Think Out Loud

Grant County has a new sheriff in town, and he promises change

By Tess Novotny (OPB) and Donald Orr (OPB)
Nov. 13, 2020 1 a.m. Updated: Nov. 14, 2020 7:35 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, Nov. 13

For the first time in 20 years, there’s going to be a new sheriff in town in Grant County.


Long-time law enforcement officer and Grant County probation department head Todd McKinley unseated incumbent Sheriff Glenn Palmer after five terms in office this month.

Grant County Sheriff-elect Todd McKinley

Grant County Sheriff-elect Todd McKinley

Todd McKinley

Palmer had been accused of abusing the power of his office. He supported the Bundy family in their 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was also recently criticized for deputizing his brother, who is a county commissioner and for continuing to pay more than $100,000 in salary to one of his deputies under criminal investigation.

Sheriff-elect McKinley joined “Think Out Loud” recently to talk about his goals for the office. This was McKinley’s second time running for Grant County sheriff after narrowly losing to Palmer in 2016. This time around, he won by more than 600 votes out of 4,500 cast.

“I wasn’t giving up. I was doing this for the people, and I kept hearing more and more from the people that they wanted change. I was going to be the person that helped that come about,” McKinley said.

McKinley said that he could only rely on the support from community members behind closed doors. He said voters were afraid to vocally support him, fearing reprisals if Palmer won again.


“People were legitimately concerned about what kind of response ... if they would actually get the services from that office,” McKinley said. “It’s so public in this small area, people know who supports who. Some of them felt ashamed that they’d supported him in the past.”

McKinley became a full-time deputy in the Grant County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. He worked for Palmer until 2015 before joining the probation department.

“The direction the sheriff’s office was taking, ... I could see more and more that it was going in a way that I could not support. [It was] almost being a club,” McKinley said. “It appeared to me that it was just serving certain individuals in the community, and not the entire community.”

McKinley said he wants to confront Grant County’s methamphetamine problem. He’s skeptical about the potential impact of Measure 110, the measure passed by voters this year that decriminalizes drug possession and puts more money into treatment programs.

“I think it’s going to make the problem as a whole more difficult," he said. "I think it was a little misleading the way the ballot title was placed, because I have concerns how we’re going to make the expectations of that new statute.”

After five years as the head of the county’s probation department, McKinley said, the experience he has will help inform how he tackles his duties as sheriff.

“I think prevention is so huge, because ultimately an empty jail and an empty probation office is success,” McKinley said. “I know that’s a lofty goal, but that would speak of success.”

Hear the full conversation using the audio player at the top of this story.

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