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Chaos Outside, Business As Usual Inside

Despite controversy, the sheriff's office is handling its business

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He may not officially be the next Mecklenburg County Sheriff, but Chipp Bailey is the man in charge until further notice. That means if there is a need for a major promotion, Bailey has the power to make it, though there aren't any of those on the horizon.

Bailey also says projects like the temporary housing project at Jail-North is still underway. And the classes to teach inmates new skills will still continue.

"We're going about our business," says Bailey.

Since former sheriff Jim Pendergraph retired from the department to take a job with the Department of Homeland Security, Bailey -- former deputy chief -- has been the acting sheriff, in accordance with North Carolina law. He and Nick Mackey ran against each other to fill Pendergraph's vacant spot. Three hundred Democrats chose Mackey, but with two grievances filed with the state Democratic Party, the county commissioners have waited to confirm him.

Now, though Mackey may have the title of sheriff, it's Bailey who has the authority. But according to Bailey there aren't going to be any huge changes at the sheriff's office in the foreseeable future.

"Everyone is in a holding pattern," he says. And there hasn't been an exodus from the department because of uncertainty about the sheriff's situation.

"We have about a 10 percent turnover rate," Bailey says. "With 14,000 employees we lose about 140 people a year. But I haven't heard of anyone leaving because they can't take the stress [of the situation]."

Bailey says like everyone else in the county, he and his deputies read the paper and watch the news and see what's going on with the county and Mackey. But that's not the major concern of the department. Bailey adds there is enough going on in the county to keep his deputies busy. For instance, about 75 deputies assisted Charlotte Mecklenburg Police with its crowd control in Uptown during the New Year's Eve festivities.

The Republican members of the county commission started the year out by bowing out of the bipartisan committee to study the selection of Nick Mackey as sheriff.

"We feel that an all-Democrat committee will be better suited for this task since they know their own rules and processes within the Democratic Party and our participation would be viewed by some as meddling into the internal political affairs of another party," Dan Ramirez said in a New Year's Day e-mail.

As it stands now, two Democrats -- Parks Helms and Norman Mitchell -- will watch what happens with Mackey, according to the Charlotte Observer.

True to their word, the Republicans stayed out of the study committee and the Observer reports that it may be the end of the month before the state Democrats take a look at the grievances filed against Mackey.

But inside the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office, Bailey contends everything is operating as usual, despite the unusual circumstances going on outside.

"This is something we have no control over," he says. "We're not doing anything any differently."

Bailey says if there is a decision in the next 30 days, that's fine. But his hope is that the citizens in Mecklenburg County will still look to the sheriff's office as a "professional agency."

"If citizens have questions about what we do, just ask us," says Bailey.

And when a decision is reached, Bailey said he has an alternative to being sheriff that's not bad at all.

That alternative, he says, is retirement.

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