Sheriff Andy Strickland was only trying to help. He simply wanted to remind the 130 or so employees working for him at the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office that, in South Carolina, they have no legal right to their jobs.
Which is absolutely true.
And he was just being transparent when he informed them, in an email obtained by The Post and Courier’s Thomas Novelly, that they should harbor no expectation of continued employment if they cozy up to one of the five (so far) people running against him for sheriff next year.
It really was more of a public service announcement, as Strickland wrote, “so we can all make sure we are on the same sheet of paper.”
“If a potential candidate contacts you, my advice to you would be not (to) get involved,” Strickland wrote in an Aug. 19 email to all sheriff’s office employees. “From here on out, zero tolerance is now in effect. … Stay in your lane.”
Now, that may sound all authoritarian and sinister, but you could argue that it was really just sound counsel.
How intimidating could that really be? After all, he characterized it as a “promise” and wished everyone a great night. He even signed the email with a dancing disco guy emoji. How cute!
Everybody around the station probably had a really good laugh.
Perhaps this is what Strickland meant in 2012, when he first won his elected position, and promised to boost morale at the sheriff’s office. Check that goal off — because surely no one read that totally harmless, innocent email as menacing. Right? Well …
To be fair, the sheriff is correct on all points of law here. South Carolina is an “at will” state, which means voters have consistently elected lawmakers who put the rights of businesses first.
And state law says outright that deputies in sheriff’s offices serve at the pleasure of the elected sheriff. Even though that law dates back to a time when counties could conceivably be policed by a single lawman, and deputies were a luxury, it’s still in effect.
Yep, Strickland knows South Carolina law. Well, some law. Too bad he is apparently less familiar with campaign statutes ... as well as the law of unintended consequences.
Because sending an overtly political email on government equipment — it laughably even included an “I approved this message” tagline — could conceivably raise eyebrows at the State Election Commission.
And it could backfire and inspire some employees to look more closely at the other candidates. You know, folks who might not ask them to choose between their constitutional rights and subservient fealty.
It also appears Strickland is a little shaky on the laws of common sense. As in, when threatening someone, don’t put it in writing … or in electronic mail that can be traced or easily forwarded.
But that’s all based on the most cynical reading of that email. Surely Strickland didn’t mean to suggest anything untoward.
If he intended for his employees to read between the lines, however, perhaps Strickland should not have been so overt about removing all doubt. “Read between the lines and I ask that you remain loyal and support me as a leader as well as a Sheriff.”
Good thing he cleared that up. Otherwise some people might have gotten the idea that this wasn’t a simple appeal for votes — but an outright threat.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.