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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

Newly-elected Sheriff Ray Cross is starting off his tenure with a bang – still unpacking and he already has a headline-making drug bust under his belt (see accompanying article) – but he took a few minutes from box-moving and perp-busting last week to sit down with the Sentinel.

The overriding message was:  So far, so good.  Cross said his years as a Dade County deputy and especially as second-in-command in the Lookout Mountain, Ga., PD were serving him well in this new gig.  “I’ve done most of these things before,” he said. “There’s a few curves in the road but other than that it’s pretty much the same.”

The Sentinel asked the new sheriff about problems lingering from the old administration.  Cross downplayed those. 

“We had an auditor come in and audit all the accounts in the department.  We’re looking at that now to see that everything’s here that’s supposed to be here, all the equipment and everything else,” said Cross.  “I don’t know if there’s anything as far as money or anything else right now.  If there is, I guarantee we will pursue it.”

Cross had brought in Dade’s county attorney, Robin Rogers, to address any remaining questions about the jail bail issue that had haunted the last few months of the previous administration.  Liens for unpaid bond forfeitures – due and payable when arrestees guaranteed by a bondsman fail to show up at trial – had gathered dust in the county courthouse since his predecessor took office in 2005, and the neglected collections emerged as a campaign issue during the 2012 election.  Back forfeitures were accounted for and collected through a lengthy process that concluded just before the end of the year.  

Cross said under his tenure bonding companies would be held more accountable, but he admitted that instituting procedures to ensure this would happen had not been at the top of his to-do list when he moved into the office the week before.  “I haven’t got that far yet,” he said.

He had also not gotten as far as deciding which bondsmen would serve Dade going forward.  “We have one still with us, which is Gary’s Bail Bonding Company, and I’m talking to a couple more right now,” said Cross.  “Of course, they’re going to have to fill out applications and go through the process before I bring them on board.”

He did not name which companies he was considering, but he dispelled the notion that any of his campaign supporters had applied.  “Those are rumors,” he said.  “These are established bonding companies that have been in business for years.”

Personnel-wise, Cross said he had not “fired” anyone, but that all staffers had been required to reapply for their jobs and that he had not “rehired” two, one law enforcement officer and one civil processor.

Cross hired Howard Doyle, much discussed during the 2012 political debates as the candidate’s prospective grant writer, as his administrative assistant.  He also brought on board Carolyn Lane Bradford, who herself made an unsuccessful bid last year for court clerk, to manage the office.

Cross promoted one officer, Nash Phillips, to serve as his chief deputy.  Danny Ellis, who formally filled that post, will now head up the department’s road patrol.  One new deputy has been hired and other staffers have been reshuffled interdepartmentally. 

In that regard, Cross wanted to crow a little about having moved one law enforcement employee to serve as school resource officer at Dade Middle School.  “It’s just an extra body that I guess they weren’t really utilizing in the last administration,” said the sheriff.  “During my administration, the way I’ve restructured the office here, we just found that we can put this officer in the middle school without any cost to anybody.”

A subject that Cross was eager to talk about was innovations he planned for the department.  “One of the things that I’m fixing to start that I think the public will love is the Citizens Academy,” he said.  “It’s a 10-week academy that’s going to happen twice a week, and they can come and experience what officers do in their day-today job here at the office, as far as riding with them, training and everything.  They’ll show them how to fingerprint in the jail, they’ll take them through the court system, just different aspects of what we do.”

To participate in Citizens Academy, said Cross, citizens must be at least 18 years old and have no felony convictions.  A background check will be conducted as if the applicant was seeking a law enforcement job, and at the end of the course successful participants will be given a diploma.

The academy has been tried in Walker and Pickens counties, said Cross, and has proven to be enormously popular with the public.  “The sheriff down in Pickens County, I talked to him and he said people love this program so much they rearrange their vacations so they don’t miss any classes,” said Cross.

Another program Cross is looking at is Project Care, in which his department, aided by volunteers, will periodically monitor shut-ins and the elderly, lending them whatever assistance is possible.  Predecessor Patrick Cannon had also discussed instituting such a program at public meetings during his own tenure.

Cross could not give a targeted date for either initiative.  “It’s in the process,” he said.  “Between everything else I’m trying to do, getting the files set up and everything, it’s just been chaotic.”

Asked for what message, if any, he wished to impart to the public at large, Cross said he just wanted Dade to know he was going to be the best sheriff he could be.  “I’m just thrilled to be here,” he said.


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