A Rincon tow truck operator is weighing her options after Effingham County commissioners told her there wasn’t anything they could to help her in her squabble with Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie.
Alicia Smithey, owner of Smithey’s Wrecker Service, asked commissioners if they had anything they could do about Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie’s decision to remove her company from the rotation of tow truck companies called out to remove cars. Smithey asked if the commissioners could override McDuffie’s decision and if they could put her back on the rotation.
“The short answer to your question, unfortunately, is no,” County Attorney Alex Zipperer said. “The sheriff is an elected official, and the county commissioners really don’t have any legal means to have any say so in his decisions.”
Smithey was sent a letter in late July informing her that her company was being removed from the rotation list of five. She has claimed her removal from the list was done in retaliation for her support of McDuffie’s opponent, Bloomingdale Police Chief Rick Gossett, in the July primary.
McDuffie has denied the charge. He said he took Smithey’s off the rotation of five wrecker services for economic reasons since she had contracts with other entities, including Rincon and Guyton.
The wrecker services had been complaining about a lack of calls, according to the sheriff. McDuffie estimated that tow trucks are called by the sheriff’s department about eight times a month. He said his department will call Smithey’s if someone requests them.
Zipperer also said there were no county ordinances or state laws stipulating the sheriff has to rotate wrecker services for calls.
“The board of commissioners doesn’t have any authority over the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s department, except in those cases where there is a statute that says we have the right to do that,” he said.
Commissioner Reggie Loper said the commissioners’ influence with the sheriff’s department is primarily with his budget, which has to be approved by the board of commissioners.
“We have to fund the sheriff’s department. We don’t have any jurisdiction over the sheriff, except for his (budget),” Commissioner Reggie Loper said. “He tells us what he needs, and we try to give it to him or work out a deal.”
“All we do is fund the budget. We have no say so in what they do,” added Commissioner Verna Phillips.
Smithey said she wanted to explore every option before going forward.
“When it goes to the next step, no one can say we didn’t try to resolve this in any way we could before going to a higher power,” she said.
She also asked the commissioners if they could recommend another body to hear her complaint. Zipperer advised Smithey her best option at this point may be to seek legal counsel.