Judge remedies firearm license issue

Doyle issues order to allow chief deputy of sheriff’s dept. to sign permits

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County President Judge Elizabeth Doyle issued an order Wednesday authorizing the sheriff’s department chief deputy to sign firearm licenses and sheriff sale deeds, ending a backlog that developed for lack of a sheriff.

Chief Deputy Holly Garner said Wednesday that she had started signing the 400-plus firearm licenses that will be mailed to the applicants.

Her office also will mail about 20 deeds from sheriff sale transactions, which have been on hold for the same reason.

“Under the circumstances and limited to the unique facts of these events … it is appropriate for the court to enter an order authorizing the highest-ranking remaining deputy, Holly Garner, to execute the deeds from sheriff sales and firearm licenses until the appointed sheriff assumes the office,” Doyle said.

Her order was distributed Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after a morning court hearing where Blair County solicitor Nathan Karn advised that based on his reading of the laws, the county had no way to address the growing backlog of licenses and deeds without a court order.

“We believe, under these unusual circumstances, that is what is necessary,” Karn said.

“The circumstances are what they are,” Karn said.

Generally, firearms licenses and sheriff sale deeds are signed by the county sheriff, a position that county officials say remains vacant pending Senate confirmation of a gubernatorial appointment.

In early April at the county’s request, Gov. Tom Wolf nominated Thomas Yablonski of Mechanics­burg to be a placeholder nominee for the sheriff’s position. That action ended a controversy between the county and former Chief Deputy Sam McClure, who acted as the county’s sheriff until mid-March.

That’s when sexual harassment allegations surfaced and led to McClure’s firing on April 9. McClure had taken on the sheriff’s role after former Sheriff Mitch Cooper elected to retire Jan. 9.

In court Wednesday, Karn advised Doyle that he had no objection to an order she signed Friday, authorizing Garner to sign a firearm sales license requested by the estate of Bob Buchanan, owner and operator of Pioneer Gun Sales.

Attorney Norman Callan sought that order on the estate’s behalf after learning that the store’s license to sell firearms was expiring last Saturday. As directed in Buchanan’s will, the store was to remain in business pending final distribution of the estate.

But other than the estate’s license, Karn said the county was not in position to address any others.

“It says sheriff, not the office of sheriff,” Karn said after the court hearing. “So I don’t want to create a liability or a title deficiency with a deed by having (Garner) sign and then having someone ask: ‘Why did this person sign when she isn’t the sheriff?'”

Doyle’s order and three-page opinion acknowledged the chain of events, the applicable law and instructions for a notation, below Garner’s signature, indicating that the court granted authorization for her to sign.

Doyle also mentioned that in some cases, the deadline for the county to respond to the applicants seeking licenses and deed transfers had been exceeded.

“The residents of Blair County seeking firearm licenses and those who have purchased properties at sheriff sales are entitled to timely processing of their documents,” the judge concluded.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.