While Sheriff Bill Overton has, on the surface, made some significant changes in the daily operations of the department, without some background information, one might think he has done a fabulous job and deserves another term in office.
In all fairness, Overton did bring the Sheriff’s department into the 21st century with state accreditation. And yes, it is true that he created a Citizens on Patrol Service to help monitor activity in the county using non-police volunteers, and worked toward much-needed security updates at the Sheriff’s department and courthouse. And while he is credited with the reintroduction of the Smith Mountain Lake Patrol Boat Unit, it is only fair to mention that this came about because of the support and donations of citizens at the lake and through the generous donation of a boat from the 4-H.
While rarely mentioned, it is also only fair to give credit to Overton for the first time introduction of police radar, or as county residents like to call it, “RADAR for REVENUE.” Overton claims it is being used to “assist the State Police” so they will have more time to patrol main roads like 220 however, if that was the real purpose, why are State Police still patrolling the counties’ back roads and setting up radar, just like the Sheriff’s department? Perhaps that question can best be answered by Sgt. Mike Bailey of the State Police who was more than willing to admit that the traffic stops were being used “as probable cause to further other investigations, including narcotics.”
It is also only appropriate to credit Overton with wasting county money to purchase unneeded new uniforms, and changing the sheriff’s logos and badges. The logo which now appears on all deputies’ cars is a 7 point star that in itself violates the Code of Virginia, Section 15.2-1610(b) which reads that “all marked motor vehicles used by sheriffs’ offices….with a reflectorized gold, five point star on each front side door. Wonder how much it cost to redo all the department vehicles and for what purpose?
Overton is nothing if not generous with his friends. In addition to taking business away from previous county approved establishments and giving it to his supporters, according to an article in the Franklin News Post, we know that after taking office, Overton hired his former campaign manager, at a salary greater than some of his sworn lieutenants, and provided him with a vehicle to drive. We also learned that in 2014, while the Board of Supervisors was contemplating raising our real estate taxes to cover budget shortages, one of Franklin County’s deputies was in Richmond training to ride a motorcycle that Overton had purchased and outfitted at significant expense. While motorcycles are useful for dignitary escort, parades and traffic investigations, I seriously doubt the Queen of England plans to visit our little slice of heaven. Our community is small enough not to need a motorcycle escort at parades and come to think of it, the Sheriff’s office doesn’t even investigate traffic accidents.
When Overton approached the Board in 2014 for an additional $150,000 to cover unforeseen “projects,” projects that I assume covered the unneeded motorcycle and deputy training, among others, he explained he had cut spending in his department to the bone by cutting overtime, comp time and making certain that none of the part-timers worked more than 29 hours. It seems apparent, at least to me, that serving his ego is of more importance than the actual employees who serve and protect the community, or the county residents who pay the taxes to support the county.
During his first campaign Overton promised voters that he would be a Sheriff for “we the people,” his door would always be open and he would always be as close as the nearest phone any time anyone needed him or just wanted to talk. Widely known in the county as the ABSENT SHERIFF, Overton relocated his office from the first floor to the third floor and instituted a new phone policy shortly after taking office. All nonemergency calls to the department are now screened on an answering machine. And the criteria for call-backs must be pretty strict because several acquaintances are still waiting for it to happen.
In a letter to the Smith Mountain Lake Eagle paper, a Moneta resident remind us that there are also numerous outstanding issues that the public has questions about, questions that Sheriff Overton has no answers for, such as the mysterious death and disappearances of people who had cooperated with the department as drug informants or why Overton has allowed these cases to go cold. There are also unanswered questions about key evidence being presented to the sheriff’s office with regard to these cases and whether or not it was handled properly under State and Federal Law guidelines.
Overton promised, after asking Riley Hodges to resign from his job after 17 years of service to the county, that he and Riley would run a clean campaign for sheriff. Franklin County is such a small community, if you scratch deep enough you’ll find a distant cousin, so it should come as no surprise that word gets around quickly. In addition to the “rumors” already circulating throughout the county that Overton’s campaign is attempting to discredit Hodges’ service as a deputy, and applying pressure to local businesses not to provide any support to his campaign, it is a known fact that Hodges’ campaign signs are mysteriously disappearing from yards and reappearing in dumpsters.
Everyone in the county knew and respected Sheriff Quincy Overton and for that reason Bill Overton was given a chance. But it is apparent that he is not, nor will he ever be his dad. And voting for someone on the basis of his last name or family affiliation isn’t a good enough reason to give him another 4 years. After all, to quote Overton himself, “My heart is not in law enforcement.”
Franklin County needs a Sheriff who cares about people, not image. A Sheriff who will work with the people, not against them. While this website is not endorsing anyone, I believe J. Riley Hodges is that person. And if you agree, please get out and vote this November!