Clatsop County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to appoint Lt. Matt Phillips interim sheriff.
Phillips will also run in the May election to replace Sheriff Tom Bergin, who is retiring effective Jan. 3. Phillips is the only candidate to file so far.
“I recognize the trust and the faith you’re placing in me to be the sheriff because the office of sheriff is a weighty responsibility and one that can have a significant impact on the community,” Phillips told commissioners. “It is my pledge that I will work hard to make sure that our sheriff’s office is one that everyone can be proud of.”
Sarah Nebeker, the commission’s chairwoman, said, “And we know that you know what needs to be done because you have so much experience. And we also know you have your work cut out for you, but we believe you will meet the challenges.”
Phillips’ family, friends and colleagues came to the meeting in support.
During the public comment period, former Sheriff John Raichl and Port of Astoria Commissioner Frank Spence endorsed Phillips. They both praised his leadership in the new county jail project and said he is the most qualified person to oversee the project as sheriff.
Spence called the new jail the county’s “crown project.”
“Lt. Phillips has the character, the experience, to be qualified as your next sheriff,” Spence said. “I unequivocally endorse him to be your next sheriff and be elected next fall.”
Raichl said he has known Phillips since he was a teenager when he came to work at the sheriff’s office as a cadet.
“I can’t say enough good about him,” Raichl said. “He’s been an outstanding deputy and an outstanding lieutenant jail commander.”
Phillips said the support from Raichl was especially meaningful.
“It is the way he ran business at the sheriff’s office ... I respect it so much it made me think that maybe that’s something I would want to do one day,” Phillips said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2746 and Bergin had also encouraged commissioners to appoint Phillips to interim sheriff.
Commissioners interviewed Phillips during a work session on Nov. 7.
He told commissioners the biggest challenge for law enforcement locally is the complexity of issues.
“They’re social issues that are interwoven with other intersects in the community,” he said. “For example, I don’t believe all law enforcement issues are only handled through enforcement of laws. Some are public health issues that we need to work with those partners to address before they become legal issues.”
He said it will require teamwork with all stakeholders involved. He told commissioners they can help by supporting programs and efforts that require state-level funding like justice reinvestment grants, which fund the pretrial release program.
Judge Paula Brownhill ordered the pretrial release policy in 2017 to reduce overcrowding in the jail and the number of defendants locked up before trial.
Phillips said the program has been wildly successful and “probably one of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever worked on.”
Phillips began his career as a deputy sheriff in 2001 and married his wife, Bree, the following year. He was promoted to sergeant in the criminal division in 2011 and became the jail commander in 2016.
Phillips was born and raised in Clatsop County. His mother, Marcy Phillips, was a local councilor. His father, David Phillips, who died in September, was the vice president at Clatsop Community College and served on the Columbia Memorial Hospital board of trustees for 38 years.
Phillips said he was proud of his father and like him, is invested in and believes in the community.