Friday, May 13, 2011

It's not Manard, Sheriff! It's My-nerd.

When I first heard that Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I thought about calling him at home to express my concern and offer support to him but the idea quickly dissipated. Not for any reason aside from knowing him as I think I do... he may not have wanted to engage in any conversation about it since the news was not only new but not good. I know that I wouldn't want to talk about it if I were facing the same challenge he is.

Karnes is a pretty tough guy and when the news broke he vowed to fight it vigorously. How his reaction to it was reported came off as if it were just another day at the office for him, just one more battle between himself and something evil.

This is the sheriff I know, as serious as he has to be when it is necessary and as devilish as he wants to be anytime the circumstances allow. My rapport with him through the years involved being on the receiving end of the latter more than it has been anything too concerning. Of course there were times I am sure he wanted to bury me deep beneath his doghouse, but usually my encounters with him were light moments that sometimes bordered on a real friendship.

In that regard I never flattered myself to believe that he and I were really friends. I mean I was never in what I considered a circle of his close friends but that brings up another point relating to my relationship with him, first as a fellow officer and later when he became my boss.

I first met him a few weeks after I joined the sheriff's office as the department's Public Information Officer. I was sent to a trucking company on Frank Road on the south side of Columbus where there had been a toxic chemical spill. When I arrived I found him at the front gate of the facility sitting in his cruiser blocking the entrance.

He was Lieutenant Jim Karnes then and probably because he heard me dispatched to the scene he was waiting for me. Waiting with what I believed was a rehearsed ice breaker to allow us to understand our respective roles. Meaning that he was the seasoned old guard and I was just some rookie that he and others probably questioned my ability to get past my probationary period. I had no law enforcement experience on my resume and in fact I was just a few weeks earlier just some long haired hippie who hosted a daily radio show to him and others around the department.

I got to see two sides of Karnes' personality that day, first what seemed like often practiced authority over new guys like me and then a softer and more helpful veteran who quickly saw the desperation I probably showed to just be allowed to do my job. He was that day and all of those that followed during my years with the department the most engaging, willing to teach supervisor I ever encountered. It may be presumptuous to say it but I think he actually liked something about me from the start. Because if he didn't he had a tremendous knack for acting.

I could tell immediately that my experiences in broadcasting was not a turn-off for him as it seemed to be by some of the other deputies. In fact after we concluded our business that day the conversation shifted to radio and television personalities that he had known through the years. He seemed to know all of them and that was something we could share and talk about.

He had been in community and media relations with the department long before I got there and his persona then and now has always been something of a showman. Quick with humorous one-liners, not shy about saying whatever was on his mind and seeing the world around him for what it was without allowing all of the bad to force what was good into the shadows.

Starting then and to this day Jim Karnes still mispronounces my last name on purpose. Even when he says it- it is with more than a grain of intentionalism. To him it isn't pronounced My-nerd it is Ma-nard. He knows it bugs me so he does it.

There was a time during our working relationship that I was as well received by him as I was by the man who hired me and who I answered directly to, Sheriff Earl O. Smith. However, there was also a time when I knew that he didn't exactly trust me because of my loyalty to Smith, that was when he decided to run for the office himself. The election year of 1992.

It was an ugly battle between two men that for what I think I know about them both were once very good friends. Decades before I met either of them Smith actually played a huge role in the hiring of Karnes when he (Smith) was a lieutenant in the office's personnel bureau. At least that is what Smith told me.

Before what ever caused such a serious falling out between the two Smith often spoke highly of Karnes and I can recall on at least one occasion when he encouraged me to trust him more than any other supervisor in the department. It was years before the election in '92 and during a sensitive investigation that I was having difficulty as the PIO gathering information for a press release I was writing. I wasn't receiving much cooperation from the other supervisors and the chief deputy over the unit that should have helped me wasn't. In fact he was doing everything he could to be in my way.

Smith told me to go to Karnes and said something to the effect of "he takes care of me."

What I do know is that Lieutenant Karnes was always more willing to share with me what he knew than any of the other supervisors under his command. But then came 1992 when I found myself in the middle of a feud that was as depressing as it was difficult to navigate. Karnes had retired briefly to run for sheriff and when that happened I could not have been placed in a worse spot. More than half of the department was in his corner and doing all they could to derail Earl and it seemed any of us who didn't jump on that bandwagon were regarded as enemies of the office.

That summer during the Franklin County Fair, which was one of Karnes' longtime commitments and an event that could have had his name on it for all he did for it every year, I was tested by Karnes himself. I was sitting in the sheriff's display tent with Smith and his campaign manager, a guy who never liked me anyway and who was often critical of my work (Ted Griffith.)

Unbeknownst to me Griffith had somehow convinced Smith that I was working behind the scenes and using my media influences to help Karnes' campaign against him. Griffith had been feeding the sheriff assurances that Karnes had promised me a promotion to the rank of corporal if I would help his cause. None of that was true of course and I was more than a little disappointed that the sheriff bought into it when he questioned me about it, but that day in the tent Karnes did something to fan those flames. He walked over to where I was standing and put his arm around me and said "let's take a walk."

