Former Highland County Sheriff Herb Lightner Reflects On His Last Decade In Office
Monterey, VA – Herbert R. Lightner served with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 30 years, including six years as a deputy and 24 years as sheriff. After deciding not to run for reelection in 2011, he retired on January 1, 2012. In this third and final installment of Sheriff Lightner’s story, he tells why his job became more difficult during the last 10 years.
“People became meaner,” he said. “It’s more violence. For lack of a better word – morality. People’s self worth and what they thought of other people, I think, diminished. I think it’s more about ‘me’ and everybody took the opinion, ‘I’m going to do this because it’s better for me’ and didn’t think about their neighbors, didn’t think about their family members.”
People became more inclined to use firearms and less inclined to fight with fists.
“Thirty years ago, you’d get a call and the wife would say, ‘Johnny,’ for example, ‘said he’s going to whip you if you came over here.’ Now, about every call we get, they’ve got a gun.”
The community lost much of its civility.
“Highland County, I believe, is owned by more than 50 percent absentee landowners now,” he said. “You see, just in general, more opinions and strong opinions. Take for example, the windmills. People fell clear out about that. Where people have strong opinions and if you don’t agree with their opinion, ‘you’re either with me or against me’ type of attitude.”
Drastic financial cuts imposed more challenges.
“I’ve been cut like $80,000 in the last three years and haven’t had a raise in five years,” he said. “I see the Governor’s proposed budget of cuts in the future and we don’t have no money to cut. We haven’t had no money to operate this office for the last three years the way it needs to be operated.”
Society became more litigious.
“Back in the day, you wouldn’t even think of suing anybody,” he said. Now people wreck and, ‘Get his name. I’m going to sue him. Get their information I’m going to sue them.'”
Lightner is proud to have solved 38 percent of major criminal cases, when the national average is just 30 percent.
“With the major criminal cases of murder, bank robberies, rape – all those different things, the last time I checked, which was about four years ago, it was about 38-percent,” he said. “The natural solvability of major criminal cases is about 30-percent. That means 70-percent are not solved.”
Following the Golden Rule added to Lightner’s success.
“One of the reasons for my success, I believe, is I treat people like I’d like to be treated, if the shoe was on the other foot,” he said. “I’ve lived by the rule the whole time.”
After winning six elections, Lightner had enough of politics.
“I’m not a politician and I didn’t like politics,” he said. “My least favorite thing about this job was the election every four years. Three elections ago, I only won by nine votes. I pushed myself the last 12 years to try to resolve that issue and, basically, burnt myself out. It came to this time where I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put myself through it. I became ill when I thought about putting my name on a ballot.”
The former sheriff says his replacement inherits a strong department.
“I’ve got a great group of people,” he said. “I believe the people that worked here, worked here, not because of the check, not because of the benefits, but because they like to help people. I think, one of the best sheriff’s offices in the state of Virginia.”
Lightner says he is grateful for the opportunity and says he will continue to serve the community.
“On behalf of my family, I really appreciate having this opportunity,” he said. “It’s been a great, great ride and I’m not going away. I’m going to still stay here in the county. I’ve got some cows and I’m going to farm and I’m on the rescue squad. I help the Lion’s Club. I help the Ruritan’s Club. I’m still going to contribute without feeling mandated to.