DECATUR — Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider in May quietly submitted a letter designating philanthropist and businessman Howard Buffett as successor if he were to die before his term ends. The Herald & Review obtained the document Wednesday.
Schneider announced in April that he would not seek another term in office, and three lieutenants in his office are vying for the seat in the November 2018 election. In the letter, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Schneider said he did not want to give an unfair advantage to any of the candidates. He said he chose Buffett because they have worked closely together over the past five years, and Buffett has volunteered first as an auxiliary deputy and then as undersheriff since 2014.
"He has no desire to run for Sheriff and works well with all of my staff, therefore he would be able to maintain the office in the same manner that I would during the election process," Schneider wrote in the May 24 document, which he submitted to Macon County Clerk Steve Bean.
Reached Wednesday morning, Schneider said he stood by the letter.
“I was going through a surgery at the time, and I wanted to make sure my department was taken care of,” he said.
He declined any further comment about his future. A spokeswoman from the Buffett Foundation declined comment.
The three lieutenants who have announced they will seek the office are Lt. Tony Brown, who joined the department in 1990; Lt. Jonathan Butts, who joined the department in 1989; and Lt. Jim Root, who has served in the department since 1996. Brown and Butts are running as Democrats; Root is a Republican.
The son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, 62-year-old Howard Buffett has volunteered for the sheriff's office since 2012. Buffett has also given millions of dollars to law enforcement, social services and other Decatur-area causes over the past few years through his private foundation, which focuses its work on global hunger and wildlife conservation.
Among Buffett's donations are hundreds of thousands of dollars for the sheriff’s office. In 2014, the foundation gave grants totaling $1.2 million over four years that funded the positions of a drug interdiction agent and related equipment, a DUI enforcement officer and related equipment, and an elder victims crime unit investigator and equipment. Most recently, in May, Buffett donated more than $350,000 for firearms, training ammunition and police vehicles.
In October, Buffett's foundation donated $15 million to construct a law enforcement training center at U.S. Business 51 and West Grove Road on the city's south side.
Buffett has volunteered for the office since 2012, when he became an auxiliary deputy. In 2014, he was appointed civilian undersheriff, an unpaid position in charge of special projects. In April, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association presented Buffett with what it said was its highest honor: the High Sheriff Award, given out only four times before.
The association said Buffett had logged more than 2,500 hours of patrol, completed more than 600 hours of certified training and had more than 70 weapons qualifications.
“Howard is the most committed volunteer we have ever had serve in our office,” Schneider said at the time. “He always goes above and beyond the requirements when it comes to service hours, training and qualifications. He has consistently been a vocal advocate for public safety in our community and many others across the United States, to say nothing of the incredible financial commitments he has made in support of local law enforcement.”
Buffett said at the time that working in impoverished nations has given him appreciation for law enforcement's role in creating peaceful, thriving communities.
“I have so much respect for the individuals who dedicate their careers to serve in law enforcement,” he said. “They have taught me a lot about the key law enforcement challenges facing this country, and I am incredibly honored by this recognition.”
A Democrat, Schneider was approved by the Macon County Board to replace Jerry Dawson, who resigned as sheriff Aug. 31, 2008. Schneider won the office in his own right in 2010, an election in which he won two-thirds of the vote. He was unopposed for re-election in 2014.
Schneider began working for the sheriff’s office in 1988. In his nearly three decades of law enforcement, Schneider has served as a correctional officer but also has worked as a deputy sheriff, detective, patrol division sergeant and lieutenant, jail warden and chief deputy before becoming sheriff and winning his 2010 election
It was the first countywide election for Schneider, who served as alderman in the city of Macon from 2002 to 2008. As he noted at the time: "I've worked every position in this department and every shift.”
In the event that Schneider were to step down before his term ends, state policy allows the sheriff to name a successor, said Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott. The county board would then have 60 days to appoint an interim sheriff, who would serve out the rest of the term.
“(The board) can accept who the sheriff named, or they can appoint someone else,” Scott said. “The whole idea is so that we’re never without a sheriff.”