Sheriff won’t bow to pressure

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2004

“As far as I’m concerned everything is above board,” said Greene County Sheriff Johnny L. Isaac. “I have nothing to hide.” Isaac responded Tuesday to concern over his position as regulator of bingo gaming in Greene County. He also addressed his concern over the funding of county law enforcement.

“…I didn’t campaign for the regulator job,” he said. “Representatives and senators said they would not pass the bill unless the sheriff agreed to regulate….It was nothing that I thought would cause major problems in this county.”

Isaac feels like some of the criticism in the media for area officials concerning how he is running gaming in the county is more personal than professional.

“Some people tend to think I’m getting a salary out of it,” he said. “That’s not true.”

Are you concerned about Greentrack not disclosing its total bingo revenues to the press and public adding to speculation? “I don’t have control over what Greenetrack does with its business – by the same token – (he has no control over) the county commission,” he said.

“They (commission) are required by law to give an annual report. Ask them when it was put out. No one knows the status of the bankruptcy.

“None of these same people (critics) are raising sand about the county not reporting these things,” Isaac said. “Why are they so concerned about bingo? It’s just begun. There’s not a whole lot to report.”

When asked Tuesday, Greene County Administrator Mattie Atkins said she would ask the county’s attorney to provide information on the status of the bankruptcy. The county has three years to pay it off, she said.

A special “called meeting” of the Greene County Commission was scheduled Tuesday morning and one of the items on the agenda included the sheriff’s request for an assistant to aid him with bingo regulation. Only chairman Chris Beeker Jr. and commissioner Edna Chambers were present for the meeting so the items were moved to the regular commission meeting Monday at 10 a.m.

In order for the sheriff to be clear with the I.R.S., the auditors advised that he go through the county government with hiring an assistant for bingo gaming, Isaac said.

The sheriff is still concerned that his department is not being funded properly by the county. Commission chairman Beeker and the administrative staff have told Isaac there is no money for personnel raises. Isaac was under the impression that his budget for fiscal year 2004 would be funded fully.

“The county is in a financial situation that they put themselves in,” he said. “It was only a few months ago that they had money in the bank….The county is making their choice of hiring and doing whatever they wanted to do. Good management would have corrected that.”

Isaac doesn’t like the blame being put on him as if he has asked for too much for his department. “I thought, from listening to some of the commissioners two or three years ago, money was on the rise.” Then people started being hired in little regard to the budget at the time, he said.

The sheriff’s department will receive a portion of the proceeds from bingo. “We don’t have that money yet,” Isaac said. He is concerned that the county will reduce what they give the department in the fiscal 2005 budget in light of the bingo revenues.

“In this county we are far behind, as far as law enforcement agencies, on equipment and advanced techniques and training that we should have. Some of this (bingo) money could be used for that.

“I don’t think the sheriff’s department should depend on that (bingo) money,” he said. “It’s not guaranteed.”

Isaac said he does not mind using bingo revenues to assist the county in a financial situation “but come here telling me that you don’t have any money when you’re doing everything else you want to do. Then when it comes to law enforcement, we’re put on the back burner.

“I should have not been put on hold for five months (in regard to the 2004 budget).”

Isaac said he doesn’t want to be caught up in the fight between pro-bingo and anti-bingo forces on the county commission.

“There was a statement in one of the papers that I had aligned myself with two commissioners (Bill Johnson and Donald Means), causing the county to go nowhere. A statement like that is a complete lie because the county is already bankrupt.

“…What they do in their meetings should not be centered around me, except for his budget,” the sheriff said.