Tim Baxley said goodbye to law enforcement earlier this year after 32 years of service.
But he’s hoping it will be more of an intermission rather than a permanent retirement. Baxley filed March 16 to run as a Democrat for Clarendon County Sheriff. He will face incumbent Sheriff Randy Garrett June 14.
Baxley retired just after the new year as captain of staff operations with the law enforcement division of the state Department of Natural Resources.
“I didn’t start planning anything or campaigning until after I retired,” Baxley said. “I knew I wanted to do this almost a year ago, but I was not going to do anything while working in a law enforcement capacity because it’s a state ethics violation.”
A Charleston native who grew up in Barnwell, Baxley has held ties to Clarendon County since 1985, the year he began his law enforcement career as a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper assigned to Clarendon County. He now lives just outside of Turbeville, and also has a home in Panola. Throughout his long career, he has lived in Manning, Summerton and Turbeville.
Growing up with a father who was also in law enforcement, Baxley said it was “always something I wanted to do.”
“I was around it my whole life,” he said. “I knew when I graduated from high school and attended the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie that it was what I was going to pursue.”
Baxley remained a Highway Patrol trooper for five years, and was then assigned to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division’s narcotics unit before moving onto DNR.
“I started out with DNR as a field officer in Clarendon County, which I loved because I was able to work here again,” Baxley said.
He was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant, with supervisory responsibilities over 12 counties.
“Three years after that, I was promoted to captain over staff operations with DNR law enforcement,” Baxley said.
In that role, Baxley oversaw the department’s emergency management division, which deals with hurricanes, floods, ice storms and other natural disasters. He was also supervisor of homeland security.
“That deals with port security in Charleston as well as with other areas throughout the state,” he said. “I was also in charge of the DNR aviation section and DNR law enforcement procurement.”
In the latter role, Baxley worked with a more than $10 million budget and oversaw all contracts and purchasing for vehicles, boats and other law enforcement equipment.
“I was also in charge of the communications section, which consisted of a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day telecommunications center that serviced the entire state,” Baxley noted.
Baxley said that he always felt law enforcement was the only career for him.
Throughout all of that, Baxley had never considered public office. But the notion started calling to him in 2015, he noted.
“I see that I can make a difference here in Clarendon County,” he said. “I can bring new ideas to the Sheriff’s Office. With 32 years of state law enforcement experience, I feel like I could bring a lot to the table to the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office. I would be able to bring my statewide-level experience to the countywide level.”
After more than three decades on the thin blue line, Baxley said the biggest change has been technology.
“It’s not just with the technology itself, but really with the operational costs surrounding the technology,” he said. “Back in the 1980s, a trooper’s salary, for example, might have been about $14,000 a year, and a vehicle would have been less than that, say $12,000 to $13,000. But today, with all the equipment you have to have with that vehicle, these pieces of equipment are neck-in-neck with salaries. You can easily spend more than $32,000 on a new patrol vehicle.”
Baxley said there has also been a moral shift.
“The desire for people to do the right thing is not out there like it used to be,” he said. “We now live in a society where if you do wrong, someone tries to make it right where back in the old day, everyone tried to do the right thing to begin with.”
A member of Summerton Baptist Church, where he was a trustee, Baxley also attends Turbeville Southern Methodist Church.
“I am a Christian and I believe in Christian values,” he said, noting that his faith permeates his beliefs and actions toward his fellow human beings.
“I’m no better than anyone else,” Baxley said. “Jesus died for me just as much as he died for the next person. I’m not more important than you or anyone else.”
Baxley said that he has several goals should he be voted into office as Clarendon County sheriff. He said he would not enter the office looking to “clean house, as far as personnel and deputies go.”
“I will meet with every staff member, and we will go over the expectations, goals and moral standards that I will expect them to follow,” Baxley said. “If those expectations, goals and moral standards cannot be met, then that is where any turnover would begin from my standpoint.”
