After St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus resigned on Tuesday, Undersheriff Rick Watson was appointed to the job, but the County Board must recommend the person to fill the job until the end of his term in 2014.
County Board Chairman Mark Kern doesn't know when the board may decide, but there are several candidates who the board may consider, including Watson, Sauget Police Chief Patrick Delaney, Sheriff's Capt. Steve Johnson and Coroner Rick Stone.
Justus, 81, has been recovering from gall bladder surgery for two months. He recently moved into an assisted living community.
Justus hired Watson when he ran the Cahokia Police Department in 1979 and mentored him throughout his career, Watson said. Justus, 81, selected Watson to take the helm of the department Justus headed for 40 years.
But it's the County Board that will decide who will take the sheriff's position for two years before voters decide.
"When you keep score, anyone can win," Watson said. "But I believe that I am the most qualified candidate."
Watson intends to push for a new jail, carrying on Justus' wish to build or expand the jail.
Delaney became the chief of the Sauget Police Department when he was just 25. He comes from a crime-fighting family. His father is Terry Delaney, former U.S. Marshal, Illinois State Police investigator and Belleville Police Chief.
"I would love to be sheriff and would be honored if they considered me," Patrick Delaney said. "I am very interested in the job."
Delaney agrees jail overcrowding should be addressed, as well as assisting other agencies in high-crime areas.
He also had kind words for the competition.
"Rick Watson. He's a good man," Delaney said. "I'm sure the others are fine men, too. I am tickled to death if I was selected."
Johnson joined the sheriff's department when he was 19 as a deputy service aide. He served as a patrol officer, a sergeant, an investigator, the sheriff's administrative assistant and is now a captain with the department.
He will work under Watson until the appointment.
"I feel it is more important for me to help the Sheriff's Department continue with the mission of serving the people of this county. I love the job I am doing right now because it has a direct impact on that mission," Johnson said. "My goal is to help the next Sheriff move that mission forward. Thank you for calling and asking. I am honored that you asked."
Coroner Rick Stone long expressed interested in succeeding Justus and he said early Wednesday afternoon that he's still interested. Later in the day, Stone, 67, reconsidered, saying he thought the job should be held "by a younger person."
In 2009, Stone announced that he would challenge Justus in the Democratic primary. Stone changed his mind after the Democrats endorsed Justus.
"For party unity, I stepped aside then," Stone said. "I certainly would explore the possibility of accepting the office."
Stone has struggled with his health. In 2007, he spent months in the hospital after a bout of septic pneumonia. He still on oxygen, but he insisted Wednesday that he's healthy.
Despite being one-time political foes, Stone offered praise for Justus.
"I think Mearl is a lovely man," Stone said. "You don't replace a guy like that, but you try to move on and maintain a steady pace for the department."
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at email@example.com or 618-239-2570.