Employees at the Chattooga County Sheriff's Office and jail are scared after reading a memo asking half the patrol force and multiple jailers to give up their jobs voluntarily.
Outgoing Sheriff John Everett claims in the memo that the sole commissioner is forcing him to lay off 16 employees -- 11 from the sheriff's office and five jailers -- because of a county-wide deficit in property tax revenue.
The memo went up Friday, and a jail employee, who wouldn't give a name in fear of being fired, said employees panicked. The memo was taken down on Monday, the employee said.
Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said Everett hired five to six more employees then he originally budgeted, which created a more than $300,000 deficit in the sheriff's office and jail budgets.
While Winters said he told Everett to find ways to corral spending and stay within his $2.6 million budget, he didn't order the sheriff to gut his office. Winters said he will not allow the sheriff's office to drop from 18 to nine deputies.
"No, we aren't looking at half the deputies off the street," he said. "That's not a possibility."
Everett, who didn't return multiple calls for comment, will be replaced at the end of the year. He lost the August Democratic primary to Trion police officer Mark Schrader, who garnered nearly 70 percent of the votes. Schrader will face Republican Jamie Dawson, a former Chattooga deputy, for the sheriff's job in November.
Everett claims in his memo that his successor will replace 75 percent of the employees. Schrader and Dawson said Wednesday they don't plan on cutting the staff and want to make managing the budget efficiently a priority.
Both men fear that Everett is creating a hostile environment one of them will inherit in January.
Dawson said what could've been an "amicable transfer" now is "going to be a lot of controversy."
Dawson said he's heard that some officers are considering retiring early so they don't face a layoff.
Winters said he will meet with Everett to decide on how to cut spending. A few employees could be laid off, he said, but there are other options, such as furlough days.
As for whether anyone has volunteered to be laid off, Winters said no one's name is on the list.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...