Monday, June 20, 2011

Virginians elected sheriffs long before statehood

Q: The recent sheriff problem in Franklin County brings a question to mind: Why are sheriffs elected instead of appointed by governing bodies?

Mary Ann Spring, Roanoke

A: Virginia residents have been electing sheriffs since 1651, long before official statehood was even established. It was later written into the state constitution that sheriffs -- as well as the offices of commonwealth's attorney, treasurer, clerk of the circuit court and commissioner of the revenue -- are to be elected by the voters in the locality where they serve.

The officers are each elected for a four-year term except the clerks, who are elected for eight-year terms.

"Elections provide direct accountability by the people," said John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association. "The election provides direct control of the constitutional officer by the people that they serve."

In the early years of Virginia's history, sheriffs were appointed. In fact, Virginia boasts the first appointed sheriff in the United States, according to the website for the Virginia Sheriffs' Association. William Stone was appointed sheriff in Accomack County in 1634.

A Virginia proclamation in 1651 required each county to elect a sheriff. William Waters became the first elected sheriff in the country when he was chosen by voters for the office in Northampton County.

Today, most states have elected sheriffs.

According to the website for the National Sheriffs' Association, the governor of Rhode Island appoints sheriffs in that state. County executives appoint sheriffs in two Colorado counties and in Dade County, Fla. The sheriff of New York City is appointed by the mayor, and in New York's Westchester and Nassau counties, the sheriffs are appointed by the governor.

Alaska and Connecticut do not have sheriffs.

Q: We often hear folks saying, "The best thing for Joe and I ..." When we were taught grammar, we were taught to take the other person out of the sentence and think, "The best thing for I ..." That certainly isn't correct, so the correct wording would be, "The best thing for Joe and me ..."

Has that grammar rule changed over the years?

Georgia Chapman, Bedford

A: This is the same rule that my grandmother used to teach my cousins and me. (Notice I didn't say she taught "my cousins and I.")

Our grammar guru, retired Virginia Tech English professor Virgil Cook, must have studied the same book my grammar-loving grandma used. Cook said that you can test the construction by removing the other person from the sentence and see which pronoun ("me" or "I") works.

"Would you say, 'The best thing for I?' Of course not," Cook said.

Cook offered some other examples of common mistakes such as, "between you and I" -- one that "gives English teachers the creeps," he said.

"I still remember an incident from some 20 or 30 years ago when a friend said to me, 'The preacher wants to see you and I.' Does the preacher want to see I? I suspect that he wanted to see me (and probably my friend also)," Cook said.

I can see where people get off track on this one. If you've been corrected over and over for saying, "My friend and me are going for a walk," it might break the habit of ever saying, "My friend and me."

Still, the rule offered by Cook -- and our reader and my grandma -- can be applied for either the subject or the object of a sentence.

Got a question? Got an answer? Call Bridget Bradburn at 777-6476 or send an e-mail to whatsonyourmind@ Don't forget to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown. Look for Bridget Bradburn's column on Mondays.

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