published Sunday, September 9th, 2012

What is Sheriff Jim Hammond hiding?

“I admit slowing the process down.”

With those words, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond let the county residents who pay his salary know his approach to government transparency.

Under Hammond, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department has gotten a well-earned reputation as being one of the least responsive government agencies in the state to requests for public records. And now we know why. Hammond is standing in the way of being held accountable.

According to state law, “all documents ... made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency” are public records. A government agency in Tennessee is required by law to make those records available within seven days or provide the requestor a written explanation of how long it will take to produce the request.

So why then does it take weeks, sometimes months, to get documents from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department?

In a Times Free Press editorial board meeting on Thursday, Hammond responded to that question by admitting to slow-walking the process of furnishing public records.

“If you’re asking me, ‘have I slowed the pace down?’ Absolutely,” Hammond said.

In one circumstance, a Times Free Press reporter requested a copy of the employee manual that Sheriff’s Department employees must follow. That request was made on July 9. As of today, that document has still not been provided to the requestor. In another case, the Sheriff’s Department has been unwilling to comply with requests for arrest reports — one of the most commonly requested of all public records.

 In a particularly egregious example of skirting state public records laws, a Times Free Press reporter requested a personnel file on July 12 and was not allowed to review it until August 24. A reporter for Chattanoogan.com requested the same file on July 18 and was given access to the file the same day.

 It would be easy for Hammond to pass the buck and claim that one of his underlings was responsible for the Sheriff Department’s poor history of compliance with public records requests, but Hammond admitted, “I’ve been guilty of not doing everything I could [to comply with public records laws].”

 Hammond told journalists at the Times Free Press, “Every time your lawyers have got with ours, I think ya’ll have won nine out of ten of the meetings.” But it shouldn’t come to that.

 Newspapers are fortunate to have attorneys to call when arrogant tyrants like Hammond stand in the way of state law and deny access to public records. Concerned citizens don’t have that luxury and often never receive the records they request.

 When asked why he and his department consistently made a mockery of state public records laws, Hammond’s response was chilling. “You’re following the letter of the law,” said Hammond. “I prefer the spirit of the law.”

 A lot of the people are sitting in Hamilton County jail today because they violated the letter of the law. Those inmates would likely be shocked to learn that the County’s sheriff doesn’t believe the letter of the law applies to him.

 Hammond’s condescending “you’ll get them when I want you to see them” outlook on public records may have worked in the Wild West or in a dictatorship, but it has no place in modern government. By failing to respond quickly and thoroughly to public records requests, Jim Hammond makes Hamilton County residents wonder what he has to hide. 

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Pass_it_on said...

Does the TFP really expect its readers to believe this tripe? The efforts to demonize and marginalize Sherriff Jim Hammond are well documented within your tomes. Now the costs incurred from the results of those actions are impacting the operations of your organization.

Part of the consequences of adopting the role of a bully is accepting and acknowledging why some people are urinating in your sandbox. Playing the victim role won't get you respect or results. Did you learn anything? Are you going treat the next sherriff the same way?

Expecting different results from the same behavior is a definition of insanity ...

September 9, 2012 at 4:02 a.m.
ldurham said...

Same old, same old. Ye Olde TFP keeps ranting and raving, and Jim Hammond can get re-elected five more times if he so chooses. Nothing to see here, move along.

September 9, 2012 at 9:35 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Yes, there's nothing like legal corruption, cover-ups, nepotism, abuse of power, and years under the tutelage of H.Q. Evatt to produce a Jim Hammond.

Hamilton County has political sheriff, not a good sheriff. It's great though, that he's a self-proclaimed Christian as that always gets votes.

"Jesus for Jim". Vote Now and Receive a Bible, Deputy Badge, and All the Guns and Illegal Activity You Can Carry in a Brown Paper Bag!

September 9, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.
aae1049 said...

It appears that some of the posters have never filed an open records request to some of these trifling government agencies.

When the public is not allowed to review government records, such as contracts, spending,..., we have real problems. I have filed open records, and local governments do ignore the Tennessee Open Records laws, even when presented the law. I have filed three TN open records complaints against the Hamilton County Attorney's Office, Hamilton County Dept of Education, and the Hamilton County Office of Courts, because they refused to comply with open records law. It appears that arrogance trumps the law in the Sheriff's office.

The public may bypass the refusal of government agencies to produce records, and obtain records through third party intervention at no charge, through the attorney at the open records office. This is a fast and easy process.

For folks that don't believe your local governments would refuse to produce records, please insert your head back in the sand.

Here is the person to contact when government believes that their agency is not, by the people, for the people. They have the authority to force the local government to release records.

Elisha Hodge, Office of Open Records Counsel 505 Deaderick Street, Suite 1700 James K. Polk Building Nashville, Tennessee 37243-1402 Phone: (615) 401-7891 Toll free phone: 1-866-831-3750 Fax: (615) 741-1551 open.records@cot.tn.gov

September 9, 2012 at 11:32 a.m.
jesse said...