Baxley said he and his deputies will fight property crime and drug trafficking hard. He said the two are intrinsically tied together in Clarendon County.
“Interstate 95 is important with drug trafficking, that’s a fact,” he said. “But on either side of that interstate, there are also property crimes that are tied to that trafficking. We have so much stuff that is stolen in this county. My idea is to look at the big picture.”
That big picture, Baxley reiterated, is linking property crime to drugs.
“If you put emphasis on one, you can combat them both,” he said. “Take, for example, a farmer who loses 1,200 feet of wire off his irrigation system. Someone took all that time to take the wire off the system. They then burn it down, get all the insulation off of it and go sell the copper wire for some minute amount of money.”
The thief does all this, Baxley said, to “get a fix.”
“They’re breaking into houses, and taking tools out of storage sheds; they sell them quick and easy to get money for that fix,” he said. “Cut the head off of the monster of drug abuse, and you can cut back on these property crimes. I can work with other agencies in the county to help combat drug use and trafficking.”
In dealing with property crime, Baxley would also like to implement a system where he, as sheriff, would know about every single incident on which his investigators are working.
“I personally want to follow-up with each victim to let him or her know that I’m aware of that crime,” he said. “I want to be in touch with them to let them know the progress of that investigation. So often, a victim never hears back after a report is filed. I feel like the citizens are owed that. And if I’m the sheriff, I need to know what’s going on.”
Baxley said he doesn’t want to be sheriff to be “the almighty powerful law enforcement guy in the county.”
“I want to do the right thing to help the citizens of Clarendon County,” he said. “I don’t need a lot of people working for me. I need a lot of people working with me."
Baxley said he will also utilize his budget experience to get the most out of the county’s law enforcement appropriations.
“Having dealt with it at the state level, when I have to buy equipment, such as vehicles, I know I need to look and find out what’s on state contract,” Baxley said. “The county is eligible to buy everything on state contract which it needs, and it’s always cheaper to buy in volume. You get a bigger bang for your buck, and I know how to navigate that system, having done so at the state level for so many years.” If local vendors could be competative with the price of equipment, then I would be all for buying local.
“I’m also aware that everything bought through Clarendon County comes from some type of tax base,” Baxley continued. “Therefore, these expenditures need to be monitored carefully. I am about necessities and not luxuries.”
Harkening back to his experience managing the state Department of Natural Resource’s emergency management division, Baxley said he has experience mobilizing units “throughout the state” and coordinating with other agencies, including the Highway Patrol, SLED and the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole, to respond efficiently to natural disasters.
“When we had an emergency, we were able to mobilize the manpower necessary to achieve whatever assignments and goals were necessary,” Baxley said.
Of course, one of his most recent disasters was the October 2015 flood, which dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Clarendon County alone, cutting the county off for nearly a week and washing out more than 65 roads.
“Having worked through events like the October flood, I am able to bring that experience to the table,” Baxley said.
While Baxley did not campaign or actively plan while still working with DNR, he is now in “full swing,” he said.
“Right now, I’m getting ready to go door-to-door to let our citizens know why I am the best candidate for sheriff,” Baxley said. “And I haven’t done anything like that until now. I did nothing while I was working with DNR. If someone asked me, I would answer yes, but that was all I would do. I could not do anything else."
Baxley said he is “all in” for the race. Should no Republican candidate file, the winner of June’s Democratic primary will be the de facto sheriff-elect of Clarendon County, with no opposition in the November general election.
“I am committed to this the entire way,” he said. “I’m a common man. I am no better than any guy that would be working for me. Everybody is someone. I’m just one of those people that wants to use what I know to help make a difference.”
Baxley is married to Helen Powell-Welsh. He has three children, Blake, a DNR officer, Brandon, a Clarendon County fireman, and Brynne who is in the 10th grade. Baxley also has two step children, Cam Welsh, a state trooper and Sloane Welsh who is attending college.