MAY - A debate Tuesday night in May between Sheriff Bobby Grubbs and challenger Kim Gilliam featured many of the same issues as Saturday’s volatile debate at Thunderbird Bay - with some added spice tossed in.
The first question at the May United Methodist Church, from Brownwood resident Henry Upfold, was a precursor of what seemed to be a rough night for Gilliam.
“Have you ever been under the care of a mental health professional?” Upfold asked, without stating the basis of the question.
“Have I ever been under the care of a mental health care professional … no,” Gilliam replied.
The debate - actually a “candidates rally” sponsored by the May Neighborhood Watch Association - began with brief statements from school board candidates Katy Lord, Jeff Hoskinson, Jeff Phillips, Donny Graves, Todd Kilgo and Joe Crume, and Precinct 2 Constable David Hefner.
But the Grubbs-Gilliam contest drew the most attention, and Gilliam gamely faced an audience of about 80 - including several sheriff’s office employees - that seemed mostly pro-Grubbs.
Gilliam said she has 14 years of experience with the sheriff’s office, while Grubbs has only four years with the sheriff’s office.
“If I didn’t think for one minute that I didn’t have the qualifications, I would not have filed to run for office,” Gilliam said in an introductory statement.
Grubbs said he has been in law enforcement for nearly 39 years, including a 19-year career as a Texas Ranger.
After the candidates’ introductory remarks, audience members asked them questions. Gilliam repeated many of her earlier criticisms of Grubbs including what she said is high turnover among employees, Grubbs’ firing of three veteran employees after he took office and the presence of several employees who are drawing retirement from other agencies.
Gilliam said it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to allow employees such as Jail Administrator Becky Caffey and Pattimae Furry, the secretary who Grubbs said is being trained as a criminal analyst, to have county-owned take-home cars.
Grubbs has said the two are subject to being called to work after hours.
Richard Cottrell, a custodian at the Law Enforcement Center, addressed Gilliam. “That person right over there is one of the best I have ever seen,” Cottrell said, pointing toward Grubbs. “ … You tell me how you’re going to better him. There is no better.”
Gilliam said there will be no “good old boy” system if she is elected. Cottrell said he works there eight hours and day and “there is no ‘good old boy’ system.”
“Leadership? You want to go through leadership? That man has gone through 16 deputies,” Gilliam said of Grubbs. “ … Y’all can try to make me look mad and I am not going to lose control.”
Grubbs began to address the turnover issue and search through papers for notes. Gilliam walked toward him and offered him her notes.
“I’ve got notes, thank you,” Grubbs said. “I come up with … we’ve lost 11 officers.”
Grubbs said three were terminated; one resigned in lieu of termination; one became police chief in Early; two deputies went back to their previous jobs with the Early Police Department; one was elected justice of the peace; and two left for better-paying civilian jobs.
“These people are not leaving because they’re disgruntled,” Grubbs said.
Sheriff’s Capt. Ellis Johnson addressed Gilliam, saying “I’m one of the ‘good old boys.’” Johnson referenced a meeting involving Gilliam, Grubbs, Johnson and Chief Deputy Bobby Duvall in January 2006, shortly before Gilliam resigned from the sheriff’s department.
Gilliam has said she resigned because of the way Duvall talked to her over a disciplinary matter. She has said he “screamed” at her. Johnson has said it didn’t happen that way.
“She stated in the paper that Duvall screamed at her. … Why were you there?” Johnson asked.
“Because I was reprimanded,” Gilliam said.
“Why?” Johnson asked.
Gilliam began giving details related to the Jan. 6 reprimand.
“Because the judge said you were hugging on an inmate and it was inappropriate behavior,” Johnson interrupted.
“I didn’t hug her … they asked me not to bring that inmate back,” Gilliam said.
According to a “written counseling and directive” dated Jan. 6, 2006, Gilliam was assigned to transport and provide courthouse security for a female inmate on Jan. 4. “(Associate Judge Rob) Hoffman called the sheriff’s office after the … hearing and requested that you not transport or accompany her again,” the directive states.
“He stated that he felt that your emotional outburst could possibly jeopardize the outcome of the hearing.”
Gilliam addressed the matter in her Jan. 10, 2006, letter of resignation. “This female has been seen by our department on many occasions over the last 14 years,” the letter states. “ … This female had requested through her attorney that I be allowed to speak with her.
“I have been asked on numerous occasions to help inmates understand the information that is being requested or challenged. The inmate was very emotional, and as it had to do with her children, it did cause me to tear up as well. I have a heart and will not part with the fact that everyone is human and deserves to be treated with empathy.”
Gilliam challenged Duvall to tell what happened in the meeting in which she said he screamed at her. Duvall said there had been a pattern of “altercations and not getting along with people. … We had her in time and time again and told her to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. She couldn’t accept that.
“It was a strong and spirited discussion.”
“What did you say? How did you get in my face? I said ‘Mr. Duvall, you have no idea what I did for this county,’” Gilliam said.
A woman asked Grubbs if he had reprimanded a married deputy for inappropriate actions with a female employee of another agency. “Wasn’t he caught with a dispatcher?” the woman asked. “He’s one of the ‘good old boys?’”
Grubbs said he had spoken with the deputy about an allegation of an off-duty relationship and had given the deputy a verbal reprimand.
Grubbs said his office has no authority over dispatchers but said he was told later she was fired over matters unrelated to that allegation.
“We were eat up with dope here in May … can you beat what (Grubbs) has done for us?” a man asked Gilliam.
Gilliam, who has said Grubbs hasn’t done as good a job as previous Sheriff Glen Smith in drug enforcement, said, “the previous administration had all the drug labs in May under control.”
Audience members responded with hoots and laughter.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Tony Aaron said the county would be taking “a step back” if Gilliam is elected sheriff. Aaron said he wasn’t saying Grubbs has solved every problem but had taken the situation as he found it, made it better and turned Aaron loose to work narcotics.
Pattimae Furry, the secretary Grubbs said is being trained as a criminal analyst, asked Gilliam if she plans to fire the employees who are drawing retirement pay from other agencies if she is elected.
“I’m not going to clean house,” Gilliam said. “ … Y’all can bash me all night. I was bashed out at the lake.” She was referring to Saturday’s debate at Thunderbird Bay.
Investigator Lana Guthrie asked Gilliam about her statements implying that Grubbs doesn’t send investigators out on sexual assaults.
“Where are you getting your information on this?” Guthrie asked.
“I was told by Brownwood ER that a patrol deputy goes to take the report,” Gilliam said.
Guthrie said patrol deputies are well qualified to take initial reports and it isn’t always necessary to have an investigator at the hospital.
Guthrie said sexual assaults are handled according to “case-by-case situations.” When deputies respond to an assault nights or weekends, she said, they usually call her at home and “we consult over the phone.”