I have lived my entire life in Hamilton co. and this is the way the sheriff's office has operated as far back as i can remember! Hammond is JUST the latest edition! As long as the sheep of this county keep putting these kinda folks in office don't expect a positive result! If you brung it you got to run w/it! The sheriff's office has always been the most corrupt office in the system!BUT it ain't as bad as it was back in BOOKIE'S day! BUT it's gittin close! Actually if you Google "Bookie Turner" it shows a pic. of Jim Hammond!!lol H.Q. was Bookies protege and Jim Hammond was H.Q.'S gofer so what do you expect?

September 9, 2012 at 12:18 p.m.
richarddawkins said...

DaytonsDarwin

For a minute there i didn't think you were going to find a way to work in Jesus on this one. well done.

Not sure who is more fixated on our lord and saviour...you or Orrmeanslight. Lol

Hammond is one of those few county officials this newpaper is allowed to scrutinize...there are many others who are far more unscrupulous that you'll never hear a word about.

September 9, 2012 at 12:42 p.m.
jesse said...

Richard Dawkins? I don't for one min. believe they are more unscrupulous pol's around here than Hammond! Actualy you got about a doz. that are in the same pack BUT who wants to spend the time to sort out WHO'S #1??? Kinda be like sortin out wild cats!All you end up with is a lot of sore places!!

September 9, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
aae1049 said...

"Kinda be like sortin out wild cats!All you end up with is a lot of sore places!!" Exactly.

There is more contract malfeasance (failure to bid and objectively award contracts), as a means to funnel money to their friends, than available print space. I prefer citizen watch groups that are more genuine than main stream media.

September 9, 2012 at 1:15 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

richarddawkins said...

"DaytonsDarwin

For a minute there i didn't think you were going to find a way to work in Jesus on this one. well done."

When someone makes a public proclamation, as Hammond has done on many occasions, of their belief in a religous dogma, such as Christianity and Jesus, then that issues becomes subject to scrutiny.

Had Hammond remained silent on his faith while serving as a public official, I would too.

He made it an issue. I'm merely examining his credibility. Much like when Christians examine fanatical Muslims on their credibility as "peaceful followers of Mohammed and Allah."

What's fair for Muslims is fair for Christians.

September 9, 2012 at 2:37 p.m.
tcrashfx said...

I am pretty sure that my personnel file was released to the TFP 2.463 seconds after it was requested.

September 9, 2012 at 7:44 p.m.
UjokinRIGHTQ said...

Retaliation against Hammond because he ruffled a few old head feathers inside the sheriff's department recently?

September 9, 2012 at 9:45 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

The editorial's argument once again failed when the writer chose to use insult words. Maybe try consulting the AP stylebook's chapter on libel. Even though this is an editorial: the more you use insulting language; the more you will erode the public's trust in your reporting.

I dare you to write an editorial without insults.

Since your new editor in chief was appointed, the Free Press has failed to publish one edition of the electronic paper without an editorial that relied on insulting language to make its point. I would provide my insulting characterizations of the low level of intelligence he's demonstrated, but I doubt the profanities that would begin to describe it should be put into public print. If you can't write an editorial without insult: just stop typing.

Thanks for getting it wrong again. Anytime you want to play journalist in that office, the Free Press would be a great place to start a newspaper.

September 9, 2012 at 10:37 p.m.
Pass_it_on said...

TFP has an image problem. What is apparent to many readers are the lack of journalistic integrity, hidden agendas and utter contempt TFP espouses as their first amendment right to "create" sensationalistic stories that lean more towards malicious gossip rather than sound journalistic reporting. The difference is laying out the facts rather than creating plausible scenarios.

A wise friend once told me, "You hate in others what you despise about yourself". Self deception is the greatest obstacle to truth. The harder I tried to prove that axiom wrong, the clearer the inventory that emerged. Pointing a finger at someone or something also means there are three more fingers pointing right back at oneself.

The more convinced of how righteous one is, the greater the blinders of denial.

What separates a great journalist from a mediocre reporter? It is not the person writing ... rather it is the culture of the organization and the management that provide the foundation for greatness to emerge.

Change comes from within. Not from external influences.

September 10, 2012 at 7:55 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

I support Drew Johnson. It's time that questions are raised about politicians, law enforcement, DAs, wasted taxpayer's money, stupid laws, and the Republican and Democratic parties and positions.

It's time that the TFP was good for something other than a fish-wrapper. Chris Carroll, Judy Walton, Cliff Hightower, Pam Sohn, and Andy Sher are first-rate journalists, not just reporters of press releases from corporations, government, politicians, and special interests. The new freedom Drew brings to the paper allows those journalists to investigate without fear of internal pressures to quash important stories.

