Embattled Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto on Thursday announced the most responsible decision he has made in months when he said he would retire from office this year.
Giusto is under scrutiny from the state agency that certifies law enforcement officers and could lose his badge for alleged dishonesty in several matters that tangled his professional and personal life.
Beyond that investigation, his management of the county corrections division has been sorely lacking, as documented by a series of reports and investigations that found problems ranging from poor oversight of inmates to abuse of sick time and overtime by employees.
Sooner's better than later
In a strange way, his decision to call it quits now could set in a motion a number of events that could improve Giusto's suffering legacy as a state and local law enforcement officer and elected official.
Here's an action plan that we encourage Giusto to initiate immediately:
• Giusto didn't specify when his retirement would be official - but we would encourage him to leave office as soon as it is practical.
We have long believed that Giusto was damaging his office by refusing to resign, but we also understand that the transition to interim Sheriff Bob Skipper will take some time. Giusto on Thursday hinted at a retirement date of August or September. Sooner would be better.
• Regardless of the timing of his departure, Giusto must fully cooperate with the county's opening of the long-vacant Wapato jail and implementation of an agreement with county Chairman Ted Wheeler that gives county commissioners greater oversight of the operations of the sheriff's office.
• Giusto also should work with Wheeler to better define the role of Multnomah County sheriff in this day and age. In their historic infancy, counties across America were created to build and operate roads, employ sheriffs and deputies to keep the peace, and run jails and dispense criminal punishments.
Portland is far removed from the Wild West. And it's time for a complete evaluation of the county's role in many things, including the office of a sheriff.
Define future of sheriff's office
A few weeks back, Wheeler was pushing either to convert the sheriff's job to an appointed position or to win voter approval of a charter change and strip the sheriff of his jail-oversight responsibilities. We argued at the time that it was impossible to have an objective discussion of those ideas while Giusto was still clinging to his position.
Now that Giusto has agreed to step aside, this is the ideal time for a full examination of whether an elected county sheriff still makes sense and what duties a sheriff - elected or otherwise - can reasonably be expected to perform.
This evaluation should be conducted by those close to the county and the office of sheriff - Wheeler and Giusto - and by the addition of a cadre of other evaluators, including District Attorney Mike Schrunk and representatives from the Oregon State Police and the state attorney general's office.
We also would like to see involvement from an independent group such as the Oregon League of Women Voters or the City Club of Portland.
Giusto may not be remembered fondly for his years as sheriff, and he long will be questioned for some of his personal choices in life. But in his remaining weeks in office, he can help point those who follow him toward a greater possibility of future success.