AUGUSTA — On Friday morning, when plows were crisscrossing Kennebec County to clear the many inches of snow that had fallen the night before, a county employee walked into the office of Ken Mason, the sheriff-elect.

He informed Mason that two plows had struck each other on county property and that an accident report would need to be filled out. Mason — who was elected in November but would not be sworn in as sheriff formally for a couple days — told the employee to go ask a supervising officer to complete the report.

“I would take it myself,” Mason added, “but I’m not authorized yet. I would take it in a heartbeat.”

After that conversation, Mason said that’s the kind of leader he hopes to be as the new sheriff in town.

“I’m going to lead by example,” he said. “If there weren’t deputies close by (to help out with an accident report), I would have done it myself.”

Until early December, Mason was the chief deputy of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, which has about 30 full-time workers and 10 part-time employees.

But after winning a two-way race against sitting Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon in November, Mason, of Readfield, will take control of the comparatively large central Maine agency. He’ll supervise 165 people, 120 of them full-time, with 90 of those working at the jail and 30 in law enforcement.

Post-election, Mason already has made his presence known in the department. He has met nearly all its employees, regularly attended meetings of the Kennebec County commissioners and rearranged the furniture in his new office. He also made sure to visit the Kennebec County jail on Christmas morning.

“There is really a new era coming into the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office,” Mason said. “My focus is going to be on the employees here at the (sheriff’s office) and the citizens of Kennebec County. My employees, my fellow employees, much like in the past month, they’ve seen me. I’ve been coming in. I’m going to keep tabs on how things are going — not micromanaging, of course, but keeping my fingers on the pulse of the agency.”

Mason won the Nov. 8 election with 33,387 votes over Reardon’s 31,644.

The top law enforcement job in Kennebec County had opened up earlier in 2016, when former Sheriff Randall Liberty resigned to become the warden of the Maine State Prison. Reardon, of Oakland, who had been chief deputy under Liberty since 2010, was appointed sheriff in March by Gov. Paul LePage.

In the short term, Mason said he is still taking “baby steps” to learn how the agency works and what it is responsible for.

When he is sworn in at the beginning of January, he will move the department’s current chief deputy, William Johnson, into the office of professional review. He will make Sgt. Al Morin, who now works in that office, his chief deputy. Morin and Mason both used to work for the Augusta Police Department.

“Al has been in law enforcement 35 years,” Mason said. “He’s very smart and he’s a very good investigator, and because I’ve known him so long, I’m appointing him my chief; and former chief Bill Johnson, who is an absolute professional and very smart, he is going to be appointed as a lieutenant within the office of professional review. Bill Johnson has been the glue that has been holding this place together, and a good leader never gets rid of smart, professional people.”

Before taking his Lincoln County post in February 2005, Mason, 54, worked for the Augusta Police Department for 18 years. He served in the Marine Corps from 1981 to 1986 in radio communications and as a drill instructor, earning the rank of sergeant.

Given how large Kennebec County is compared to Lincoln County — Kennebec has about 121,100 residents versus Lincoln’s 34,000 — Mason said that he plans to continue the cooperation among law enforcement agencies that already occurs here. That cooperation is all the more important because of the ongoing opiate epidemic that has taken lives and filled jails, said Mason, who added that he prefers treating drug addiction to incarcerating addicts.

Mason said he supports alternative programs that allow jail inmates to receive treatment for drug addiction, but that he is still learning what programs are offered in Kennebec County. He plans to continue offering several existing programs at the jail, including the CARA program, which targets substance abuse and criminal thinking among inmates, and an initiative that aims to help incarcerated veterans.

“I’m going to try to make them better,” Mason said.

Mason said he hopes to cut down on the inmate population in Kennebec County jail, which is rated to handle about 150 inmates but regularly holds more than that.

“We have a problem with overcrowding,” he said. “It’s the nature of this beast here in Kennebec County because we’re locking up a lot of drug dealers. … We have to find other places to bring prisoners.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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