WDAM Investigates: Transition of power in Jones County

Updated: Nov. 19, 2019 at 9:45 PM CST
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JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - Taking over as the top law enforcement officer in any county comes with built-in challenges, but in Jones County, there’s going to be some added ones in January. Depending on who you ask, it’s either business as usual or politics at play.

Sheriff Alex Hodge is a three-term sheriff with less than two months before he leaves office. As he gets ready to leave, Hodge is making requests for other things to leave as well, a lot things. That causes concern with the man about to replace him, Sheriff-elect Joe Berlin.

“In the beginning, Sheriff Alex Hodge stated that he would make that department, he would leave that department better than it was when he found it, and I feel like he’s not doing that,” said Berlin.

Hodge lost his bid for reelection during the Republican primary back in late August. When it came time for election day in November, Berlin, the independent candidate, won.

Documents obtained by WDAM Investigates show in the month of October alone Hodge requested 135 pieces of equipment or assets be removed from the department. They range from computers and cameras to K-9 officers and cars. The documents, which were sent to the Board of Supervisors for approval, show Hodge listed most items as being “obsolete.”

While some routine requests were approved by the board, others were denied. Hodge says it’s just part of his department’s normal operations and he’s not trying to underhand a new sheriff.

“Just making sure that we transition in a very professional manner, you know, handing the office off as I would expect it to be handed to me,” said Hodge.

When asked whether all those requests fall in line with that professional manner, Hodge said absolutely.

“If you look back over the last 12 years, we’re doing nothing that we haven’t always done,” said Hodge.

While requests to remove inventory is common, the board’s chief administrative officer tells WDAM Investigates the amount of requests, just months before Hodge is set to leave office, is unusual.

You can view the inventory requests submitted by Hodge in October:

Among the denials from the board, a list of 18 items, bought with drug seized money. That list includes two Chevy Tahoes, a couple of speed trailers, an imaging system and some high-tech cameras. Hodge says the equipment is part of the department’s highway interdiction unit, started under his administration.

The request shows Hodge wants all of it donated to Jasper County. He says that’s because the deputy who oversaw most of those seizures is now going to work in Jasper County. Because that deputy oversaw the seizures, Hodge says that equipment should go to Jasper County with him.

When asked whether that should be a decision for a new administration, Hodge said he didn’t feel like it was.

“Well, I didn’t feel like it because, again, we’ve consistently done that for 12 years,” said Hodge.

Soon after Hodge’s loss in the primary election, the department’s Facebook page was scrubbed. Then, more recently, the department’s website vanished. Both were started by Hodge’s administration and were effective tools, bridging communication with the public.

When WDAM Investigates called to ask about the website, paid for with taxpayer money, we were told the department allowed the contract to expire and it would be up to a new administration to determine whether a website is needed.

“The website contract went out on October 31st," Hodge said. “I can’t bind a new administration to a contractual obligation.

As far as the department’s now vanished social media footprint, Hodge says that Facebook page, which he started and doesn’t require any contract, was linked to his personal account. For the soon to be sheriff, who’s never held public office, it all seems to be calculated.

“I feel like he’s trying to make it hard on, at the time, make it hard on whoever was going to take office, and now that’s me,” Berlin said.

Even with fewer resources, Berlin says it won’t stop him from doing the job he was elected to do.

“I’m thick skinned. You know what, if we got to start from ground zero, we’ll just have to start from ground zero,” Berlin said. “If I get voted out of office, the day that somebody beats me, I’ll just give them the keys and whatever I have maintained at that office, they will be able to keep.”

As of last week, there’s been no communication between Hodge and Berlin since the November election to talk about the transition at the department.

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