DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
Jay Varney, currently the elected Sheriff Coroner of Madera County, center, announces his acceptance of his new position of Chief Administrative Officer of Madera County at an unexpected press conference Wednesday morning. Also pictured are Supervisor David Rogers, left and supervisor Robert Poythress.
In an unexpected move that sent shockwaves through the county of Madera, it was announced Wednesday that Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney, 59, had accepted the top position of Chief Administrative Officer of Madera County.
County employees and others in the council chambers broke into cheers and rounds of applause at the surprise announcement. Some brushed back tears of joy and relief, after six months of what they said was uncertainty, inaction by the board of supervisors and apprehension about what would happen next within the county administration.
The top position became vacant in early December with the abrupt departure of the controversial and former CAO Eric John Fleming after a 2019 DUI charge came to light and other allegations surfaced of ongoing employee harassment, abusive outbursts and vulgar, threatening and sexually explicit texts to women from Fleming’s county-issued cell phone became public.
The formal action and vote to appoint Varney will be held by the board of supervisors at their June 2 meeting. Varney will be resigning his elected position as Sheriff at that time and assuming his new role and duties as CAO. Current Undersheriff, Tyson Pogue, will be assuming the interim position of Sheriff.
Varney said while leaving his law enforcement role as sheriff was difficult and bittersweet, he was up for and looking forward to the new position. “I did not seek out this opportunity, but it’s an honor. And when I was approached ... it seemed to be the perfect fit... and the next positive challenge to move Madera forward.” Varney said.
Known for his leadership, integrity and calm but no nonsense demeanor, Varney said he plans to take his time to assess operations within the 25 county departments and $345 million county operation.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Department, under Varney, recently received state wide recognition for excellence of their Office of Emergency Services operations and their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — providing information to schools and businesses, monitoring positive cases, rapid contact tracing, and the housing or quarantine of vulnerable homeless or at risk populations, among other evolving efforts during the on-going county wide emergency declaration.
Varney began his law enforcement career in Dallas in 1983 and has 37 years in law enforcement spanning several states. He was elected as the sheriff/coroner of Madera County six years ago.
“I have no plans to retire anytime soon,” he said with a grin, and he was “committed to the challenge of leading Madera County forward (as CAO) for the long term.”
During his first term as Madera County Sheriff Varney began a non-profit foundation to create and support local volunteer groups within the Sheriff’s Department such as the Citizens On Patrol unit, Search and Rescue volunteers, the Explorer (youth group) Post, the K-9 unit and to assist the reserve deputy organization.
“I also plan on retaining my level one status as a reserve deputy.” Varney said. “To be able to get out and work the road once in a while (as a reserve deputy sheriff), serve the people and stay connected with residents and these all volunteer groups will be exciting for me.”
Varney holds a M.S. degree in Criminology from Fresno State, B.S. degree in Resource Management from Michigan State University, and graduated from the FBI Academy senior law enforcement course in 2013. He was previously Chief of Police for the City of Chowchilla from 2004 to 2015, and served two years as interim city manager of Chowchilla from 2009 to 2011 after the unexpected departure of their city manager during the recent recession.