DAVIS: The Next Sheriff

The Saline County Quorum Court met in special session this week. Nobody was surprised with the unanimous voice vote at the end of the meeting. With each JP in agreement, a quick “aye” began the “official” search for a Republican replacement for Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington. 
The predominantly Republican Quorum Court passed a resolution asking for Pennington to “resign effective immediately.” Before the vote, the court heard from two residents in support of keeping the sheriff. But the number in favor of ridding the office of the embattled lawman was larger and more vocal.
Those seeking removal of Pennington urged the court to take action. Speaker after speaker told the court that the sheriff’s crimes, to which he has pleaded guilty, were unacceptable for a law enforcement officer; that anyone else who was drunk in public and took a swing at an officer would have been charged with a felony instead of the misdemeanor Pennington received. 
A discussion of semantics took place to determine the difference between the meaning of retirement versus resignation.
The resolution passed. The public had their say. Four of the eleven members of the court spoke their views. A motion to adjourn was seconded and those in favor said “aye.”
The deed was done. Action was taken. Progress was made.
Or was it?
For the greater portion of the approximately 45-minute meeting, County Attorney Jonathan Greer answered questions about the resolution and what is legally required to actually remove Pennington from office. Several times, Greer explained that the court does not have the authority to “fire” the sheriff, just as he had done during the first Quorum Court meeting following Pennington’s arrest. He informed the JP’s and those in attendance that the Circuit Court has jurisdiction in the matter. 
The only thing the quorum court could do is to pass a resolution asking the sheriff to resign, immediately. That’s it.
The court seemed pleased with its action. They had taken a stand, albeit one without teeth. 
After the vote, the court instructed Greer to draft an ordinance for the Finance Committee to take away the sheriff’s car as part of a strategy to cut funding to the department, a measure intended to send Pennington a message.
What happens with Pennington as a result of the resolution? Nothing.
He doesn’t have to respond. He doesn’t have to return a call. He can stay on as sheriff. It’s that simple.
Basically, the meeting was all about posturing. In essence it was political theater. It’s all the court could do and the JPs had to do it. They needed to do something.
Pennington says he won’t resign and will run again in 2014. Not as a Republican. The resolution took care of that. For Republicans to back him would put fellow members of the Quorum Court at risk when voting time comes around. The Democrats likely won’t back him either. He left them to join the Republicans in 2011, stating his old party didn’t represent his views anymore. An independent run is the only option he has … and he might just win. It all depends on who else is running.
The Republicans are in a tight spot. Any candidate they choose to support will need to be squeaky clean with an extensive background in law enforcement. He or she will need to be scrutinized from every angle for any possible run at the office. A relevant work history with stellar references will be needed. The candidate must present well. There can’t be even a hint of alcohol consumption, not even a drop. For the Republicans, this election will be about finding the “anti-Bruce.” Without a doubt, that search process began the day Pennington was arrested. Calls to step down and pressure were brought to bear upon Pennington as soon as news of the Denton’s incident hit the stands. The Republicans admit it. With the court’s call for the sheriff to step down, the way is cleared for the Plan B candidate. Keep a close eye on this one, folks.
Democrats have an easier road to travel. They’ve been working on finding an “anti-Bruce” since last fall’s election. As long as they have a candidate that doesn’t drink, they are good to go.
A three-candidate race leaves the office up for grabs. Any political junkie will tell you that. By not accepting Pennington’s change in retirement date, the court set the stage for a vote split three ways instead of two. It is a rare election when one candidate in a three-candidate race gathers more than 50 percent of the vote.
There is no doubt that the sheriff’s actions have reflected poorly on him personally and on the office. Trust and confidence have been damaged, so much so that it could spread to others who have been friendly to Pennington in the past. Friends will become foes.
Stay tuned and pay close attention. This is going to get ugly. Dirt is being dug. All that’s left is to add water and the mudslinging will begin.

Brent Davis is editor of The Saline Courier.
bdavis@bentoncourier.comis editor of The Saline Courier. He can be reached at bdavis@bentoncourier.com.