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New Berkeley County sheriff organizes operation behind scenes

January 08, 2001

New Berkeley County sheriff organizes operation behind scenes



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - At 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1, Randy Smith walked out of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services and into the adjacent county Sheriff's Office, signed a few papers, picked up his keys and assumed his duties as sheriff.

It was the first time he'd been allowed in the Sheriff's Office since he ousted Ron Jones for the post in the Nov. 7 election, following a sometimes-bitter campaign.

"That was my transition," Smith said last week. "There was no transition."

Not only had Jones refused to talk to him, Smith couldn't come near the office or the employees, he said.

Jones had little to say about the events, only that he wished Smith well.

But Capt. Kenny Lemaster, who served under Jones and now will be the top administrative officer under Smith, agreed Jones did not want Smith around after the election.

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"The sheriff (Jones) stated to me once that he didn't want Sheriff Smith to come into the office," Lemaster said. "There was a clear feeling he didn't want him in there."

Officers who wanted to work with Smith to ease the transition and move forward said they felt intimidated by Jones.

So they spent dozens of hours between Nov. 8 and Dec. 31 in their off hours holding clandestine meetings with Smith planning for the new administration.

"We knew we couldn't meet with (Smith) in the office," said Lt. K.C. Bohrer, one of four officers with more than 20 years experience the new sheriff has tabbed to help run the department. He will head an investigations and training section, among other duties.

"We weren't encouraged to participate in any kind of transition. But we were worried about the good of the department. So we met off time and off hours."

They met in an office donated by a local business, Smith said.

Jones "just reminded us all the time that he was the sheriff until the 31st of December," said Lt. Cheryl Keller Henry, who will head the courts division.

The new officers were interviewed in the office wearing sweat shirts and jeans, trying to clean up the office right down to the linoleum. Prisoners were busy scrubbing the floors.

Officers were finding equipment they didn't even know they had, Bohrer said.

"We should be doing other things than this," said Lt. Dennis Streets, who be in charge of patrol and the evidence room.

Jones said he had a transition when he took over after his 1996 election. He would not say why he did not provide one to Smith.

"I worked up to the last day, that was all," he said.

"I'm sure I took it hard, but I don't think it was the case I was a sore loser. The election is over. I wish him well."

Smith and his new leadership team said they are anxious to move ahead, not look back. They don't think the department is deeply divided, despite the election's intensity.

Smith sent out surveys to deputies during the campaign to solicit their ideas, and held a four-hour internal meeting of all staff members last week to discuss what is expected and what will happen next.

"We asked them to grade it on a scale of 0-10 and the average was 9.5. Over half graded the meeting at 10," Smith said. "I think everybody has just kind of come around."

Smith promised to keep making good on his campaign pledge to listen to the people in the department who are doing the day-to-day work. That will be a key focus as he tries to bring the department forward.

"I'm not a micro-manager," he said. "I want to let them do their job."

The approach has been well-received.

"We never had a group meeting like the one this week," Streets said.

"He let us know what he wants and what he expects," Henry said. "He has a lot of new ideas."

"We've always been reactive, not pro-active," said Bohrer. "There's lots of procedures tried by other departments. We can use those. I'm excited about what's going to happen.

Lemaster hopes the department will move more into community policing, "involved more with community efforts."

Smith said there's a lot of work ahead for everyone.

"I enjoy a challenge," he said. "And by God, we've got one."

There are some unresolved issues surrounding the Sheriff's Office that grew out of the election and activities of the past several months.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> West Virginia State Police are investigating an anonymous flier addressing Smith's past police role as an undercover officer. Smith filed a complaint about the flier with the Sheriff's Office.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> On his first day in office, Smith requested an audit of all records of the Sheriff's Office "as a good business practice."

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Cpl. Willie Johnson was dismissed by Jones for wearing a baseball cap promoting Smith. The Civil Service upheld the firing, but said Jones might want to let him stay on for 90 days until any court appeal was heard. Jones fired him anyway.

Johnson has appealed to court although his attorney, Barry Beck, said he would like to find a solution short of a court case - a goal shared by Smith.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> County commissioners withheld payment of four purchase orders for about $10,000 submitted by Jones minutes before the end of his last weekday in office and have asked Smith to review them. Jones said they were justified.

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