Okmulgee County looking for sheriff for the second time in seven

Tuesday, September 21st 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKMULGEE, Okla. (AP) -- The next Okmulgee County sheriff will be
the third person to hold that office in the past seven months.

Sheriff Audie Cole, who took office in mid-June, told county
commissioners Monday that he is taking a job as police chief in
Henryetta. His resignation is effective Sept. 30.

Cole had replaced Dayle James, who resigned in March.

County Commissioner James Ballenger said as soon as he heard
about the Henryetta opening he thought there was a chance Cole
would leave the troubled sheriff's department.

"I hate to lose him. But I sure understand where he's coming
from. The headaches around that sheriff's department far outweigh
what he might find in the police department there," Ballenger

Okmulgee County's jail has been a problem. Three inmates have
escaped since June, and two are still free, including arson suspect
Donald Gean Miller.

Ballenger said Cole, who was instrumental in getting a
referendum for a new $8 million-plus jail on the Nov. 9 ballot,
will continue to push for the half-cent sales tax that would fund
the proposed facility.

Ballenger said the county's three commissioners will meet
Wednesday to discuss a strategy for naming a new sheriff. Cole's
term end Jan. 1, 2001, and the next sheriff's election is in
November 2000.

"We have the authority to do anything, from immediately naming
somebody to taking a lengthy process," he said. "We'll just have
to see what's best. The main thing we want is a smooth transition
so we don't lose continuity in the jail."

Cole, who could not be reached for comment, was undersheriff
when James abruptly resigned.

In Henryetta, he will replace Lt. Jodie Watson, who became
interim chief when the city fired Everett Allen in late August.
City Manager Jerry Vail said Watson will become assistant chief.

Cole is paid more than $36,000 annually as sheriff. Vail said
Cole will make $30,000 a year plus incentives as police chief.

The last time Cole served on the Henryetta police force was in
the early 1980s. Vail said Cole's public relations skills helped
him get the job.

"I just felt like with his past experiences in law enforcement
and his PR that he would be very good for the job," he said.