Commissioner attempts to freeze funding for Sheriff’s Office, school system until Little Milligan gets SRO

Published 10:45 pm Monday, April 17, 2017

A Carter County Commissioner making a passionate plea for a school resource officer at Little Milligan Elementary made an unorthodox move during Monday night’s Commission meeting when he moved to freeze funding for both the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and the school system until an SRO is placed at the school.

Commissioner Larry “Doc” Miller, who represents the county’s 6th District which includes Little Milligan, addressed his colleagues during the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting and once again issued a plea for a school resource officer at the elementary school. During the Commission’s March meeting, Miller addressed the issue of the Sheriff’s Office placing an SRO at the school. At that time, Sheriff Dexter Lunceford explained there are 15 schools in the county system and only enough funding for 14 SRO positions. “If the county and the schools want 15 SROs and a supervisor then we have to have the funding,” Lunceford told the Commission in March.

On Monday evening, Miller renewed his plea, citing a school shooting incident in California. “Our children up there are the most important things in our lives,” Miller said.

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In searching for a solution to the issue, Miller said he had spoken with Constable John Henson, and Henson had agreed to serve as the SRO at Little Milligan Elementary.

Miller then made a motion asking the Commission to make Henson the SRO at Little Milligan.

Miller continued his questioning regarding getting an officer at the school.

“Do I have to get a lawyer and bring a lawsuit?” Miller asked the Commission.

Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward told the Commission he supported the idea of having an SRO at Little Milligan and that he and Lunceford were already working on a way to secure the needed funding to hire, train and equip the officer. In the meantime, Ward said officers were stopping in at Little Milligan to answer calls and check on the school. Lunceford confirmed that he has officers responding to and checking the school.

“I keep a close eye on it,” Miller said, adding he had seen no officers at the school. “They’re lying,” Miller told his fellow commissioners.

County Attorney Josh Hardin advised the Commission he did not think they had the authority to appoint an SRO for the school because that decision would have to be made by the Carter County Board of Education. Hardin explained that he had researched the issue of who could serve as an SRO for Miller and while a constable is eligible to become an SRO there is additional training needed before they can take on that role due to liability issues.

“I don’t think it’s as easy as sending a constable up there because they have a gun,” Hardin said.

Miller amended his motion to have the Commission send a vote of support to the Board of Education regarding placing an SRO at Little Milligan. The motion passed with 22 voting in favor and one commissioner abstaining.

Later in the meeting, during Commissioner comments, Miller once again brought up the matter, this time proposing the Commission take radical action to get an SRO at the school.

“We have to worry about our kids, and these people don’t,” Miller said of families whose children attend other schools.

Miller made a motion that the County Commission freeze all funding for the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and Carter County School system until an SRO is placed at Little Milligan Elementary. Commissioner Charles VonCannon seconded the motion.

Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd asked to address the Commission following the motion.

“If you do this, there will be no school tomorrow,” Byrd said. “There will be no deputies on the roads tomorrow.”

Lunceford again pointed out that placing an SRO at the school was not simply a matter of wanting to have an officer there, the funds had to be available to pay, train, and equip the officer. Lunceford echoed Ward’s words that the Sheriff’s Office and school system are already working together to try to come up with the funds needed to hire another SRO.

“We have the best SRO program in the state,” Lunceford said, adding that Carter County has more SROs than any other surrounding county.

Several members of the Commission voiced the opinion that while they supported the idea of hiring an SRO for the school, they did not think freezing funding to the Sheriff’s Office and the school system was the proper way to go.

“Does that not bring liability on us,” asked Commissioner Isaiah Grindstaff. “We would be telling (Carter County 911) when those calls come in to tell those people ‘I’m sorry, there are no officers to respond to your domestic violence call, to your shooting, to your missing person, to your runaway child.’”

Hardin warned the commissioners that if they approved the measure to freeze funds, they could be opening the county up to not only a liability issue, but to the possibility of lawsuits brought by the Sheriff’s Office and school system over the funding.

When the ballots were cast, the motion by Miller failed on a vote of 2-21. Miller and VonCannon were the only commissioners to vote for freezing the funds. Commissioners Buford Peters, Dr. Robert Acuff, Willie Campbell, Nancy Brown, Mike Hill, Al Meehan, Bradley Johnson, Ronnie Trivett, Grindstaff, L.C. Tester, Danny Ward, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, Sonja Culler, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Robert Carroll, Kelly Collins, and Cody McQueen opposed the motion. Commissioner John Lewis left the meeting early prior to Miller’s motion.