Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin created controversy from the moment she took office a year ago.
She immediately demoted and later fired the commander of the department’s drug task force. Subsequent issues arose, one involving Franklin hiring a campaign supporter and placing him in a lead position that other deputies were not offered.
But Franklin, who was sworn in as the county’s first female sheriff Jan. 18, 2011, gives herself a “good” rating for her initial 12 months and has no regrets about decisions she has made.Franklin said she entered office with a goal of “overall change,” but had specific plans to put her personal stamp on the department.
“I wanted to give the community a feeling of security and confidence,” Franklin told The Decatur Daily last week, “so there were a few things I wanted to make sure we did along the way.”
Among those things along the way: stationing resource officers in Brewer and Danville high schools and assigning two DARE officers, instead of one, in county elementary schools.
Franklin also said she has developed a rapport with volunteer fire departments.
“That was a relationship I really wanted to build,” she said. “They’ve helped us with meth lab decontamination, and they have given access to our deputies for satellite offices.“We’ve opened offices at Lacey’s Spring and Danville volunteer fire departments. We re-opened our office on Cutoff Road in Somerville.”
Lacey’s Spring Fire Chief Johnny Abbett said he offered the facility to Franklin for a substation and it’s working well.
“They’ve got volunteers who come in and run it on Monday and Tuesday,” Abbett said. “(Former sheriffs) used to have one out on the highway that they were having to pay rent for.
“Ms. Franklin came in and said she wanted to open it back up, and we told her we had a spare office here she could use, and that would save her money on rent.
“I’m glad we did it.”The late Sheriff Steve Crabbe opened substations during his tenure in the 1990s, but they eventually were closed for budget reasons, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said.
Clark said Sheriff John McBride closed some, and Sheriff Greg Bartlett closed more.
“That’s been kind of a moving target with every administration,” Clark said. “I think every administration had an opinion on how they should be run.”
Expense isn’t the only factor sheriffs have had to weigh, but community populations and shifts.
“If you take into account their coverage area, their biggest areas are Danville, Eva and Lacey’s Spring,” Clark said.Franklin said she also added to the chaplain program, which allows chaplains to ride with deputies when they deal with tragic situations. Also, she said she has sent staff for continuing education on meth certification and jail management.
A day after she took office Jan. 18, 2011, Franklin demoted Doug Key, commander of the Drug Task Force, from lieutenant to sergeant, and she fired him Feb. 11, citing insubordination.
“Restructuring the task force is the best thing I’ve done,” she said. “We’ve been able to mend relationships with other agencies, which gives us added resources and more committed involvement to do what it takes to make a dent in our drug problem.”
Franklin said the agencies may assist in drug enforcement operations.
Under Key’s leadership, Morgan County was ranked No. 1 in the state in busting meth labs, according to testimony given by Bartlett at Key’s personnel hearing in April.After the county Personnel Review Board upheld Franklin’s firing of Key, he appealed to the County Commission, which ruled it did not have jurisdiction to act on the board ruling, pursuant to the sheriff’s personnel manual. The manual gives the sheriff final say on the board’s ruling.
Key filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Another issue of controversy came when Franklin hired Ron Livingston, 72, one of her campaign workers, as a captain.
Initially, Livingston failed agility tests to become a certified officer, but Franklin said he passed them recently.
She said Livingston is doing what she needs him to do.“He has worked to make sure we are involved in the community,” she said. “He’s over school resource officers, the posse and chaplains.”
Asked what her weakness might be, Franklin said, “Time management.
“There is so much to do so quickly, and it can be stressful. And, learning the ropes on how it will all work together and budget issues have been huge.”
Franklin said she is aware that some employees have not been comfortable that their jobs are safe.
“Fear has been a problem, trying to get everybody to understand that we’re unified,” she said.“I know that I am an experiment,” she said. “The voters have allowed a woman to come in as sheriff, and I am going to do what we need to do to turn the department around.”
Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin will finish her first year in office on Jan. 18. The Daily asked her to do a self-evaluation.