Two candidates for Rutherford County’s top law enforcement office leveled attacks at Sheriff Robert Arnold, accusing him of cronyism, wasteful spending and violating employees’ rights.
“I don’t feel any safer now than when the budget was $8 million less four years ago,” former Detective Jim Tramel, an independent candidate, said during a League of Women Votes forum last Monday night.
Tramel, who filed a lawsuit against Arnold and Rutherford County after he was fired in June 2013, said the incumbent sheriff is his main “motivation” in running for office.
Former sheriff’s office Maj. Bill Kennedy, now a Lebanon Police officer, said he would bring accountability, integrity, intelligence and leadership to the office.
“I will be a sheriff for the safety and rights of all, not the elite who can call him up to interrogate a kidnapped and tortured victim of counterfeit Justin Bieber tickets,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, was addressing accusations that Arnold got involved in a situation in which County Commissioner Matt Young, local businessman Bubba Hutson and another man were charged with kidnapping and assaulting a former friend who may have bilked them out of money in a concert ticket sales scheme.
Kennedy also pointed out that Arnold kept a cousin on staff, Deputy James Vanderveer, despite a DUI arrest and video that showed him pepper-spraying a confined inmate at the county jail.
Independent candidate Dale Armour didn’t get as nasty politically with Arnold as the other two contenders but said, “We need to remember that taxpayers are not a money tree” in answering how he would deal with budget constraints.
Arnold, a Republican, did not level any criticism at his challengers, instead choosing to point out that crime across the county dropped 20 percent in the last year. Statistics show it is virtually unchanged from when he took office in 2010.
“We need a leader who is willing to move this office forward,” Arnold said. He pointed out that he saved the county about $100,000 by eliminating coffee, ketchup and mustard from inmates’ meals at the county jail and by allowing inmates to raise vegetables for jail meals in the Garden of Hope.
Tramel said he would save money in the sheriff’s office by eliminating management positions, culling the vehicle take-home program for employees who live out of county and by spending less on uniforms. Under Arnold, he said, the sheriff’s office is wearing four classes of uniforms – A, B, C and D – and is set to spend $150,800 next fiscal year. The sheriff’s office spent an average of $165,000 annually on uniforms the past two years.
“In four years, Sheriff Arnold will have E, F, G and H class uniforms,” Tramel said.
Kennedy said voters made a “huge mistake” four years ago when they elected Arnold to office, and he contended that as the former leader of the School Resource Officer Division he has the experience to bring integrity and transparency to the department.
Armour said he will focus on bringing “diverse” ideas to the office as well as an ability to work with other agencies through his experience at Murfreesboro Police Department, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to the department.
If re-elected, Arnold said he would focus on promoting safety and cutting crime, and he pointed out that identity theft is the largest crime in the nation.
The first-term sheriff also said he would concentrate on “building bridges within the community and with agencies outside” to keep the department the best in the state of Tennessee.