PARIS – The race for Oxford County sheriff is still 15 months out, but two county officers already have announced an interest in replacing their boss.

This might not be your average race for sheriff, given the timing of recent management changes that demoted potential Democratic candidate Lt. Jim Miclon, 46, and promoted Republican hopeful Lt. Christopher Wainwright, 34, who has apparently won the favor of Sheriff Skip Herrick, a fellow Republican.

Miclon said recently he is seriously exploring a run for sheriff, while Wainwright already has announced he will seek to replace Herrick. The men have recently found themselves the subject of speculation and unwanted media attention since the management changes that went into effect July 1.

“I am not grooming anyone” for the job, Herrick said last week from his office in Paris. “Would I like to see a Republican elected? Yeah, I guess I would, but I am concentrated on the individual” who is the most competent and can best serve the public.

“I don’t care what party they’re from,” he said.

Herrick, serving his fourth four-year term, said he’s confident the potential political struggle between Miclon and Wainwright will not affect how the department does its business and serves the public.

Herrick said he expects the race to be run “in a very professional, upfront manner without any interference to the agency.”

Meanwhile, Bethel Police Chief Alan Carr said Friday he will run against Wainwright in the Republican primary next June.

“Yeah, I’m gonna be put in the mix for 2006,” said Carr, who said he has notified the Maine Republican Party of his intention to run. Dixfield Police Chief Richard Pickett is also reported to be interested in running. He could not be reached for comment last week. His political affiliation is not known.

Under the state constitution, Maine’s 16 county sheriffs must be elected, which leads to party politics and fund raising. No other police officers in the state are elected, and candidates for local government, most notably for town councils or school boards, do not run with a party affiliation.

Herrick adamantly denies that his recent promotion of Wainwright from sergeant to lieutenant and demotion of Miclon from captain to lieutenant had anything to do with politics. Instead he said it had everything to do with making sure the department is well organized and efficient for the new sheriff.

Herrick’s longtime chief deputy, Jim Davis, who will retire with Herrick, said he recommended the management changes. Davis said since the county commissioners approved hiring three more patrolmen this summer, he could no longer effectively supervise the expanded patrol unit and suggested Wainwright for the job.

Meanwhile, Davis said, Miclon was demoted because captains supervise lieutenants, but until last month the department had no lieutenants.

Herrick said both he and Davis agreed the two men should have equal authority as lieutenants, rather than having Miclon supervise Wainwright.

“I’m really excited about (the changes),” Herrick said. “I see us being better able to give the public more coordinated services and better coverage.”

He added, “innuendoes and issues about politics” surrounding the management changes were out of line, adding that no one had even announced their candidacy for office.

Miclon, of Woodstock, started at the sheriff’s office in 1978 and has been the county’s chief investigator of serious crime for more than a decade. Despite the July 1 change in rank, he will continue as the top investigator, Davis said.

Wainwright, of Canton, joined the force in 1990 and said in an interview last week that being elected sheriff has been his career-long goal. His new job puts him in charge of all day-to-day operations of the 12-member patrol division.

Miclon said Wednesday he also has long considered running for sheriff, and has held off in part because he refused to run against his boss. Now that Herrick is retiring, he said, he has been making more appearances at political events and even has started talking with Cathy Newell, chairman of the Oxford County Democrats.

Miclon was careful to say he is not concerned by the demotion, which the sheriff has called a “change of title.”

“To be perfectly honest with you, it really doesn’t matter what you call me,” he said, noting that there are people who continue to call him captain.

Wainwright, who has worked for the sheriff’s office since he was 18, said he has been offended by claims that his promotion was political rather than merit-based. He said he has worked his way up through the ranks, adding, “I have earned this position.”

Still, Wainwright acknowledged that the position of sheriff is a political one, and said he is well aware of the fact that Herrick and Davis are soon to retire. “Dec. 31 (2006) at midnight when they turn into a pumpkin, somebody’s got to be there to take over,” he said.

“In one sense, (Herrick’s) faith and trust is in me,” Wainwright continued, adding that he has spoken with the sheriff about the job.

Wainwright and Miclon both said they know they may compete against one another in the race for sheriff. While they’ve had differences, Miclon said, they now share office space and have put past “feisty debate” behind them.

“I can emphatically say that there’s no problems between Chris and I now,” he said.

Wainwright agreed.

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