Ex-sheriff a ‘good fit' for new crime job

Speculation already has begun over who should fill a new county position designed to hold local criminal justice agencies more accountable for improving safety.

Retired Mecklenburg Sheriff Jim Pendergraph said Thursday he is interested in the concept of the job, but needs more information first. His name drew applause one day earlier when County Commissioner Bill James said in a meeting that Pendergraph would be a good fit for the post.

Commissioners agreed this week to create the new county staff position, which was among 16 recommendations from a citizens' panel the board created earlier this year to look for ways to fix problems in the local justice system. It was the only recommendation from the justice and safety task force that commissioners voted to act on immediately.

The post – which some have referred to as a “crime czar” – ideally would promote better collaboration within the justice system, establish performance goals for the agencies, and recommend funding for the groups to County Manager Harry Jones.

The person also would be charged with helping implement some of the other recommendations of the crime task force, which many in the group said will help make sure the ideas aren't passed over like those of past crime groups.

Pendergraph said he wouldn't be interested in the job if the role was merely symbolic with no power.

“Unless this individual would be somebody that would have the authority and the resources to force some of these changes to be made, then I wouldn't be interested in it,” he told the Observer.

Details of the position were not immediately clear, including responsibilities, salary, and whom the person would report to. Jones told commissioners he would work quickly to develop a job description. It could be ready when the new slate of commissioners joins in December, if not sooner.

Pendergraph, who retired as sheriff last December, recently left a federal immigration post.

Retired Superior Court Judge Shirley Fulton, co-chair of the citizen's panel, said at the commissioners meeting that the county needs something with authority who can bring the various agencies together.

The local system, she said, “is like a set of dominos, and you have all of these players along the way who have a certain job to do. If someone does not do their part, then the whole row of dominos falls down … There needs to be someone that everyone can look to for that leadership.”

Commissioners said the ideal candidate would be someone very familiar with law enforcement agencies and the community. Dan Bishop also said the person should have a “fair amount of gravitas.”