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Whatcom sheriff’s early retirement to create brief leadership void

Council may appoint Donnell Tanksley to fill the 8-day gap

Sheriff Bill Elfo announced his last day on the job would be Dec. 31
Sheriff Bill Elfo announced his last day on the job would be Dec. 31
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

After more than 20 years as Whatcom County’s sheriff, Bill Elfo has decided to leave the job eight days early.

In a Wednesday, Nov. 29 letter, Elfo informed the county council his last day on the job will be Dec. 31. Incoming sheriff Donnell Tanksley won’t be sworn in until Jan. 8.

Elfo cited requirements of the state’s pension plan as the reason for his early departure. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The sheriff’s decision creates a void in the top law enforcement job in the county, if only for about a week. Council will decide at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, whether to appoint someone to the position for the first eight days of 2024.

In his letter, Elfo said Tanksley “may be available to fill the position a week early if requested.” Tanksley, who currently serves as Blaine’s police chief, confirmed his readiness in an interview Thursday, Nov. 30.

“I am ready to start a bit early, if it’s the will of the council,” Tanksley said. He was planning to meet with Blaine officials on Thursday, to determine when he would conclude his duties as the city’s police chief. Tanksley has served in that role since 2019.

In the sheriff’s race that concluded with the November election, Elfo endorsed Tanskley’s opponent and a longtime colleague, Undersheriff Doug Chadwick. Tanksley won by more than 4 percentage points, according to results certified on Tuesday, Nov. 28. 

While the outcome may not have gone the way Elfo had hoped, both he and Tanksley said the transition has been friendly.

“I have been in frequent contact with Sheriff-elect Tanksley since the results of the November election became apparent, and we have been working together to ensure a smooth transition,” Elfo wrote in his letter to council.

“I’ve met with Sheriff Elfo several times,” Tanksley confirmed. “We’ve had many conversations, and he’s been very helpful to me.”

The county council will consider the eight-day appointment during a meeting that starts at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.

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