When two former sheriff’s office personnel started campaigns for the sheriff’s post in 2013, the chief administrator there began gobbling up Internet domain names in an apparent attempt to keep them from starting election websites, according to records obtained by The Post.
Records show sheriff’s office Chief Administrator Joe Russell purchased multiple website domain names in August for former Maj. Bill Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for sheriff, and retired Capt. Mike Fitzhugh, who is no longer in the race.
Russell, who is the husband of Rutherford County Administrator of Elections Nicole Lester, used his personal email address to obtain the domain names, but it is unclear if he did the work on office time for Sheriff Robert Arnold.
Questions about the matter sent to a sheriff’s office public information officer recently were forwarded to Russell. One asked if he was on sheriff’s office time and computer equipment when he obtained the domain names, and the other asked if he felt it was an ethical action.
Russell did not respond to the email and when asked about the domain names at the Rutherford County Courthouse, he declined to answer the question directly.
Kennedy said he was “shocked and appalled” by Russell’s actions, not only because he is the chief administrator at the sheriff’s office but because he was Arnold’s campaign chairman and is married to Rutherford County’s top election official.
“I do think there is an impression of impropriety there,” Kennedy said.
The Democratic nominee said he went Monday to the Rutherford County Election Office to see what options he could pursue. He said he was directed to call the state Division of Elections.
“What’s the difference between stealing domain names and stealing signs?” Kennedy said, adding he believes Russell infringed on his rights by taking his name for numerous domains. He has since come up with a website.
Fitzhugh, who stayed in the race for the Republican primary only a couple of months last year, said he was hardly shocked.
“I don’t think it was appropriate,” said Fitzhugh, adding it probably borders on being illegal. “My take on it was the type of people they are, it was typical. It didn’t surprise me.”
Fitzhugh said he felt he could run the sheriff’s office. He worked for BellSouth for 20 years and then for the sheriff’s office for 19 years before retiring in March 2013.
“It was just not for me, not the political part,” Fitzhugh said.