Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin plans to retire at the end of the year.
The sheriff, who was first elected in 2004, had announced last year that he would not seek another four-year term.
Bergin said he would ask the county Board of Commissioners to appoint Lt. Matt Phillips, the jail commander, as interim sheriff. The election for a new sheriff will be held in 2020.
“Well the time has come to provide the information as to my departure so the rumors and unknown can be resolved,” Bergin, 61, wrote in an email to his staff on Monday afternoon. ”I will be leaving at the end of December this year.”
His decision came after a trying time of dealing with personal matters. Bergin was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year and said he became more reliant on his staff.
“It feels like I was living two lives, trying to take care of all my personal life and take care all of this place and it’s not fair to either side so it’s kind of like, ‘OK, it’s time,’” he said in an interview.
The sheriff acknowledged he has received some criticism for his absences, but said he has always been involved.
“After going through cancer, double knee surgery, divorce and several other issues these last two years I know it has been hard on this office but I am proud how all of you have held this place together,” Bergin said in his email to staff.
Bergin explained in the interview that he has “taken some extra time for myself because you come to the realization, it’s like, there’s more to life than being a cop. Even though I swore and raised my right hand to this job, but it’s come to the point where it’s time to move on and people can say what they want, that’s OK.”
Monica Steele, the interim county manager, said, “It’s unfortunate that he won’t be here to finish out his term and I have truly enjoyed working with him and I look forward to working with whoever gets appointed.”
Bergin became a sheriff’s deputy in 1992 after about seven years at the Seaside Police Department. In 2004, he was elected sheriff and was reelected three times.
One of his biggest accomplishments was winning voter support to build a new county jail.
He was a leading voice for a $20 million bond measure that passed last November to relocate the jail from Astoria to the former North Coast Youth Correctional Facility in Warrenton. Voters had rejected two previous bond measures for the jail.
“When I started here there was eight of us and the jail was small and tiny and we tried hard to get that new jail put in a couple of times and finally the third time the public saw the need, which is going to be very beneficial,” Bergin said. “I’m really happy to see that for this community.”
Bergin has also spent much of his career focused on drug enforcement. He ran the interagency narcotics team for several years and, while he was supervisor, the Western States Information Network awarded the narcotics team as team of the year in 2001.
Bergin will also be remembered for his outspoken support for immigration enforcement, which has brought him praise, but also criticism.
“I was chosen to lead this agency by the people and luckily I’ve been elected four times to this office, and it’s a responsibility that just consumes you, it absolutely consumes you,” he said. “There’s such a silent majority up here that is not happy with the current way our country is going and part of it is the issue on deportation. When people come here illegally, they need to abide by the laws and that is not coming here illegally, and so they need to follow the rules.”
In 2014, he opposed a ballot measure that would have given driver’s cards to undocumented immigrants. Voters rejected the measure, but the Legislature this year passed a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Last year, Bergin and 15 other sheriffs signed a letter in support of Measure 105, which would have repealed Oregon’s sanctuary law. Voters, however, upheld the sanctuary law.
Last week, the sheriff said the county needed to support U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after federal immigration agents detained a man at the courthouse.
“Everybody thinks I want to lock up all these Hispanics and throw everybody away and kick everybody out of the country — that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Bergin said. “That’s just ludicrous.
“And I think if you treat people with respect then you’re going to get it back. I hope that is part of my success and part of my legacy. But it’s just always being fair to everybody and treating everybody like you’d like to be treated.”