I could see the iron in Earl's eyes and if the redness in his face had been embers I would have surely caught fire at that moment. The heat and intensity of seeing me walk out of the tent with the man who had topped his enemy list was grueling and his gritting teeth and curled fists made him look as if he were ready to charge at us both. Griffith had a cocky grin on his face that seemed to say..."See I told you so."

As Karnes and I walked away he was telling me that there was no way he was going to lose that election and that when he did become sheriff I would still have a job. Not the high profile and perks laden one that I did have, but as a deputy in the jail. He told me that he didn't need a Public Information Officer because he knew his way around media circles pretty well himself... but that I needn't worry that I would be left with nothing.

The idea of becoming a corrections officer was not appealing to me and I told him so. I then asked if he understood that my allegiance was to the man who hired me and he said he would expect no less, but that when he became sheriff he expected the same loyalty to him. That is all there was to that encounter but when I returned to the tent I could tell that Smith's suspicions about me had become real if they had not already been. He was very cool to me and Griffith wasn't helping by asking me what division I would be supervising in if Karnes won.

He wanted to stoke his own rumor. He was asking about secret meetings and dinners that he said he heard I was having with Karnes behind the sheriff's back and what I got him for his birthday. Each time I would battle his insults I could see that Smith was growing more and more suspicious. And within a few weeks I was no longer in a position where I only answered to or reported directly to the sheriff. He placed me under the command of Major Paul Fererra, a guy who wouldn't allow me out of his site or to talk with any media representative without his blessings.

What I will always believe is that Griffith had managed to place me under the watchful eye of the one he accused me of being all along. My warnings to Earl Smith that it was the major and not me who could not be trusted may have been without merit and it may have only been a coincidence but when Karnes did win the election Ferarra became the supervisor in charge of the transition team.

After he took office the major became one of the driving forces of management, one of his primary go-to guys. He was visiting me daily asking me to turn in my keys and other sensitive hardware to him. It looked to many of us that it was him and not me who was working behind Smith's back. I know that Karnes would clobber me for suggesting such a thing but it is what a lot of us felt. Ferrara even suggested to me that I should consider returning to my old haunts in broadcasting, asking often if I still had ties in radio if I were to get discouraged in my new assignment.

That planned new assignment never happened. A few days before Smith left office I typed up a resignation and forwarded it to the new sheriff. A few days later it was returned to me, denied.

Karnes really wanted me to stay. We met and talked about what I would be throwing away if I left the sheriff's office and returned full time to WCOL where I had been working part time all along. He pointed out the benefits and the retirement opportunities that I would probably never see again and when I convinced him that I really wanted to leave he sent my old partner Corporal Dennis Verbance to talk some sense into me.

On the evening before he swore in all of the deputies now under his command he called me and told me to report to the Jackson pike jail facility to renew my oath the following night. I thanked him and told him that my mind was made up and he accepted my decision. A few month's later I received a call from Verbance who said the sheriff wanted to hire me as a DJ to play records at a fund raiser for him. I accepted the job and when he asked how things were going in radio for me I told him they weren't going as well as I had hoped and that he was right, I made a mistake by leaving.

Within a week I was wearing a sheriff's deputy's uniform again and working in the the communications center as a radio dispatcher. Not the greatest job in law enforcement but one that rescued a nearly dead career. For that I will always be grateful to Karnes. When the opportunity to leave for a more promising job as a police officer in the Obetz Police Department came along I received his support and his encouragement to go out, and in his words do "great things.

I don't know whether or not I ever did anything that great in Obetz but I was able to work my way through the ranks and eventually retire from there as it's chief of police. And during my tenure as chief I had no greater supporter than Sheriff Karnes. Being a small department we could not have accomplished all we did without the resources he made available to us every day.

We had access not only to his communications system that dispatched our vehicles and provided all of the information about driving records and stolen cars, but to his records bureau that checked backgrounds and alerted us whenever we encountered a dangerous or wanted person.

His K-9 units were never more than a simple requests for their assistance away, nor was his bomb squad or his huge detective bureau with all of their resources. His detectives solved homicides that we never could have with our limited resources and they fed us information daily on investigations that were paramount to the safety of everyone in our jurisdiction.

We even relied on his Internal Affairs Bureau anytime it became necessary to investigate misconduct or alleged misconduct on the part of our officers. The gratitude I owe to Karnes is way more than I could ever impart in a simple essay such as this, so when I learned that he is battling a sometimes deadly cancer I was saddened and more than a little worried about how it would all eventually play out. I haven't said anything to him about it and I probably won't. I do know this about Jim Karnes, it is not a topic he probably wants to engage in with me. If we talk at all it will probably be about music. From that first day I met him to the last time we spoke the talk always seemed to turn to music.

He has regarded me as a source when there is some song playing in his head that he has forgotten the name of. One of my favorite stories regarding my relationship with this very powerful man in Franklin County, the top cop who has law enforcement jurisdiction over us all is a time when I was a patrol sergeant in Obetz. One of the dispatcher's called my car number and instructed me to call the sheriff at home immediately. She implied that it was an emergency and then a million things went through my mind, I feared the worst.

When he answered the phone he said "Hey Ma-Nard, who did the song called I'm gonna sit right down and right myself a letter?" "Billy Williams" I told him. Through the years we shared a few other similar emergencies like that. And after that one I hung up feeling pretty good about myself, confident that I never let him down. I hope he feels the same way.

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