Harden dismissed; Coleman appointed chief deputy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2002

Kenny Harden was dismissed from his position of Butler County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Friday, shortly after he told Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris he would be running against her in the upcoming election.

According to Harris, Harden turned in a letter stating his intent to run for sheriff and asking for a leave of absence in order to pursue the office. Harris said she then dismissed Harden from his duties and wished him luck in the election.

Harris said she felt she could not trust someone in her office who was running against her, and Harden had told her several years ago that he would not run against her for sheriff. Harris said Harden told her he would wait and seek the office when Harris decided to step down, so she said she felt she could no longer work with him after he went back on that statement.

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"Kenny had told me months and years ago that he was loyal to me and that he would be loyal to me up until I decided that I was not going to run for sheriff again," said Harris. "At that time he would run for sheriff and he would not run against me as long as I wanted to run for sheriff, and whenever I didn't want to run I would step down and he would become a candidate for sheriff and I could throw my support to him."

"I feel that, in my heart, I wish he had kept his word because I would have had more respect for him then."

Harden said he never told Harris that he would not run against her but that he told her he would not run as long as he felt she was doing a good job.

"I have told her as long as she was doing a good job I would not run against her," Harden said. "But if it looked as though she wasn't doing a good job, I would run."

"I feel there need to be improvements. I feel we need a sheriff that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week just as I have been as chief deputy over the past few years."

Harris said that as sheriff, she has could dismiss anyone at any time because the department is not based on a merit system.

"Being sheriff of Butler County, I have the authority to dismiss anybody that I get ready to within the department," she said.

Harden said he is not currently seeking employment and that he will focus on campaigning for sheriff over the next few months.

Harris said that Harden was a good deputy and that they have worked together for years, first at the Greenville Police Department and since 1995 at the Butler County Sheriff's Department.

"I am not going to low-rate him," she said. "I am not going to downgrade him, or anything of that nature. He was a good investigator. We solved a lot of cases with him being investigator."

Harris said she feels that anyone else in her position would have made the same decision in the situation.

"Like I told him, anybody can run for sheriff that wants to but I think if he was sitting in this chair and somebody else had decided that they were going to run for sheriff against him, that he would do the same thing that I am doing – dismiss them," she said. "I do not feel like I could have talked my business as I have talked and he could not have talked his business as he would have wanted to talk if both of us worked for the same office."

"The office is not big enough to have two people in the same office running for the same position."

Harris said she is currently looking into changing the rank at the sheriff's department and that Lt. Ron Coleman has now been appointed to the position of chief deputy.

"I will probably be making a decision on that (rank changes) next week but right now, I felt like I had to have a chief deputy and I went ahead and promoted Lt. Coleman, who well deserved this promotion," she said. "He is a hard worker and has been with me since 1995, so he is not new to this office and he knows how to take hold and take care of things that need to be taken care of."

Harris said the members of the Butler County Sheriff's Office have said they will continue to work together no matter who is in certain positions.

"The deputies agreed to continue to work together," she said. "We are here. We were elected by the people to do the job and we are going to continue to do the job that we have done since 1995, regardless of who is chief deputy and who is investigator."

Harden said he feels hurt over the decision that was made but it was a decision Harris had to make. "I don't feel it is in the best interest of the citizens of Butler County," he said, "but I feel it was a decision she had to make and she felt this was best for her."

Harden said he feels it is unfair that a deputy must worry about putting their job on the line every four years in order to move up in the Butler County Sheriff's Office.

"I feel that it needs to be done through the commission and through a council," Harden said. "This is not one person's office. It belongs to the people and the people should make the decisions."

Harris said she is running for re-election in the office of sheriff of Butler County and Harden has now announced that he will also be seeking election to that position.

Greenville Chief of Police Lonzo Ingram announced last year that he plans to seek the office. Qualifying for the Sheriff election, along with many other local offices, begins Monday.