Capt. Darrel Kuhl retires from Columbia County Sheriff’s Office

May 4, 2019

After almost a quarter-century as one of Columbia County Sheriff’s Office’s highest-ranking officers, Capt. Darrel Kuhl has retired.

The Columbia County Board’s Human Resources Committee learned Friday that, although Kuhl’s retirement will be effective June 3, he’s already gone, and is using his accumulated paid time off.

Sheriff Roger Brandner told the committee that Lt. Jim Stilson has been appointed to replace Kuhl as administrator of the Columbia County Jail on an “emergency” basis. Brandner said he anticipates promoting Stilson to captain and giving him the job permanently.

Stilson’s appointment as captain — and his permanent leadership of both the jail and the dispatch center — could be finalized as soon as May 13, when the County Board’s Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet.

That would make him third in command in the department, behind Brandner and chief deputy Gregory Bisch.

Stilson, 46, has been with the department since 1995, and has been a lieutenant for 15 years. He had been second in command at the jail.

Kuhl, 54, has been with the sheriff’s department for about 32 years, and has been captain of the jail and dispatch center since 1995.

According to Brandner, Kuhl’s announcement of his retirement last month came as no surprise, and it was not related to Brandner’s decision to replace Kuhl as chief deputy.

Bisch was chosen as chief deputy shortly after Brandner took office in January, after Kuhl had pulled triple duty — chief deputy, jail administrator and communications center administrator — since then-Sheriff Dennis Richards tabbed him as chief deputy in 2016, following Mike Babcock’s retirement.

Brandner said Kuhl “has put in a long career,” and his expertise and experience will be missed.

Requirements changed

At Friday’s meeting, Brandner said the job description for the captain overseeing the jail and communications center had not changed since Kuhl took the job 24 years ago.

The committee unanimously approved job description changes that increases the education and administrative experience requirements for the job as jail administrator.

Brandner said he’s looking for a combination of education and command experience.

“Before, it was a high school diploma and a driver’s license,” he said. “Today, they have to come in with education and experience. If they don’t, we’re setting them up for failure.”

The new requirements proposed by Brandner call for some post high-school education, preferably at least a bachelor’s degree.

Stilson, 46, has an associate’s degree, Brandner said, but he also has 15 years of experience as the jail lieutenant, and is a certified police commander after completing a six-week program with the Wisconsin Command College.

County Board First Vice Chairman Dan Drew asked Brandner whether there is a standard set of qualifications for jail administrators in Wisconsin sheriff’s offices.

Brandner said the standards depend on the size of the county’s jail.

With 266 beds, Columbia County has one of the larger jails among Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Brandner said. In some counties with smaller jails — about 15 beds — the chief deputy also is the jail commander.

There also are varying practices among counties regarding whether the jail administrator is a sworn officer. Brandner said Stilson is a sworn officer, as was Kuhl, but the department’s six jail sergeants are non-sworn, as are the jailers.

Brandner said his plan was to promote from within and hire a patrol deputy.

Committee member Adam Field of Portage asked whether Brandner had considered advertising for outside applicants for the jail administrator post.

Field said one of the reasons to consider an outside appointment was because the new hire might have fresh eyes regarding ways to save money and generate revenue with the jail.

According to Brandner, Stilson has such ideas. He’s already looking into ways to save on jail meals and to bring in revenue by housing out-of-county inmates.

He said administrative posts have, in his experience, always been filled from within, and there’s no reason not to do so now.

“I’m very comfortable we have qualified staff, internally,” he said.