Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Grady County Sheriff Art Kell
 
By Jeff Harrison
Managing Editor

Grady County Sheriff Art Kell has taken heat over the amount of turnover within his department, but continues to stand by his record.

“When you have a new sheriff come into office, they need to find the right people and I have a different criteria than others,” Kell said. “I demand perfection in ethics and accountability. And if I have to hire five to find one then I’ll keep doing it.”

Since Kell took office in 2008, the department has seen 27 deputy sheriffs and 21 dispatchers walk out the door. Two other deputies left before he took office, one died of natural causes and another left and returned.

Thirteen of those employees were terminated or forced to resign, while many others left for a higher paying job, Kell said.

“Several of them left for higher paying jobs with other departments and some went into the oil field,” Kell said. “And the other 13 were forced to resign for a reason.”

The sheriff’s department has also seen a sharp drop in the number of reserve deputies. Kell said there were about 50 when he came into office, but the unit is down to 15.

“The reserve program was almost to point of being non-functional,” Kell said. “They’re volunteers, so they’re not always available to come out when you need them. So that’s why we have added part time, who are paid but don’t receive benefits.”

Republican challenger Jim Weir argues the amount of turnover is too high. He raised the issue during a candidate forum earlier this month in Newcastle. Weir said the sheriff’s department has “gone through” 30 deputies during the last 3 1/2 years.

“During the forum, (McClain County) Sheriff Don Hewett said many of the deputies have worked with him for years, so it’s unimaginable that you’d wipe out your whole organization twice,” Weir said. “And now Art Kell is bragging about things that he’s accomplished during the last 3 1/2 years and those are things were done with 30 deputies that are no longer there.”

Weir served as deputy sheriff under Kell for more than two years. During that time, he said Kell was inconsistent and heavy handed with deputies.

Sheriffs in neighboring counties had mixed views on employee turnover.

Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards said he kept the entire department when he took office in 2008, but said it’s not uncommon for a new sheriff to bring in new personnel.

“It’s not unusual for a new sheriff to clean house and bring in the department he wants in the office,” Edwards said. “I worked at the sheriff’s department before and therefore knew most of the deputies and kept them.”

Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney, who was also elected in 2008, said he made some changes to his staff.

“Sheriffs have a right to bring in their own people and that’s not uncommon,” he said. “I don’t know the situation in Grady County, but that number seems high.”

Weir and Kell said they plan to attend the Chisholm Trail Republican Women Round-Up Dinner Thursday night in Chickasha.

Both are also scheduled to speak at the Tuttle Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum on Friday at Snow Hill Baptist Church.  Democrats Jeffrey Franklin and Delmer Barthelme have also confirmed they will speak as well.

The primary election is June 26.







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