcing he will retire from the position.
“While leaving the sheriff’s office is certainly one of the most difficult decisions I have ever faced, I am certain that this is the direction in which the Lord is leading me,” read Knopf. “Therefore, my retirement will be effective at 5 p.m. on April 28.”
In an interview, Atkinson, a Democrat, said Gov. Roy Cooper reached out to him to ask that he join the N.C. Department of Public Safety’s Post-Release and Parole Commission. He wasn’t expecting the appointment, which hit him “like a left hook,” but he took the governor up on the offer.
All five members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners wished Atkinson well in his future endeavors, thanked him for his service to the county and noted he will be missed.
Atkinson was first elected sheriff in 2006 and won re-election in 2010 and 2014. He has served for 32 years since being sworn in as a deputy on his 21st birthday.
He said he is unsure how often the duties of his new post with the state will require him to be in Raleigh.
It is the Surry County Democrat Executive Committee which has the ultimate say in who will fill the vacancy created by Atkinson’s retirement with the county. That body was set to meet Tuesday evening, though party chair John Wiles noted his committee would not take any action regarding the sheriff position at that time.
That stated, Atkinson said before the meeting Tuesday that he planned to make a recommendation to the executive committee, though he would not state who he would hand-pick to succeed him.
Per state statute, Wiles’ organization will have 30 days from the date the vacancy occurs to make a recommendation as to who should fill the vacancy to the county board. Then, the county board is bound to appoint the individual recommended by the party.
Should the 30 days lapse, the county board, comprised of five Republicans, would appoint Atkinson’s replacement at its discretion.
The person appointed to the position will fill the remainder of the sheriff’s term and would face a bid to be retained in the 2018 election cycle.
County Attorney Ed Woltz said he called the University of North Carolina’s School of Government to garner an opinion regrading when the Democrat Party’s 30-day clock started ticking.
Woltz noted he was unsure whether the 30-day window of opportunity to make a recommendation began on Monday evening when the board accepted Atkinson’s resignation or whether it would begin on the date on which his resignation is effective.
Should April 28 pass and the position remains unfilled, by statute, Chief Deputy Jimmy Combs will assume the responsibilities of the position of sheriff until Atkinson’s successor is named.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.