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Sheriff Appointment Delay

Griffin

Supervisors push back against push for sheriff

By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors, meeting Monday in Sardis, witnessed an open push to appoint the sheriff’s department’s chief deputy to the vacant sheriff’s office.

But the overflowing crowd of vocal supporters, gathered to back Otis Griffin, saw the county board push back, too.

“We have not met and discussed this as a board,” board president Gary Thompson said at least twice to a board room crammed with onlookers.

“We have not talked to Mary Nell (the late sheriff’s widow) about her wishes or to Otis about his plans,” added Supervisor Kelly Morris, who called for a “healing time” after the death last week of Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright.

The crowded room thinned out after supervisors voted unanimously to postpone any action on the matter.

“This is ridiculous,” said one supporter, when it became clear an appointment would not occur.

Monday’s political push comes after the death of Bright on September 25, which created a vacancy in the county wide office. His funeral was held last Wednesday at the Batesville Civic Center.

Griffin, as chief deputy, is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s department.

Appointing the widow of a public official is a long-standing tradition. That would mean Mary Nell Bright would be appointed to the office until a special election is held in November 2010.

But Mrs. Bright, after being contacted over the weekend, is undecided about accepting the appointment, supervisors have told The Panolian.

Meanwhile, Griffin’s supporters told the county board they are backing his rise to sheriff.

 “I’d like you to know we’re here to support Otis,” said one man who did not identify himself.

Bill McGee, a county narcotics task force agent, told supervisors a poll of sheriff’s department employees would show overwhelming support for the chief deputy to be named sheriff.

Griffin has been employed since 1996 and is well qualified to lead the department, he said. 

“Most of us think he’s the best man for the job,” McGee said.

A second sheriff’s employee eventually told supervisors that Griffin’s supporters “are here in support of Mary Nell (Bright) as well.”

Griffin later told The Panolian he had advised supporters that the Board of Supervisors must first offer the position to Mary Nell Bright.

Asked why supporters had come Monday to support him anyway, Griffin suggested they wanted to ensure he was treated fairly by the county board.

The chief deputy also said he had discussed the appointment with only two supervisors, James Birge and Vernice Avant, prior to the Monday meeting.

Griffin also told a reporter he opposed the appointment of an outside person because that individual would not understand the operations of the sheriff’s department.

He followed that statement by saying Mrs. Bright could be “coached” if she was appointed to the office.

Griffin’s supporters also grumbled at Thompson’s announcement that the appointment would fall under executive session, allowing supervisors to discuss the appointment in private.

“You don’t care what we think,” said Robert Govan, who was eventually asked by a sheriff’s employee to compose his criticism.

The topic of sheriff’s appointment resurfaced at the end of the Monday meeting, when Thompson announced that supervisors intended to enter executive session to discuss the matter.

A reporter objected, arguing the matter did not qualify under state law, and the board adjourned instead.