---- — Tom Bensley kept his word, and earned another four-year term as Grand Traverse County sheriff.
Four years ago Bensley, a Republican, emerged from retirement with a pledge to take control of a rudderless, rife-with-problems sheriff's department. He handily defeated the incumbent sheriff and set about fixing an ailing agency.
That was no easy chore. Bensley, who had retired from the same department nearly a decade earlier, found himself neck-deep in a department with too many law-breaking employees and a bar set way too low for ethical and moral standards.
A little over a year into his tenure, an ugly incident cast Bensley into make-or-break territory. Two of his night patrol deputies came across a drunken, off-duty city police officer who'd crashed and burned his car. They had a choice — enforce the law or break it themselves — and the deputies chose to spit on their badges and in the eyes of taxpayers and the local criminal justice system. They tried to fix the case for the drunken cop, but their criminal antics quickly unraveled.
The deputies also repeatedly lied when questioned by sheriff's officials, and when they and the city officer eventually pleaded guilty to crimes, Bensley fired the pair, and rightly so.
That makes him a far superior choice for Grand Traverse County Sheriff than his political opponent, Traverse City Police Detective Sgt. Joe McCarthy, a Democrat who criticized Bensley for firing the deputies. McCarthy contends termination was way too harsh for law-breaking deputies.
Perhaps McCarthy would have given them a time out instead, maybe a good frowning. But his message is clear: Criminal behavior isn't a disqualifier for cops.
He's wrong, and anyone who thinks that way is the wrong person to lead the region's largest law enforcement agency.
Bensley passed his big litmus test and others. He expects and demands professionalism and made big strides to improve his agency. He's earned another four years in office.