Lee: Sheriff’s Office, County in harmonious courtship

GEORGETOWN – Streamlined a bit, the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office is performing its designated duties as an officer of the courts.

That was the word from first-year Sheriff Robert T. Lee in his nine-month update to Sussex County Council at council’s Oct. 13 meeting.

“We are a court officer. We deliver seven different legal documents,” said Mr. Lee. “I think we are in good shape. It takes nine month for a birth of life. It has taken probably nine months for us to get this sheriff’s office back to the court officer that it is supposed to be.”

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Sussex County Sheriff Robert Lee

In the September 2014 Republican primary, Mr. Lee unseated sheriff incumbent Jeffrey Christopher by 21 votes officially finalized by a recount. After that, he topped Democrat Ronald “Beau” Gooch – and Mr. Christopher as a write-in candidate – in last November’s General Election.

In taking the oath of office, Mr. Lee swore to work in unison with county government, County Administrator Todd Lawson, County Council and other staff.

Mr. Christopher’s term was punctuated by his efforts – and unsuccessful court challenges – to bring arrest authority to the sheriff’s office.

“As far as the communications part of this I can truthfully say that Todd Lawson and I have excellent communications,” said Mr. Lee. “We want to continue what we are trying to do now. We are not perfect. It is an imperfect world and we are not perfect people, but we are attempting to ….achieve excellence at all times.”

In fact, Mr. Lee said plans are for Mr. Lawson to spend a day on the job – on the road – with deputies.

“He is going to see what is going on; what the road conditions are, where we travel, what the problems and things that go on in this job that probably a lot of people don’t know about,” Mr. Lee said.

Chief Deputy Eric Swanson, a former county sheriff, and office manager/sheriff sale specialist Tina Timmons were in attendance at the council meeting.

Deputies Donna Pusey and Amy Jones handle civil and criminal matters, respectively, while road deputies Pat Allegro-Smith (east), George Wilson (central) and Benny Gordy (west) canvass those sections of the County.

“The story is not about me. I’m the author but this is not about me. It’s about the dedicated staff that you all have in this County that is called the sheriff’s office,” said Mr. Lee. “We are a team. We started that way and we are now. That has been our approach since January.”

Two vehicles have been cut from the sheriff’s office fleet and the office is at a staff of eight.

“One of the things that I had stressed for the office was financial responsibility. We have streamlined the sheriff’s office to the three outside deputies and three female deputies inside,” said Mr. Lee. “How we are able to do that is Eric and I also do the same job as our road deputies. That way we know exactly what their job is. When they have a complaint we can appreciate and we can initiate and try to get it resolved.”

As of mid-October, the sheriff’s office had hand-delivered over 11,000 documents. It had conducted over 600 sheriff sales, which is down, Mr. Lee said.

I am not an economist. I am just a retired policeman. But that tells me that maybe our economy is getting better … maybe all of us working together has made this a better place to live,” said Mr. Lee.

Since January, the sheriff’s office has brought in in roughly over $1,500,000. “I think that is tremendous,” the sheriff said.

Mr. Lee and deputies have state constable status, which includes certification in pepper spray, baton and arms, which entail training three times annually.

“This gives us the protection that we need while we are on duty. If litigation were to come about we can say we are certified. We have been trained,” said Mr. Lee.

County Councilman Rob Arlett asked if the constable status has been needed.

“No; part of that is because of the professionalism and training. They know how to handle the situations,” said Mr. Lee. “We have not. And I am hoping that we never have to. It’s like a spare tire; you hope you never have to change a tire but if you do, it’s there.”

Mr. Lee said he and Mr. Swanson visit courts daily, seeing attorneys and judges, as well as Nanticoke and Beebe hospitals.

On community outreach, Mr. Lee said the sheriff’s office has participated in events supporting Laurel’s House of Hope, Boys & Girls Clubs, CHEER, Delaware Hospice and others. At the upcoming Sea Witch festival parade, Mr. Lee and sheriffs from Kent and New Castle counties plan to walk together in a show of unity.

Mr. Lee said the sheriff’s office does have a staffing need.

“We would like to create what I call a part-time seasonal navigator … for community events. That is something that we would like to do in the near future where we have someone that will be solely connected with the events that are going on in our communities,” Mr. Lee said. “Because of the streamlining that we have done we have very little time that we can do this because of families and other events that we are involved in.”

The staffer could work probably from April to October, Mr. Lee said.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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