One day after Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith threatened to arrest county commissioners or anyone "acting as their agent" if they set foot in the county's 911 center, a judge ruled that the sheriff can keep control of the facility until legal questions about who will run it can be settled.
These are the latest developments in an ongoing dispute between Smith and commissioners over the dispatch center, and larger budget issues about the sheriff's budget.
On Tuesday, Smith sent a letter threatening to arrest any commissioner or anyone "acting as their agent" if they entered the county's dispatch center.
Last week, the county commission voted 3-2 to take over operations of the center and cut the sheriff's budget by $1 million after Smith said he would not be able to make the last payroll of the month for the dispatchers.
The sheriff proposed a $8.3 million budget for the year that began Oct. 1, but the council rejected it and asked for a revised budget, which the sheriff has not supplied. The sheriff's office is operating on a monthly stipend of $583,000 -- an amount equal to last year's budget.
After the commission's vote pulling the sheriff's contract to run the 911 center, Smith asked a judge to rule on whether they could legally terminate the contract that was to run through 2010.
At a hearing in Brunswick on Wednesday, Chief Judge James Tuten Jr. ruled that the sheriff will keep control of the facility until the legal issues are settled. Tuten stipulated that the center must make no personnel changes and continue offering the same level of service until until a final ruling is made about the contract.
Smith's letter was issued after employees at the 911 center were asked to sign paperwork changing their status from employees of the sheriff's office to working for the county. Smith said the employees were threatened with termination if they did not sign the papers.
"The dispatchers are employees of my office under a valid and binding contract and under no circumstances will they take instructions from you or any agent acting on your behalf," Smith wrote.
Officials said the 911 center is owned by the county, not the sheriff, and they are taking step to keep the facility operating without interruption.
Smith's letter threatened to arrest any commissioner, the county manager or other county person entering the center on a charge of criminal trespassing.