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Weekly 150: Swat Scarbrough (Part 2)

County Sheriff and Mayor of McKenzie

Posted 7/21/20

In 1958, Sheriff Roy Butler of Huntingdon reached his term limit and Swat Scarbrough decided to make the transition from part-time police work to wearing the sheriff’s badge. For six years, he …

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Weekly 150: Swat Scarbrough (Part 2)

County Sheriff and Mayor of McKenzie


In 1958, Sheriff Roy Butler of Huntingdon reached his term limit and Swat Scarbrough decided to make the transition from part-time police work to wearing the sheriff’s badge. For six years, he held the position as county sheriff. The new sheriff was a man of his convictions, not everyone agreed with how he ran his office but he did what he thought was right for the county.

During his tenure as sheriff, Dick Jerman was the district attorney and John Kizer served as the judge. “Dick Jerman and Judge Kizer were the best friends a sheriff, especially me, ever had,” Swat reflected in an interview. “They just enforced the law like it should be. We had the best district attorney and the best judge that’s ever been around.” Jerman later replaced Kizer on the bench.

Swat held the position of sheriff for three two-year terms. In 1964, he returned to the private sector, but he would not stay there too long.

Having served on the McKenzie City Council and holding the position of vice-mayor, Swat set his eyes on the mayor’s office. In 1968, he successfully ran for Mayor of McKenzie. He ran for mayor again in 1972, holding the position for 10 additional years.

“When I was mayor, we had no money,” Swat said of city finances. “We just got work, then we started paying for everything we did cash on the barrelhead. We did this by a lot of work, I’ll tell you that,” he stated. During the start of his second stint as mayor, the city’s general fund was increased from $13,000 to $83,000 without raising taxes.

The way he managed to increase the fund was pretty similar. “By making everyone pay what they’re supposed to pay by cleaning up the city’s taxing system. There were businesses in town that had been operative for five years and hadn’t even purchased a business license,” he told the Jackson Sun in 1973.

The city saw numerous improvements under Swat’s administration. The fire department used a Model A fire truck, it was replaced by a more modern and larger truck valued at $32,500. McKenzie also purchased a bulldozer for $26,000, a $10,000 garbage truck and a $3,500 police car.

Construction projects moved to the forefront with the building of the water plant, the city sewer system, the City Park and playgrounds. Every street and alleyway was paved and “paid for in cash.”

An interesting point during his time as mayor, Doctors Sidney Ray, John Holancin and Volker Winkler were recruited to serve McKenzie. A 1% sales tax was voted on to pay for the Doctor’s Clinic.

As the City of McKenzie grew, Mayor Scarbrough stuck to his principles of doing what was right for McKenzie.

“As long as I think I’m right, I don’t care what anybody else thinks and everybody in the county knows that.”

In the early 1970s, he vetoed a resolution approved unanimously by the council. The veto was on a rezoning ordinance that he regarded as “spot zoning.” He was so confident in his decision he was named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit with the rest of the board and city planning commissions named as defendants.

Swat attributed his success as mayor to treating his constituency with fairness. He told reports, his fairness was “have consideration of poor people. I’ve been poor all my life. I know what it’s like.” He said the folks on the lower socio-economic levels provided him his greatest support.

McKenzie’s political tide changed with Swat’s defeat and the election of Joe Morris. Not all was lost for the former mayor he continued City Market and took a humanitarian role in the community.

In 1998, Swat and Margaret celebrated 50 years of marriage with a trip to Oahu, Hawaii. Much had changed since his tour of duty on the island. On July 23, 1998, Margaret died. “Had Margret not died we could have seen all the sights we needed to see. Your work all your life, you stay at home, you tend to your business and then it’s all over.”

As the 20th century drew to a close, Swat was recognized for his athletic prowess. In 1999, Bethel College enshrined the sports star in its Athletic Hall of Fame. The school noted the numerous team conference championships and his incredible batting average.

His second child, Emily, who was a strong basketball player for McKenzie High School lost her battle with cancer in November 2000. On August 6, 2003, Swat died and was laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery with his wife and daughter.

Both father and daughter were inducted posthumously into the Carroll County Hall of Fame. Swat was enshrined in 2006 and Emily in 2019.

The story of Swat Scarbrough was a tale of success of an athlete, soldier, husband, father, businessman, sheriff and mayor.

He was a civic-minded leader serving as Local Commander of the VFW, President of the Lions Club and served on the Board of Steward for the United Methodist Church. McKenzie was fortunate to have “King Swat”.


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