It's a welcome change from the Tom Griscom and Lee Anderson days of collusion, deliberate blindness, and back-scratching. I welcome the bright light he's shining into the dark, hidden recesses of politicians, government, and business.

It's time someone upset the moldy, rotten apple-carts in town. Keep kicking, Mr. Johnson, as hard as you can.

September 10, 2012 at 8:42 a.m.
sangaree said...

daytonsdarwin, Mr. Johnson and the TFP should first explore the reasons behind the individuals feeding them all this negative information that seem more out to destroy lives and reputations rather than hold government accountable to taxpayers. Believe me when I say, theirs doesn't appear to be of a noble cause. It seems more self serving and vindictive. In order to preserve the image and integrity of honest news reporting this paper owe both itself and its readers the truth. The paper should explore and expose whether there's a more sinister motive behind what they're being fed.

September 10, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

I believe for Mr. Johnson his cause is to break the hold of special interests of all kinds. Mr. Johnson bravely retracted the endorsement of Greg Vital after Vital's fabrications and denials. The excellent investigative reporting of Steve Bebb's corruption as DA and 10th Judicial Drug Task Force leader and Drew's editorial calling Bebb out was great. While Bebb had the Cleveland paper report his rebuttal, you'll notice Bebb didn't confront the TFP and ask for an interview. Why? Because Bebb couldn't control the TFP as he did with the softball reporting of the "Cleveland Daily Disappointment."

Does anyone think that Chattanoogan.com or Nooga.com are investigative journalists? While they serve a purpose they have neither the money or inclination to do so.

Corporatist and crony-capitalist Republicans are mad because Drew doesn't follow that party line. Yellow-dog Democrats don't like Drew's attacks on wasteful and corrupt welfare and social planning platforms. He's goring the sacred oxen of both parties.

Newspapers were once the public's best investigative tool, but sadly and too often those once great papers became a Chamber of Commerce glad-rag of stories, fashion, sports, and society columns wrapped around advertisements.

The investigative aspect, which today is the only reason to read the daily paper as all other news is readily available elsewhere, has again taken its place to serve the public interest, not the interest of business, government, and politicians.

September 10, 2012 at 12:16 p.m.
timbo said...

The TFP has had it's problems, but the fact that they are finally, finally looking into some of the power structure characters is acting as a REAL newspaper.

If these power structure hacks don't like it, tough. People like "pass it on" are sychophants or probably involved in an organized effort to debunk anyone who has the audacity to get in the power structures face. After decades of the TFP being basically being propagandists for these people, Drew is quite refreshing.

Drew, ignore these stupid liberals and power structure types and continue to do your job.

September 10, 2012 at 5:43 p.m.
UjokinRIGHTQ said...

timbo, Sheriff Hammond is a conservative Republican. Are you really that naive to think the people feeding the TFP this crap really have your, my and the taxpayers best interest in mind? No! They began to target Hammond after he arrested their drunken little darlings up there around Apison a few short months ago, and after he warned those little darlings would no longer just receive citations without an arrest. Just like they and their parents before them were allowed to escape with a clean record. Hammond warned their little darlings would be arrested, jailed and fined just like the average Joes and Josettas when caught commtting a crime. These are the same jokers who accused everyone else of not taking personal responsibility for their actions. However, when it comes to them and their own taking personal responbility they think the same rules and laws shouldn't apply to them. So what did some of'em do? They threaten to make sure Hammond would not be re-elected to sheriff. They want a free ride. They think the rules and laws should only apply to everyone else but them. They expect, even demand, that free ride they accuse others of wanting. They want to replace Hammond with their own yes men, friends and buddies who will do what they're told rather than follow the law and do what is right. If you think they will replace Hammond with some righteous individual you are tragically mistaken. Hammond is a saint compared to what these jokers have on their minds.

September 10, 2012 at 6:32 p.m.
jesse said...

My take on this is the words"yes i slow the process down"came straight outa Hammonds mouth!

Hard to lay that on someone in Apison or Soddy or any other place i can think of!!

September 10, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.
aae1049 said...

UjokinRIGHTQ " Sheriff is a conservative Republican" Bahahah. I was on the GOP caucus after the Billy Long trunk full of powder incident. Fact is, the Coker crowd drug Hammond over from the Dem party. I was there, and Hammond is a RINO, but true conservative, bahahaha

September 10, 2012 at 10:20 p.m.
Lr103 said...

Citizens greatest concern should be who they plan for the likes of Hammonds replacement. Things and people ain't always as they appear. Don't fall for the trap. Cuz that's what it is a trap.

September 11, 2012 at 9:20 a.m.
jesse said...

Who gives a rats azz about his political affiliation? Who and WHAT is Jim Hammond??(his own self!) Now that the Free Press is actin like a newspaper again maybe we are gonna find out!

September 11, 2012 at 2:31 p.m.
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