Smith named Athens sheriff

ATHENS – Retired Lt. Rodney Smith was appointed and sworn in as interim Athens County sheriff Thursday.

When he takes office remains to be seen.

Athens County commissioners voted 3-0 to appoint Smith, a Coolville resident and 26-year veteran of the department, to take over for Sheriff Patrick Kelly, who is facing a suspension as he awaits trial on 23 felony corruption charges and two misdemeanors.

According to the Associated Press, Kelly issued a statement Wednesday saying he would not challenge a suspension recommended by a panel of judges appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

However, while Kelly has been in communication with the panel, no suspension had been issued as of Thursday afternoon.

“Until the Supreme Court gives the official notice, Pat Kelly’s sheriff,” Commissioner Charlie Adkins said.

Ohio Supreme Court spokesman Chris Davey said he expects a report from the committee soon.

“Under the statute, until they issue that final report, all their proceedings are confidential,” he said.

Adkins said Kelly dropped his county vehicle off at the courthouse Wednesday and Smith was sworn in and bonded with the county’s insurer on Thursday.

But without notice from the Supreme Court, Kelly “will on record still be sheriff,” Adkins said. “Whether he’s taking any role in it at this point, we do not know.”

Neither Kelly nor his attorney, Brad Koffel of Columbus, returned a call seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Kelly has pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the charges against him, which include theft in office, tampering with records and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. He is suspected of improperly using public funds to buy meals and personal apparel, selling county property to a scrapyard and stealing wire from a county garage, among other allegations.

Once he takes over, Smith will serve until at least April 8, when the Athens County Democratic Party’s Central Committee will vote on who to appoint as sheriff. Smith has submitted his name for consideration, as has Lt. Jack Taylor, a detective currently working for the sheriff’s office.

Both Smith and Taylor were interviewed by commissioners prior to Thursday’s vote.

“I’m very humbled by that, that they’ve bestowed their trust in me,” Smith said Thursday.

Smith retired from the sheriff’s office last year as a lieutenant. He was originally hired as a corrections officer in 1987, becoming a road deputy the following year. He served as operational lieutenant, the department’s second-in-command, under Sheriff Vern Castle from 2001 to 2009.

“I just think during the process of interviewing and talking to folks throughout the county … (there) was never anything negative about his character or his work as a deputy,” Adkins said.

Smith said he submitted his name for consideration because he feels his experience can benefit the department.

“I believe I could add some stability to the sheriff’s office,” he said.

Smith said he plans to hold meetings in different parts of the more-than-500-square-mile county to interact with members of the community. Asked if he had concerns about the situation with Kelly casting the office in a bad light, he replied, “I just think in law enforcement you prove yourself every day, and it’s going to be a work in progress.”

The central committee will meet to consider the sheriff appointment at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, in the municipal courtroom at Athens City Hall.

“They (Smith and Taylor) will each have an opportunity to speak,” said Julia Michael Scott, chairwoman of the committee. “They have already sent out their resumes to the central committee members.”

Other candidates can also apply before the meeting, she said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)