Holbrooks follows in father’s footsteps

Sheriff Brent Holbrooks Sheriff Brent Holbrooks

New sheriffs in North Carolina are bombarded with new information and leadership duties their first year in office, but Macon County Sheriff Brent Holbrooks came into the position with a unique understanding of the job because he’s seen it firsthand — his father, Homer Holbrooks, was sheriff for 16 years. 


“Of course there’s been bumps along the way, but for the most part, the transition has been pretty smooth,” Holbrooks said. “Seeing my father in this role since elementary school and how he’s handled situations either from the public or with the employees has gone a long way. And I’ve always lived by his statement to me that it all boils down to how you treat people. Treat everyone the same, and I’ve taken that to heart and tried to apply it my whole life.” 

In the election, Holbrooks went up against a crowded Republican primary field that included two other members of the previous command staff. In a closely contested election that came down to a recount , Holbrooks won by only 54 votes .

Holbrooks came into the office of sheriff after serving 24 years in law enforcement, most recently as the lieutenant over civil process. He’s also spent over a decade on patrol and with the county SWAT team, as well as some time doing courthouse security. But even with Holbrooks’ range of experience and the benefit of watching his father work, one part of the job has still required patience and a willingness to learn.

“Prior to being the sheriff, I had no experience whatsoever with the budget,” he said. “I think that has been the largest learning curve for me and some of my staff. But with that being said, I’m surrounding myself with folks that are familiar with the budget, and I have a very close relationship with our county manager, Derek Rowland. And he has facilitated things and helped me out extremely well.”

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While some new sheriffs around the area made some pretty drastic changes and even let go of several deputies, Holbrooks kept most of his personnel. But he did change the command structure, especially as some of the top brass retired alongside former sheriff Robbie Holland, who served 20 years in that role. However, Holbrooks said he’s been able to fill those voids with some highly experienced people.

“We have been able to hire people from surrounding agencies who are just as qualified, if not more qualified,” he said.

Along with restructuring the command leadership, Holbrooks made a budgetary change that he says will help ensure management of resources is above board and efficient. Previously, the sheriff’s office had three accounts, but now there are six.

“I guess you would call it more accountability for each entity within the sheriff’s office,” Holbrooks said. “For instance, it’s now crime prevention, not patrol, because ultimately the patrol guys are out trying to prevent crime, and so they have their own budget. Investigation has their own budget. SROs have their own budget. Detention Center has their own budget. I have my own budget.” 

Along with the aforementioned changes, Holbrooks also pointed out that entry to the courthouse is now managed, meaning visitors enter and exit from a controlled area where they can be screened. Previously, the public could use one of several entrances and could essentially bring whatever they wanted into the building. 

“Our courthouse is now secured, and that was done right around the first of May,” Holbrooks said. “It’s been great. I’ve had a few folks who’ve kind of fought back on that, but for the most part, the general public and the folks within the courthouse, the employees within the courthouse, they absolutely love the fact that that it’s secured and now they feel safe.”

Another upcoming change in the county will be the addition of a new SRO. However, this SRO is unlike any other. Beginning next school year, students will see a “floating” K9 who is technically assigned to cover all the county’s schools. In addition to being able to sniff for illegal drugs, the dog will also be able to smell vape cartridges. While nicotine vape cartridges are not illegal to possess, it is against the school district’s policy to have them at school.

Also in the realm of schools and contingent on school board approval, the sheriff’s office wants to head up a hunter safety skills team to give kids who want to compete but may not be interested in playing a sport the chance to take up a new activity.

“Not every student in high school knows how to throw a football or knuckleball or compete in tennis or swimming, so we’re gonna offer a hunter safety skills team,” Holbrooks said.

Although it hasn’t been solidified yet, Holbrooks said they’re also likely going to reimplement the “explorer” program that enables deputies to work with students who show an interest in a career in law enforcement. 

“What better way to have young men and women learn the ropes?” Holbrooks said. “We can take kids who are interested, and they have a better chance of being officers who are to our liking.” 

Holbrooks said that he’s excited to be in his current leadership role and that he’s excited to continue to grow into that position as he strives to assess and reassess the needs of the community.

“I look forward to continuing to serve,” he said.

A slate of new sheriffs

In North Carolina, the county sheriff is the locally elected leader with the most power and the most responsibility. Not only are they charged with keeping the jail secure, they’re responsible for all civil process, securing the courthouse, fiscal and personnel management, community engagement, government relations at all levels and, of course, the safety and well-being of the people they serve.

It’s a job where experience matters and having an established cohesive staff with a common understanding of a sheriff’s vision is paramount.

Last year, the majority of sheriffs elected in Western North Carolina were brand new to the job and faced not only the everyday challenges and stressors common to that role, but they also had to adjust to the sharp learning curve and decide just what kind of leaders they wanted to be.

In The Smoky Mountain News’ four-county coverage area, there are three sheriffs who have been on the job less than a year. While in many counties in the past, the job of sheriff has gone to a Democrat who beat a Republican in the General Election, this year each sheriff west of Buncombe County is a Republican, and each has a slightly different vision for their office.

SMN spoke with the three new sheriffs in our coverage area. Here’s what they had to say.


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