LEWISTON — When he knocked on doors and hung signs in 2006, Guy Desjardins hoped to be Androscoggin County’s sheriff for at least eight years.
“I didn’t run my first campaign to be a one-term sheriff,” he said, recalling the bruising primary ballot count and general election victory over his former boss, ex-Sheriff Ron Gagnon.
There were other bruises with former county commissioners and a lawsuit over his right to hire a deputy.
Yet, he still aims to go on for at least one more term. Desjardins said he continues to find the job rewarding and he has lots more to do.
“It’s what I’ve done now for 32 years,” said Desjardins, who worked as Sabattus’ chief of police and the county’s chief deputy for more than a decade.
“I’m too young to be retired,” said Desjardins, 56.
On the June 8 ballot, Desjardins will face his former chief deputy, Eric Samson.
The two men split over a difference in management style and opinion, with Samson resigning last fall.
Desjardins said he is guided in his day-to-day management by doing his best to serve the county and strengthen the department.
His current goals include finding a permanent place for his department’s staff. Former commissioners closed down much of the department offices in the basement of the county building 18 months ago amid worries that the air was unhealthy.
Commissioners have since funded an air-quality study of the space and plan to return people to the office following renovations.
Desjardins said he has worried that morale within the department has suffered as deputies have had to either squeeze into small spaces or work at desks borrowed from local police and fire stations.
Morale is also behind his hoped-for resolution of a dispute between the County Commission and the sheriff’s department union, which has been working without a contract for more than a year. The two sides are in arbitration.
Though Desjardins is not part of the negotiation, he said the struggle weighs on his deputies.
“We need to get a collective bargaining agreement signed and sealed,” he said.
He hopes to move forward, even adding staff if given the chance. He’d like to add another patrol deputy’s position and a detective to carry some of the load now weighing on the department’s two detectives.
“They’re maxed,” he said.
He knows funding for the positions will be tough to come by, he said. But it’s not impossible.
Weeks before taking office, Desjardins helped restructure positions in the department to meet a funding cut.
“We made our goal,” he said. “We saved four positions and reduced the budget without layoffs.”
During his tenure, he has worked with lawmakers in Augusta on the consolidation of Maine’s jails into a single system and worked with local staff to make the county jail in Auburn a hybrid jail, taking mostly short-term inmates and inmates from nearby Oxford County.
And he has done it while trying to be as open to scrutiny as possible, he said.
During his first campaign, he vowed to maintain an open-door policy and boost the visibility of the office. He set a regular rotation of attendance to local selectmen and council meetings and continues to attend each one several times a year,
“I’ve attended as many meetings as I could,” he said. “ It takes eight weeks to make it to every town just once.”
He said the work has helped improve discussion between the towns and the county on matters from local patrols to dispatching and the budget.
“They know who to call,” Desjardins said. “And I answer my own phone.”