Time and time again, the West Point and Clay County community has poured out their love and support for a man who strives to put the well-being of people in Clay County at the top of his list of services he provides as sheriff of Clay County: Mr. Laddie Huffman.
Huffman's strong belief in helping people in the community as sheriff and caring about their needs are just some of the reasons he's been reelected for the office of sheriff more than any other sheriff in the county and is why he's served as Clay County sheriff for 20 years.
Huffman began as sheriff on Jan. 6, 1992 after serving two terms as Clay County justice court judge-district one. Before his terms as justice court judge, Huffman served six years as Ward 2 selectman for West Point. Huffman had never been an officer of the law prior to becoming sheriff but said he believed he could bring about a change to the crime problem in the community and make the county a safer place for residents to live in.
“I had a number of people ask me to run for sheriff, and the current sheriff was not seeking reelection,” Huffman said. “With my past business experience and my experience as justice court judge, I felt like I may have something to offer.”
Huffman said he had no idea he would serve as sheriff for 20 years but sincerely appreciates the community standing behind him during each county election.
“When you're running for public office and you get approval from the majority of the people in the county, you can't help but feel good,” he said. “Over all these years, the people in West Point and Clay County have been mighty good to me and my family, and that's something you never forget.”
Twenty years ago, Huffman said there was a tremendous drug problem in Clay County that caused some residents to not want to travel through certain parts of the city and county. But after Huffman was elected, the Clay County Sheriff's Department partnered with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, the Tri-County Narcotics and the Mississippi Drug Enforcement Agency to eliminate as much of the drug problem as law enforcement officers could in Clay County, and Huffman said over the past twenty years the drug problem has decreased significantly.
“Years ago, it would not have been safe to go down Cottrell Street. When you drive through there and you have people trying to flag you down to sell drugs, you know you have a problem,” he said. “That doesn't occur anymore. I think our partnership with drug enforcement agencies is really beneficial to the county.”
Having the district office of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics move to West Point about eight years ago has also helped in the continued effort to crack down on drugs in Clay County with eight narcotics officers on hand to assist the Sheriff's Department, Huffman said.
During Huffman's time at the Sheriff's Department, the Clay County jail has grown from 12 to 150 inmates, some of whom come from surrounding counties, some of whom are transits from North Atlantic Extradition Services of Columbus. Forty of those inmates, Huffman said, are involved in the state/county joint work program through which the state pays Clay County $20 per inmate, which helps the county's revenue, and the inmates provide services to the city and county.
In addition, Huffman worked to have the Sheriff's Department lease out 76 beds to North Atlantic Extradition Services, which brings in about $300,000 a year to the county. In managing the jail budget, Huffman said the jail operates on funds other than tax dollars, which is beneficial because the county doesn't have to raise taxes in order to operate the jail.
Huffman said many people have misconceptions about the role of a sheriff and believes his only duty is to enforce the law and crack down on crime. But Huffman said it takes a lot more than that.
“As time has gone by, I learned, by my second term, that the sheriff needs to spend most of his time being an administrator.,” he said. “When you have over $1 million budget and you have 30 plus people working for you and the legal ramifications, you have to tend to those things. The sheriff has the authority to go out and arrest people, but that's not the thrust of the responsibility. The biggest responsibility is administrative. To be a good sheriff, you're going to have to have administrative abilities. If you don't have them, you'll be hamstrung. You have to figure out ways to save the tax dollars and at the same time provide services that are necessary to protect the citizens in the community.”
Huffman said while he spends most of his time administering the Sheriff's Department, it's great to have trustworthy and dependable people who can help the Sheriff's Department run smoothly with all of the roles the Sheriff's Department has to take on.
“(Chief Deputy) Eddie Scott takes care of the deputies and all the law enforcement responsibility, and I don't worry about that,” Huffman said. “(Jail administrator) Bobby Randle runs the jail, and it's very few worries that I have there. That's one of the things that you have to have is folks that you can depend on. When you have that, it takes a load off.”
Having people show their appreciation for what deputies in the Sheriff's Department have done is just an indication that having great employees is a vital part of having a good Sheriff's Department that citizens can count on, he said.
“When you have somebody sit down and write you a letter and tell you how good a deputy was handling a problem that the person had, that right there is like candy to a baby,” Huffman said. “When people write me and call me and say 'this deputy went out of his way to get done what I needed done,' when they let me know that, that's better than a paycheck.”
Huffman will retire from his office as Clay County sheriff in January of 2012. His advice to candidates seeking the office of sheriff is to remember first and foremost that the sheriff is there to serve people. He said what would be the purpose of government if those involved did not care about and serve whom they represent to the best of their ability? He also said a sheriff must be humble, avoid having a haughty attitude and take a positive approach to the job.
Chief Deputy Eddie Scott, who has worked with Huffman at the Sheriff's Department for twelve years, said having the opportunity to work with Huffman has been a great learning experience and appreciates him for helping him grow as a law enforcement officer. Scott said Huffman will truly be missed.
“Laddie really showed me what it takes to be in law enforcement,” Scott said. “He showed me that it's about taking care of our community. He really opened my eyes to that point, and a lot times you have to protect people from themselves. He really showed me how to have dialogue with people; not just looking at the law book. We have to do our jobs, we have to enforce the law, but it's all about service to the community.”
Focusing on the needs of people who come through the Sheriff's Department is another thing Huffman always tells his deputies and investigators to remember, which is crucial in helping people stay on the right track and out of trouble, Scott said.
“In order to be able to solve a lot of issues, you have to be able to listen as well as speak,” Scott said. “You can't just look at everything one way. Over the years, there's no telling how many times I've been able to resolve issues between different parties sitting in my office. When people have problems they have to deal with the emotions,bad feelings-that kind of thing. When they come in here, I'm neutral. I'm listening to them, I can explain the law to them and at the same time try to reason with them. So a lot of times there are issues that never make it to court because it can be worked out here, and that's what's it's about. That's one things that he's really showed me over the years, and that's really helped me to get to where I am.”
Huffman said after retirement, he hopes to spend time visiting friends and spend more time with his family. He said he'll never take for granted the kindness people in the community have shown him and will definitely miss serving as Clay County sheriff.