Sheriff addresses commissioners’ comments over ‘personal use’

Published 11:51 am Thursday, February 8, 2018


Sheriff Ernie Coleman appeared before the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners during Monday’s meeting to refute commissioners’ comments he said are derogatory and untrue about him, sheriff’s office personnel and the Office of the Sheriff as a whole.

The back and forth started in November, when Commissioner Jerry Langley, in the regular Board meeting, questioned reports that sheriff’s office employees had been seen using official vehicles for personal errands on several occasions. The following month, Beaufort County manager Brian Alligood was asked to look into the county’s policy on personal use of county vehicles.

The incidents were investigated thoroughly, according to Coleman, but the issue continues to be a hot topic. In January, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Rose took commissioners to task about “tearing down” employees and said commissioners do not have legal authority to enforce any kind of policy regarding sheriff’s office vehicles — that the issue had become “politicized” and “exaggerated.”

Coleman reiterated the same Monday, but used a bit stronger language.

“I’m asking you to grow up, be professional and stop this crap,” Coleman told commissioners.

Coleman gave a history of sheriff’s office powers by law, ending with a 2016 North Carolina Supreme Court decision in which it was ruled “The sheriff’s office is not a program or a department of a county. Therefore, deputy sheriffs or other employees of the sheriff’s office are not county employees.” Alligood summed up the same in previous meetings.

He also pointed out that, by law, the county, however, is required to fund the sheriff’s office operations.

“The only connection between me and the county commissioners is money. Period,” Coleman said, though he added that he was very satisfied with the budget he’s allotted and pointed out that he’s absolutely willing to work with commissioners — an offer he has made in the past, when Coleman and commissioners butted heads over the issue of courthouse security: who was going to supply it and at what price.

The majority of commissioners declined to respond after Coleman’s 20-minute presentation. While Langley, who bore the brunt of some of Coleman’s statements, acknowledged that the Board has no power over the sheriff’s office and its policies, he said the issue is primarily about transparency: if there are problems, Beaufort County residents have a right to know.

Commissioner Hood Richardson asked Coleman whether the sheriff has the right and power to use equipment for personal use as Coleman left the meeting room. Richardson said the issue would be back on the agenda next month.