Phelps County Commissioners started saying goodbye to Sheriff Don Blankenship last week, as they wished him well with his new job in Franklin County.


Phelps County Commissioners started saying goodbye to Sheriff Don Blankenship last week, as they wished him well with his new job in Franklin County.
Blankenship’s last day as Phelps County Sheriff is Wednesday, at which point he becomes a Franklin County deputy on Feb. 1, assigned to the Franklin County Drug Task Force.
“My job will mainly deal with criminal interdiction on the interstate,” said Blankenship, a skill he honed while sheriff of Phelps County for the past 20 years.
Commissioners praised Blankenship’s drug enforcement efforts, which brought in an estimated $3 million in the past couple years alone. By law, revenue from drug arrests has to be spent on the law-enforcement agency.
“That’s a huge amount for a small department like ours,” said Randy Verkamp, Phelps County Presiding Commissioner.
“We have been able to buy a lot of things we really needed, but which most departments have to do without,” said Blankenship.
 “Things like new police cruisers for the officers, transport vans, and surveillance equipment,” he said. “Right now, Phelps County is probably the best-equipped third-class county in the state.”
Blankenship said after losing the election to Rick Lisenbe in November, his first reaction was concern that he and his wife, Lana, would have to relocate. Although two children live on the east coast, his daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren live in rural Rolla.
Additionally, he said, “This is a great community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
However, just two days after the election, he was contacted by Jason Grellner, the Franklin County Task Force Director, about a new job in Franklin County. It’s a good opportunity and will allow him to remain a resident of Phelps County, he said.
Blankenship’s assignment will be criminal interdiction.
“That’s not just drugs. You never know what we’re going to get,” he explained.
“I remember one case where we recovered a kidnap victim who’d been with her kidnapper for over a year. We’ve found lots of stolen vehicles, apprehended murder suspects ... it runs the gamut.”
Blankenship told commissioners he might even be involved in Phelps County arrests.
Sheriff-elect Lisenbe has approved Blankenship’s status as a reserve officer, and a similar status is being requested from Crawford County. So when Blankenship is driving to Franklin County each day, if he sees something suspicious on his way to work, he can investigate.
Blankenship’s law enforcement career has spanned 31 years, all served in Phelps County except for the one year he was the police chief for the city of Licking.
“The highlight of my career, so far, is what we were able to do in the war on drugs,” he said.
“We were able to take off the street, well, I’ve no clue how many tons of drugs. I know we found 7.5 tons in 2002 alone.
“And along the way, we put a lot of bad guys in jail.”
Blankenship said the Phelps County Sheriffs have carved out a national reputation for intercepting contraband.
“It’s not an easy thing; very few were the result of tips. Most was seized on traffic stops.
“In some cases, we were instrumental in breaking up some major drug cartels, some that even extended into other countries,” Blankenship said.
The sheriff said that reputation is even known in other countries.
“Our department has become well-known in the U.S. and Canada. We even had an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police come here to learn interdiction. We’ve taught other officers from all over the country.”
Blankenship said he’s leaving Phelps County with a heavy heart.
“It’s been a good career for me. I’ve really enjoyed working for the people of Phelps County, and I’m sad to be leaving the good people working in the department. “It’s a great thing to have grown the way we have,” he said. 
Blankenship said when he started 20 years ago, the department had just 20 employees. Now, that number is up to about 65.
“I really appreciate everyone’s support over the years,” he continued. “I’ll miss that, but life goes on, and I’m looking forward to the new challenges.”
Along with Blankenship, Chief Deputy Roy Day is leaving the department; he’s retiring at the end of the year. It’s a move he had planned before the election, said Blankenship.
Also leaving are jail administrator Ed Clinton and secretary Kim Holmes. Clinton plans to work in hospital security, said Blankenship.
According to the county commissioners, Phelps is one of 40 (out of a total of 113) counties in Missouri which elected new sheriffs in November.