Wade to retire as sheriff after 20 years on the job
After serving nearly two decades as Henrico County sheriff, Mike Wade said Wednesday that he is not seeking re-election.
Wade said he’s been mulling over for some time whether to run. The sheriff, who is 62 and in his fifth term, said he considered leaving the job after cancer was found in his kidney during a physical in October. Wade said the cancer was removed in a December surgery.
“It makes you think about the future when something like that happens,” Wade said in an interview Wednesday in his office.
Wade said one of his greatest accomplishments since he was first elected sheriff in 1999 has been the creation of the Recovery in a Secure Environment program, also known as RISE, a substance abuse recovery program that’s run out of Henrico Jail East in New Kent County. More than 15,000 people have taken part in that program since it was started in 2000, the sheriff said.
“There’s a lot of people you run into out on the street that say that that’s the reason they’re sober,” Wade said of the RISE program.
Wade also pointed to Opiate Recovery By Intensive Tracking, a four-phase program that aims to gradually get recovering addicts out from behind bars and into the workforce. After going through the RISE program, inmates are put onto work crews that help maintain the grounds around county properties, and they also work on crews that paint county buildings. Wade said Wednesday that 58 people have gone through the whole ORBIT program and that only two have returned to incarceration.
Wade, who has a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation, has often focused his efforts on treating inmates’ addictions. He noted that a December 2017 survey of inmates found that 87 percent of them said their drug involvement was either a “direct or indirect” reason for their incarceration.
Wade, who served 22 years as a Henrico police officer before being elected sheriff, is considering leaving before the end of his term, which ends Dec. 31. He said he has not set a last day.
State law lays out a couple of options for filling the sheriff’s position if Wade leaves before his term expires. One option is a special election, and another is having the highest-ranking officer below him assume his duties for the rest of the term.
“I don’t want to say at this point because I really haven’t firmed a date up,” Wade said.
Several people are seeking the sheriff’s post. Wade said he supports Alisa Gregory, the chief deputy at the sheriff’s office, who said she plans to run as a Republican. Henrico police Detective Bob Matson also is seeking the sheriff’s job as a Republican.
Richmond police officer Harold Ford is seeking the job as a Democrat. Also seeking the sheriff’s job as a Democrat is James Layne, a retired lieutenant with the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.
Wade said that once he is out of office, he would like to still do something in the substance abuse recovery field.
“I think I’ll have the opportunity to do that,” Wade said. “I haven’t really gone looking.”
The sheriff also said that he plans to spend some time with his three grandchildren, adding that he does not want to deal with the hassle of another election. Wade also pointed to his age as a contributing factor to his decision to leave the sheriff’s job, noting he’s already older than his father was when his father died months before being able to retire.
Wade oversees an office that has a roughly $40 million annual budget and an authorized strength of 400 deputies when measured by “full-time equivalents.”
One thing Wade said he is not interested in pursuing in retirement is a career in politics. Wade, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully against Donald McEachin, a Democrat, in 2016 for an open congressional seat in Virginia’s 4th District.
“It’s too nasty,” Wade said of politics.
John Vithoulkas, the county manager for Henrico, said Wade has “done an incredible job for the county.”
“Working with our judges, the drug court and our mental health professionals and others, he’s had some very positive results when it comes to overcoming addiction, Vithoulkas said.
The county manager said Henrico has seen cost savings from the work that ORBIT inmates have done around county buildings. Vithoulkas also said that ORBIT inmates have created mock bedrooms for open houses at county schools so parents can see the types of red flags to look for that might signal that their child has an addiction.
Wade said that among the more rewarding parts of the job has been carrying babies of inmates into the jail so the prisoners can hold their own child.
“I can’t tell you how many parents I let hold their kid for the first time,” Wade said.
Shannon Taylor, the Henrico commonwealth’s attorney, said Wade started two “excellent programs” when he began RISE and ORBIT.
“Having these services give our inmates an opportunity to re-enter into society with a better skill set and a better opportunity to succeed,” said Taylor, a Democrat.
Taylor said the sheriff and his staff have always been approachable when she has brought any concerns to their attention in her capacity as the prosecutor and her previous role as a defense attorney.
“I wish him well in his retirement,” Taylor said.