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Commissioners Weigh Options For Sheriff Arnold

Posted at 10:10 PM, Jun 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-06 23:20:21-04

With Sheriff Robert Arnold facing a possible 95 years behind bars, Rutherford County Commissioners put their heads together to come up with a plan.

"Our constituents to say they're frustrated is too light of a word. I think they're angry," said Commissioner Brad Turner.

Other local leaders say they've received dozens of calls and emails.

"Everyone who contacts me wants to know why the County Commission has not fired the Sheriff yet," said Commissioner Robert Stevens.

But commissioners can't fire the Sheriff. He's elected and answers only to the people.

"They are their own boss and basically have free reign. That's wrong," said Commissioner Mike Kausch, proposing a change to the county charter in the future.

Sheriff Robert Arnold is indicted on 13 federal counts related to alleged kick backs from an e-cigarette scheme at the jail.

"Everyone who's talked to me about this case says they want the Sheriff out, they want him out now," Commissioner Stevens said.

County leaders are clamoring to do something.

"We're gonna be awful wimpy if we don't take some sort of action," said Commissioner Paul Johnson.

They have limited options. Sheriff Arnold is innocent until proven guilty. If he's convicted of a felony he loses his position, but the legal process is just beginning.

They could collectively call for Arnold's resignation. A resolution Monday passed the steering committee that would do that if passed by the full Commission.

But there's no guarantee Arnold will comply. He's told NewsChannel 5 he's innocent and plans to keep his position while fighting the charges.

Commissioners could also seek a civil lawsuit to oust him from office. In that case action could happen quickly.

"The judge could suspend him without pay as that case is progressing so that would solve a lot of our problems," Commissioner Stevens said.

But the county's already involved in a $20 million lawsuit. Another one would cost taxpayer money. And some worry it could interfere with the criminal case.

"We don't want to rush to a decision until we have all the facts," said County Mayor Earnest Burgess.

Commissioner Robert Peay, Jr. urged caution.

"It takes patience to go through the court system. But it's not gonna cost us more money like it is if we instigate an ouster suit," he said.

At the end of the Steering Committee meeting they chose to  bring attorneys to weigh in before deciding.

Hoping in the end they can restore faith in the County and its public officials.

The Sheriff has another court date Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.