“Why are you looking for Jeff?” Scott Bird, city finance director, responded as a group assembled before Wednesday’s regular city commission meeting at City Hall, 101 S. Cedar St.
“I want to see what he looks like,” the man answered. “I’ve heard around town he’s going to be our next sheriff.”
City Commissioner Richards arrived to the gathering a short time later, but the man didn’t speak to him. He left before the meeting began — but not without getting a look at the man who just a day later would indeed be nominated to serve as Franklin County’s new sheriff.
Though word apparently spread quickly that Richards planned to seek the sheriff position at Thursday’s Franklin County Republican Central Committee convention, some residents want more information about the man now chosen to help rebuild public trust in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office — and they’re interested in more than a quick look at his face.
Unanimously dubbed sheriff-elect at Thursday’s convention — which was necessitated by the April 1 resignation of Jeff Curry amid criminal charges against the now-former sheriff — Richards boasts decades of law enforcement experience and a blossoming political career in Franklin County.
Richards, 44, moved to Ottawa in 2000 and has three sons and one daughter with his wife, Michelle. First elected in 2011, Richards has served one term on the Ottawa City Commission and was re-elected Tuesday for a second term. Once Gov. Sam Brownback appoints Richards as Franklin County sheriff, which likely will occur sometime next week, Richards said he would resign as a city commissioner.
In 1989, Richards first began serving in law enforcement as a part-time deputy and jailer for the Neosho County Sheriff’s Office. Two years later, he left the department to join the U.S. Air Force and served in Operation Desert Storm. During his nine years in the Air Force, Richards served as a law enforcement specialist and later as a law enforcement supervisor. In those roles, Richards said, he worked as team leader of an emergency services team, a field training officer, dispatcher and flight chief. He was selected as 1996 Law Enforcement Airman of the Year for the Pacific Air Forces and as the 1998 Law Enforcement Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.
Politically, Richards now is the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee. He also is chairman of the finance and personnel committee for the Church of the Nazarene, Seventh and Elm streets, as well as one of its board members. He previously served on the Franklin County Planning Commission and with the Innovation Committee for the Kansas GOP.
Richards also plays the drums at the Church of the Nazarene. He has played the drums since middle school, he said, in addition to being a singer and a trumpet player.
Asked about his life philosophy before the city commission race, Richards said he is a man of God and adheres to his faith though decision-making.
“As a Christian, I am guided by my faith,” Richards wrote in a response to The Herald. “As a citizen, and elected official, I look to our Founders and our founding documents as a guideline. As an Air Force veteran, I still follow the USAF motto: ‘Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do.’ I think all of these complement each other well and give me a strong foundation.”
Doug Carder, Herald senior writer, contributed to this report.