Photo Caption: Now suspended Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly during a campaign debate in 2012.
Suspended Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly is not happy with the changes that have happened in his agency since he left late last month at the order of a commission appointed by the state's chief justice.
The sheriff, who is under felony indictment, is letting the public know of his displeasure through his personal Facebook page. He's also actively campaigning for sheriff's Det. Jack Taylor to be named interim replacement by the central committee of the Athens County Democratic Party when that body meets Tuesday evening.
Currently, the job of interim acting sheriff is held by retired deputy Rodney Smith, who got the nod to step in from the Athens County commissioners on March 27.
In a post on Kelly's personal Facebook page Sunday, he warned that a plot is afoot to tear down the structure he's put in place to battle drug crime in the county, especially his Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET).
"BEWARE, there has been a plan and effort in place for some time to destroy the NET and bring back the major crimes task force that was ineffective and did nothing to address Athens County's problems," Kelly wrote. "There will be a push using the media to convince you other wise.
"The only people that will be happy will be the drug dealers we went after and a couple self serving people that are power hungry."
In addition to personally calling Democratic Central Committee members and lobbying them to vote to replace Smith with Taylor, Kelly sent a letter to committee members, also urging them to pick Taylor for the fill-in sheriff's job.
In a copy of the letter obtained by The Athens NEWS, dated last Wednesday, Kelly stresses that despite his suspension, based on his indictment on 25 criminal counts, "I am still the elected sheriff of Athens County and will be returning as YOUR sheriff in October." (This reflects Kelly's firm belief that he will win his criminal case when he goes to trial Sept. 29, and as a result get his job back.)
"Already, before the central committee has even voted, changes are being made in my office," he warns in the letter. "This should not be happening!" Changes Smith has recommended, he writes, "will result in employees being terminated. Good employees losing their positions."
He also repeats his concerns about the NET being scrapped to make way for the return of a multi-county task force, and complains of "underhanded political maneuverings by a few fellow Democrats going on in the background."
In a phone conversation Monday evening, Kelly's comments suggested that these plotting fellow Democrats probably include county Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, as well as county Commissioners Chris Chmiel, Lenny Eliason and Charlie Adkins.
"Let me put it this way - the three commissioners knew who they were appointing (interim replacement sheriff) before that (March 27) meeting ever started," he alleged. He said Blackburn, Adkins and Chmiel were "courting" Smith for the job "for quite some time."
As for the NET, he said, "Blackburn has tried to get a (multi-county) task force in this county… He's tried to undermine our task force for quite some time."
Regarding Smith, Kelly said, "I like Rodney, but Rodney is not the person to sit in that office until October."
Regarding the alleged machinations to both do away with the NET and keep Smith in the office, Kelly said, "I think people know that Keller Blackburn is behind this, and he's not a well-liked prosecutor. And I think that people are going to see through this."
Kelly stressed his belief that as long as he is still officially sheriff, no major changes should be made in his office.
"There is no reason for any change whatsoever in the sheriff's office, until we see what happens in October," he said. He added that Taylor has promised to maintain the status quo if he gets the job.
"Absolutely," Kelly said. "He will make absolutely no changes to the sheriff's office, where there are already some things taking place that are not good for the office."
He also claimed that "Jack Taylor has the overwhelming support of the employees in the sheriff's office."
One point Kelly made in his Facebook post is the progress he says he's made in the war on drugs in the county, including his claim that "over the (past) five years we reduced overdose deaths by over 80 percent."
Numbers from the Athens City-County Health Department for drug-related deaths don't appear to support the magnitude of this claim, though they do seem to show some drop in drug deaths after Kelly took over.
The numbers from 2009 (when Kelly first took office) to 2013 for each year are as follows: eight, nine, 13, 12, and nine.
The three years before Kelly took office - 2006-2008 - showed annual numbers of 13, 16 and 15.
Asked about this, Kelly said he got his numbers from the county coroner's office. He said that for the five years prior to his taking office, there were a total of around 80 drug deaths, and that in the last five years "there has definitely been a reduction" of about 80 percent in that number.
Blackburn declined to comment at length about Kelly's allegations, but did say that he intends to keep doing his part to fight drugs in the county, including a number of new treatment-related initiatives he's launching.
"I respect the decision of the commissioners (to appoint Smith), and I look forward to working with whomever the Democratic Central Committee selects to be sheriff," Blackburn said. "But my office is focused on doing what we can do to address the drug problem here in Athens Cpunty, through treatment... and we are taking the steps to have treatment programs here in Athens County… We're focused on making Athens County better."
The Ohio Supreme Court special commission decided to suspend Kelly from office, with pay, after agreeing with a motion by the state Attorney General's office that Kelly couldn't carry out his official duties as sheriff while under indictment on 25 felony and misdemeanor counts, including theft in office and corruption-related charges. - Athens NEWS Reporter David DeWitt contributed reporting to this story