Sheriff demands

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sheriff demands more employees, some pay raises

By Billy Davis

Panola County Sheriff Otis Griffin on Monday accused unnamed county leaders of criticizing and second-guessing his handling of the sheriff’s department.

Griffin was on the agenda at the Board of Supervisors meeting in Sardis to request new hirings and employee pay raises throughout the departments.

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The topic of hirings and pay raises eventually surfaced but not before the sheriff, pacing back and forth in front of the county board, lashed out at criticism of recent changes within the department.

“It’s difficult when county leaders are not behind you,” Griffin said early on in a lecture-like speech that ran for about 25 minutes.

“For some reason I feel like I don’t have the backing — the support of the supervisors,” he said minutes later.

Griffin asked supervisors if there are law enforcement problems in their districts before further explaining that some — he never said who — have criticized swapped positions within the sheriff’s department, which he referred to as “cross-training.”

 “People are crying to the president” about the cross-training, Griffin said, referring to Board President Gary Thompson.

“I don’t have a clue what he was talking about. That surprised me,” Thompson said after the board meeting. “Nobody has come crying to me about anything.”

Griffin, reached after the meeting, disagreed when a reporter noted that he had accused county officials of criticizing the department and his leadership.  

“I wanted to make sure they are behind me,” he told The Panolian. “I didn’t know I was pointing out anybody.”

The sheriff allowed that he had “talked a lot” and his intentions may have been misunderstood.

Griffin was also asked if it was accurate to describe his mood as “angry” at the board meeting.

“You don’t know me,” he replied. “What you saw this morning was a concerned man.”

Coveralls cause controversy  

Griffin made only one reference to a county official when he said County Administrator Kelley Magee had refused to cooperate with the sheriff’s department to purchase one dozen coveralls for inmate trusties who ride the county garbage trucks.

Magee “told us to go somewhere else and buy a cheaper brand,” the sheriff recalled.

“The inmates have saved the county mega-mega-dollars and we treat them like second-class citizens,” Griffin said. “They are not less. I think, in a sense, they’re more.”

Magee oversees the county garbage service, known as Solid Waste, which uses inmate labor on its haul routes. She was out of town with family during the Monday county meeting.

Magee, reached out of town Monday, said she asked the sheriff’s department to compare prices at different businesses before purchasing the clothing.

“We never said no. We just said check prices,” Magee told The Panolian. “They were purchased from Solid Waste funds, not by the sheriff, and we asked that they be kept (at Solid Waste office) so they don’t disappear.”  

The coveralls were purchased from the Panola County Co-op and are stored at the sheriff’s department, she said.  

The sheriff also referenced the most recent sheriff’s election, telling the county board that he heard concerns on the campaign trail that Panola County could become like its Delta neighbor, Clarksdale.

People who believe that should “go in the bathroom and look in the mirror,” because they are “part of the problem,” Griffin told the county board.

The sheriff eventually made specific budget requests, like hiring more Drug Task Force agents, and each request was peppered with rhetoric aimed at unnamed critics.

If supervisors fail to add more agents, Griffin said, then the drug problem will worsen. “Then you can say it’s all my fault and push me to the forefront,” he told the board.

“I can try to contain it and control it. But I can’t stop it,” the sheriff said of illegal narcotics.

Pay raises requested

Griffin described the dangerous environment at the jail — some inmates have attacked jailers recently, he said — when he mentioned a pay increase for Jail Administrator Bobby Meek.

Meek is paid $42,000 annually to oversee the county jail. Griffin is requesting an annual raise to $46,200, or $350 monthly.

Other pay raise requests include a $250 monthly raise for Gail Cauthen, who will move from administrative assistant to coordinator of federal inmates. She currently earns $25,800 annually.

Griffin also told supervisors he is requesting a pay raise for four sheriff’s deputies who were recently named lieutenants within the department.

He did not cite a specific pay amount for the lieutenants but told The Panolian he will request “a couple hundred dollars” per deputy.

More hirings requested

In addition to hiring more task force agents, Griffin told supervisors he plans to hire four jailers and two guards to oversee the planned transfer of federal inmates to the Panola County jail.

Federal reimbursement for the federal inmates, at $40.07 per inmate per day, will pay for the new guards and jailers, Griffin said. The reimbursement for guards is $18.58 per hour per guard, he said.

“You’ve got to spend money to make money,” the sheriff said of those new hirings.

The federal inmates could come as early as this week, Griffin reported at the board meeting.

The sheriff also requested moving a part-time dispatcher to full time, and hire a second full-time dispatcher at a later date, to fill open positions after other employees have moved around.

Griffin has also hired Cleve Gale at $10 an hour for justice court security.

Gale formerly served as Como police chief.

Sheriff’s department employees who changed job titles without a change in pay were Jason Chrestman, Donna White, Mark Whitten, Bill McGee, Tyler Mills, and Mildred Cook.

Bobby Meek, Chief Deputy Andy Estridge, and Lt. Earl Burdette attended the county meeting.

After Griffin finished his speech, Thompson suggested a “work session” with Griffin and the Board of Supervisors to examine the county budget.

“One thing Panola County does not have is an unlimited tax base to fund everything that needs funding,” Thompson told Griffin, the only response from the county board.

The Board of Supervisors then recessed until 4 p.m. Wednesday for the work session.