Just about everybody could use a little extra money. But when it comes to using the government’s property, time and sponsorship to run a private company, as one local official said, “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, however, makes no bones about allowing Detective Maj. Bill Sharp to run his company, Sharp Training and Consulting, out of the department, using computer, email and time to round up instructors and customers.
Sheriff Robert Arnold rationalizes it by saying Sharp gives the sheriff’s office six free slots in his training seminars sponsored by the sheriff’s office. But even though the local office sponsors the events and has paid Sharp’s company for training, according to county documents, it won’t disclose how much Sharp has made running seminars, saying only, “This is Maj. Sharp’s private business.”
The sheriff’s office also says Sharp handles the side business on his lunch break. But it fails to point out he’s an “exempt” employee who receives his $66,317 salary whether he works one hour a day or 50 hours a week.
Make no mistake, Sharp is making money on the arrangement. Records obtained from the Rutherford County Department of Finance show the sheriff’s office paid SharpTAC $1,625 in May 2014, $325 each for five officers to attend training at the Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency building on West College. EMA Director T.K. Kast said he allows county-government sponsored training to be held there and doesn’t charge for it.
Another document shows Sharp used sheriff’s office email to invite a Mt. Juliet deputy police chief to a seminar scheduled for late April and early May called, oddly enough, “Taming the Media.” Channel 5 news reporter Nick Beres was to be the main instructor, and people were to pay $350 each to attend the training set for the EMA building.
Oddly enough, no reporters were invited, and Sharp isn’t allowed to talk to the media, at least not this reporter.
A sheriff’s office spokeswoman said the event was postponed for lack of interest.
Rutherford County commissioners, however, were interested to find out about this working arrangement between SharpTAC and the sheriff’s office. None of those interviewed recently had a clue about it. Commissioner Robert Peay said he knew the sheriff’s office was offering more in-house training to save money, but he didn’t know it was being done through Sharp’s private company. Commissioner Doug Shafer, who said the deal should have been publicized more, called it “not quite kosher.”
Meanwhile, county officials are asking the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to look into the matter and have forwarded financial and other information to the state.
There’s no argument about Sharp’s abilities as a detective. The 23-year sheriff’s office veteran has been a major asset for the county, especially in bringing justice as a cold case investigator.
He’s probably an excellent training instructor. Sharp and Sheriff Robert Arnold see no conflict in his running a personal business out of the department, since the seminars are sponsored by the sheriff’s office.
If they are saving taxpayers’ money, that’s great.
Yet aside from using sheriff’s office computer equipment, time and county facilities to make money, Sharp also received more than two decades of training by working as a sheriff’s officer and detective. The county paid for him to gain that experience, and now the sheriff’s office is allowing him to use his knowledge to run a side business on taxpayers’ funds.
A few years ago, Rutherford County Schools stopped personnel from using school system facilities to give athletic lessons for sports such as baseball, softball and basketball.
It also should be noted the state suspended two Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers in December 2005 for selling promotional items, including golf towels, patches and money clips to the Department of Safety, a felony offense.
The amount of money Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office paid Sharp for training was insignificant. However, if this arrangement is allowed, then all county employees should be given approval to set up side jobs using county equipment and time and get paid extra. It’s only fair.
For this session of the General Assembly, the pair came up with a plan to pass a state law allowing Arnold, who runs the county jail, to take over operations of the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center. Womick sponsored a bill at Arnold’s request, and off they went, trying to run a sweep around the Rutherford County Commission and Mayor Ernest Burgess, which are in charge of the workhouse, a minimum security facility for people serving time for misdemeanors.
Granted, the workhouse has been at the middle of a political tug-of-war for years. And when you get down to it, probably fewer than 100 people in the county care who runs it.
But based on the reactions of county commissioners, there’s a way to go about things. And trying to circumvent the authority of the commission and mayor to take over workhouse operations isn’t the best way to do it.
The County Commission passed a resolution opposing passage of such a state law, and Womick never took the bill before a legislative committee.
Sen. Bill Ketron wasn’t too happy about the matter either. He had agreed to sponsor the measure, but he disagreed with the method and said he did it just so he could control it. No doubt, he was irritated by the whole thing when Womick came to him 15 minutes before bill-filing deadline and asked him to sponsor it in the Senate. Ketron pointed out Womick agreed to carry the bill because he helped Arnold get elected five years ago and felt obligated to work with him on the matter.
Womick and Arnold contended they could save $400,000 to $500,000 by allowing the sheriff’s office to take over the work center. If that’s the case, let county commissioners debate the issue.
Most bean counters say, however, they would have had to cut workhouse personnel to find such savings, and Superintendent Bernard Salandy probably would have been the first one to go.
Anyway, after Ketron said he had no intention of taking the bill to a committee, Womick, when approached at the Legislative Plaza for comment, said he was late to a committee meeting and didn’t have time to talk. Two weeks later, he said he was on his way to another interview and couldn’t take a moment to speak.
Sheriff Arnold did the same. When approached for comment after the County Commission’s vote on the issue, Arnold said he had to go pick up his son and didn’t have time to comment. Yet, the previous night they went to another local publication to share their message.
That’s too bad, because people would like them to explain their actions to someone who might be able to ask, “Why are you doing it?” If their goal is to save money, that’s fine. But is passing a state law to skip over the Rutherford County Commission the right way to run local government?
A Picture of Courage
Imagine growing up the object of your mother’s desire and being forced into sexual acts that could haunt you for the rest of your life. Imagine some 15 years later taking the stand in Circuit Court and telling the world your mother sexually abused you during your formative years.
Such courage is rare, but that’s exactly what Alan Von Webb, 25, did recently in Murfreesboro, leading to the conviction of his mother, Angela Montgomery, 53, of Portland, Ore., on six counts of child rape.
Taking things a step further, Alan and his father, Paul Von Webb, agreed to an interview, hoping their story would help other children avoid such torture at the hands of parents.
Alan said he was 7 or 8 before he began to figure out the sort of behavior his mother exhibited wasn’t normal. Things got even worse after his parents divorced when he was 9. His mother lived on South Kings Highway in Murfreesboro in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and when he and his two brothers and sister went there for visitations she turned to him and his siblings for gratification, Alan said. The court case dealt primarily with that time frame.
Besides enduring sexual abuse, Alan said, the children went through years of counseling, custody battles and, most recently, the investigation and trial. Alan’s younger sister, Anna, 18, filed charges first against their mother in 2012, and Alan, who was living out West at the time, moved back here to join in the battle. Their case was severed so the state could concentrate on charges involving one victim.
Alan had hoped his mother would leave the family alone, and he didn’t plan on getting involved in the matter again until, he said, she molested his younger brother, who has Down’s syndrome, after getting unsupervised visitation rights.
“I knew at that point, with him not being protected under the laws of custody anymore, because he was an adult, if she had any kind of visitation with him or got any kind of guardianship, then it would never end for him,” Alan said.
“And that’s why I said (on the witness stand) I’m here to protect those who can’t protect themselves . . . I learned don’t ask for a lighter burden, ask for broader shoulders,” he said. “Go ahead and just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and say this is gonna suck, but I’ve got to get through it, because getting through it you’re going to come to something that’s worth it.”
That is true courage. Let’s hope others can follow.