SUMMERVILLE — Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight has hit the ground running his first week in office, working to live up to his promise to revamp a department rocked with allegations of embezzlement and constant budget battles with council.
He succeeded Ray Nash, a three-term sheriff who declined to run again after an audit showed almost $360,000 missing from a jail fund overseen by his former jail chief. Nash was not implicated but said he was wrong to put too much trust in one person.
Knight said the incident showed that Nash's Bible-based character-training program, which was mandatory for all employees, was a waste. Killing the program was one of Knight's first official acts.
"I put an end to that yesterday," Knight said Wednesday, his second day in office. "And I also advised them that anyone who didn't have character probably wouldn't work for me."
Knight told everybody they would have to reapply for their jobs to stay on board. He fired about 10 deputies, and another half-dozen declined to stick around.
"That's not a large total when you're talking about 235 people," said Knight, a former supervisor for the State Law Enforcement Division. "We didn't have any intention to come in and make mass changes."
Knight sits in his office wearing a blue dress shirt, slacks and tie. You won't see him in the military-style cargo pants Nash liked to wear, he said.
You won't see deputies in those pants anymore either. From now on, everybody wears gray dress slacks and gray shirt.
"We're going to have one uniform for everybody," he said.
He's also started his crusade to slash expenses. He put the department's airplane up for sale. Nash bought the 1994 Maule MX7, a four-seater, in 2005 with $60,000 in confiscated drug money. He bought it to help with surveillance and drug-bust operations.
Knight is also taking a close look at a boat the department owns. He's also considering disbanding a diving team and using Department of Natural Resources divers instead.
"It's got to be a money saver for us," he said.
Dorchester County Council Chairman Jamie Feltner is counting on it. He said he met with Knight Tuesday and is pleased with some of his plans.
"I'm hoping that all the (county) departments might be more efficient this year," Feltner said. "I had a very good conversation with him. I expect a lot less politics, and let's just get the job done."
If Knight is living in anybody's shadow, it's his father's. Carl Knight was sheriff from 1960 to 1989. The law-enforcement center is named after him. A bronze plaque with his face on it hangs in the lobby.
"Naturally, as a young man, I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps," Knight said. "I'm mighty proud to serve the people of Dorchester County. It feels good to follow in dad's footsteps, it really does."
The judicial center next door is named for Troy Knight, L.C. Knight's son. He was a magistrate and Summerville town attorney who died in 2004 at age 38.
Nash will work as an investigator for 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, Assistant Solicitor Blair Jennings said Wednesday.
The solicitor's office is losing two investigators to Knight, and Nash will help make up that loss, he said. Pascoe saw an opportunity to pick up someone with 25 years of law enforcement experience "and took advantage of it," Jennings said.
Nash will start in a couple weeks, Jennings said. Salary information was not immediately available.