Embattled Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold has a new fight on his hands that he said puts the safety of the public in jeopardy.
County commissioners have asked Arnold to resign following his indictment on corruption charges. Now they are refusing to increase his budget.
Arnold said those who will pay the biggest price are the people of Rutherford County.
The sheriff said his office is grossly understaffed. He requested more than $1.5 million to hire new deputies.
When Arnold learned he wasn’t getting the money, he accused the county commission of holding his employees hostage for political purposes.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” said Rutherford County Commissioner Rhonda Allen. “As our top law enforcement official, we expect more of him.”
In a 4-3 vote, the Rutherford County Commission’s budget committee decided to withhold Arnold’s budget increase request after previously voting to give him the money.
This comes after the sheriff was indicted on 14 federal counts relating to corruption and conspiracy.
“Because we’ve already demonstrated that we have a lack of confidence in the sheriff, we had to examine, do we fill those roles? Do we trust him with that additional money? The bottom line is, we don’t,” Allen said.
Arnold wants to hire 19 jail staff and patrol deputies, and pay for equipment, training and vehicles.
The sheriff would not go on camera, but issued a statement saying in part:
The actions of the four commissioners hold the citizen and the county employees hostage for political purposes, endangering the lives of both the employees who respond to dangerous calls and the citizens who may be the victims of violent crime.
“I just have to hold the mirror back up and say, ‘You’re holding the whole department hostage by not resigning your position,’” Allen said.
Allen said the money is still in the budget, but is not being provided to the sheriff’s office for the time being.
“The group of seven commissioners last night have every intention of spending this money on those positions, but we don’t intend on allocating that back to the sheriff’s department until we have new leadership in that role,” Allen said.
Allen said she believes it’s unlikely Arnold will step down in the coming months.
Scroll down to read Sheriff Arnold’s full statement:
Four County Commissioners who voted Tuesday to withhold funds from hiring seven new patrol deputies and 12 detention deputies showed deliberate indifference to the safety and security of Rutherford County citizens, Sheriff’s Office deputies and inmates.
My job as Sheriff is to provide for the safety and security of our citizens and our dedicated employees, who place their lives on the line daily.
The actions of the four commissioners hold the citizens and the county employees’ hostage for political purposes, endangering the lives of both the employees who respond to dangerous calls and the citizens who may be the victims of violent crime.
Quit playing politics. Set aside the political agendas and be responsible.
Our patrol division is grossly understaffed right now. Many times, citizens have to wait for deputies to respond to a critical call because they are tied up on other calls.
Our deputies respond to dangerous calls, often without backup, increasing the danger to our deputies.
If we hire new deputies July 1, they must undergo a 16-week training program with a Field Training Officer, plus attend the state training academy for 12 weeks before they can work on their own.
Delaying the hiring of new deputies could affect every citizen who needs a deputy to respond to an emergency call.
And one of the most critical responsibilities of a county commissioner is to protect the safety and security of the inmates at the Adult Detention Center.
Training a new detention deputy takes two weeks in the classroom and a minimum six weeks training with another deputy. Delaying the hiring of new detention deputies raises the liability of an understaffed jail.
Mayor Ernest Burgess recognized the need for new employees. He recommended hiring the new patrol deputies to enhance the security of county residents, who now have one deputy for every 10,851 residents.
The mayor also recommended hiring 12 new detention deputies who will oversee one-half of the inmates now watched only by cameras.
His recommendation was approved by the Public Safety Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee in a 5-1 vote May 17.
Four commissioners recommended withdrawing funds for those 19 positions Tuesday.
I ask the County Commission to please keep politics out of the budget process. Instead, I ask commissioners to keep the safety and security of Rutherford County citizens, employees and inmates the top priority when they vote on the budget Monday.