Sheriff: ‘words are weapons’

Published 9:11 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sheriff Wiley Griffin directed both praise and sharp criticism toward Decatur County commissioners at their Tuesday morning meeting, in an address he said was in response to “false allegations” concerning he and his employees at the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Griffin, who was formerly a county commissioner before becoming Sheriff in 1999, read from a prepared statement before a mostly full meeting room at the County Administration Building, with a number of his employees in attendance.

Griffin praised Board of Commissioners Chairman Palmer Rich and the other five commissioners for holding a budget workshop on July 10 that resulted in county leaders informally agreeing to research changes in policy that could improve the county’s annual budget situation.

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“In my opinion, it was the most productive meetings I’ve ever attended with county officials,” Griffin said.

However, the Sheriff took issue with comments made by commissioners at a June 29 budget workshop he said he had not been notified of.

Of particular concern to the Sheriff was a comment by Smith that The Post-Searchlight had paraphrased as “[charging] Griffin with allowing overtime at his department to grow out of control to the point that three of his deputies grossed more pay than the Sheriff did last year.”

The Post-Searchlight incorrectly attributed it to Perry but then corrected it in the July 11 issue.

The statement in question

Following comments Perry had made about the Sheriff’s budget, Smith—who is retired from a career in law enforcement and prison administration—responded.

“One of the first things is if an outsider looked in at the jail, take for instance the jail, where they pay in just a tremendous amount of overtime,” he said.

Smith continued by stating that if he would recommend the Sheriff place every deputy above the rank of lieutenant on salary, but said this led to salaried employees complaining of hourly workers making more money through overtime.

“Do investigators wanna get put on it?” Smith asked. “No, they don’t wanna get put on set salary…that’s the only way you could cut some overtime. It’s just like I understand that [Major Wendell] Cofer and the Chief Deputy [Jim Morris] were not on set salary until this past year. They were gonna be making more that the Sheriff was making between their overtime and stuff. But they put them on set salary and so this year the W2’s gonna show what the salary was.”

According to Sheriff Griffin, Morris, Cofer and the jail’s administrator, Major Linn Harrell, were put on salaried pay in July 2007. A fourth employee, Capt. Eddie Williams, has since been converted to salaried pay, the Sheriff said. Records obtained by Sheriff Griffin through an open records request show his 2008 gross pay was $88,328.56. The W2 income forms show Morris made $66,030.74 and Cofer made $62,262 in 2008.

Smith’s response

At the end of his remarks, Sheriff Griffin referred again to the largely congenial meeting budget workshop on July 10.

“That’s how local government should run, not through false allegations in front of the media,” Griffin said. “Mr. Chairman, words are weapons. I choose mine carefully. In the future, your Finance Committee should also.”

Given the opportunity by Rich, Smith responded.

“Unfortunately, like the Sheriff, he got a tape so he knows exactly what was said by the members of the Finance Committee and it was totally reported wrong by the media…Nobody minds being quoted accurately, we do mind being quoted inaccurately, and because of inaccurate quotes, it’s cost the citizens of this county several thousand dollars from the Sheriff’s Office and the finance and Mr. Patton’s office in getting up stuff and being prepared for this meeting. And it really saddens me, and I want to apologize to the Sheriff and Dr. Perry for the media misquoting them. And they’ve misquoted me because I have exactly what I said and I stand on what I said. And I’m new, Sheriff, and I learned…don’t take what people tell you for the truth; go down and get the facts before you say anything and I erred in that and I apologize for it.”

“I think what was said, was said, it was just attributed to the wrong person,” Commissioner Mosely said.

Other issues

Sheriff Griffin also had two other issues he took up with commissioners.

He reiterated that he had never received a memorandum sent by Perry and Smith to county department leaders on June 24 to ask for their suggestions on cutting spending. The memo asked county department heads to review their proposed budget and respond by June 29 with suggestions for cutting them further to make up a budget shortfall.

Griffin said that he had never been contacted about the June 29 budget meeting and said commissioners were always welcome to call him, that he was available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Sheriff said he had also opened an investigation into “numerous false allegations” made by county officials against the Sheriff’s Office and its employees that he said had been occurring since 2006. Griffin said that once his research was complete, he planned to present its results to County Attorney to Brown Moseley.