MURRAY — The rules in a Kentucky sheriff’s office are pretty simple.
Like all political offices, the personnel of the administration under a sheriff who has just been defeated in an election become expendable. The new sheriff can do as he pleases and, if driven to such action, can choose to eliminate everyone and insert a totally new team.
Dana Sheridan has faced that situation a few times in her time with the Calloway County Sheriff’s Office. Starting in January 1994, in the final days of then-Sheriff J.D. Williams’ tenure, four times since then a new sheriff has been elected and could have decided to toss her out of her job as a bookkeeper.
It has not happened, and it will not. That is because on Friday, Sheridan will leave on her own terms, after 27 years with CCSO, which is believed to mark the first time someone has served that amount of time with the agency.
“She is the backbone of this agency. I’m not kidding. Any sheriff will tell you this … when you have a gem of a bookkeeper like she is, you do not, under any circumstances, get rid of those people,” said the man that will be Sheridan’s fifth and final sheriff under whom she has worked, current Calloway County Sheriff Sam Steger.
“I have known Dana my whole career and I knew the work the she did. I worked here for a time under (then-Sheriff) Stan Scott and I’ve just known her over the years (while he was at other agencies, including Kentucky State Police Post 1 n Graves County, where he retired before running for and winning the Calloway sheriff’s position). She was the crux of this agency then and there was no way she was going anywhere … unless she didn’t want to work for me (he said, laughing).”
Sheridan is leaving CCSO with two titles. First, she is a corporal, a title bestowed on her by then-Sheriff Bill Marcum, in the early 2010s and along with her bookkeeping duties, she also is a functioning deputy sheriff, meaning she has had training just like any other law officer.
The title for which she is most associated is that of office manager, which puts her on the front lines of keeping the financial condition of CCSO as healthy as possible.
“The biggest job is tax collection. I think it’s about $17 million or $18 million for that now, and in the first 30 days (the period of Oct. 15- Nov. 15 annually), we give a 2% discount, so that means that probably around 70% of the people who pay do so in that period, and it gets a little crazy around here,” Sheridan said, explaining that things have changed dramatically in her time with CCSO.
“We’ve come a long way, actually. Whenever I started (which was when CCSO was operating from the first floor of the Calloway County Courthouse), we had like 50 books and I don’t know how many tax bills in each one, but you’d have to stand up and pull those books and I remember one time pulling those books and hitting someone in the head because they were bent over. So, yeah, we’ve come a long way as far as that goes.”
She said CCSO’s office space situation is much more accommodating since it moved into the former Calloway County Health Center office at Seventh and Olive streets in 2009. She said the courthouse office was quite small and the situation became even more cramped when CCSO spent about five years inside a building on Maple Street.
“Plus, we started doing more,” she said of how records like concealed carry and vehicle inspections, as well as court papers, were added to the list of jobs. “Everything was on paper. I used to have to write checks out manually and we used to have to take all of our information and put it into a DOS system (floppy-disc-driven computer system).”
She remembered one of her more stressful stretches on the job.
“One time, that tax system on our computer crashed, so we had to take all of the files for like a month and re-enter everything. Oh, it was crazy! And we had to it ourselves. We had no one around that could help us,” she said. “We worked all day every day on it for probably a couple of weeks. You know — that’s stressful when that happens.”
And while no major issues have been detected during her time handling the CCSO books, she said state audit exams have always made her nervous.
“That’s something that, every year, used to just freak me out. I’ve gotten better about it, but when somebody mentions the word ‘auditor’ it just makes you nervous. I’m not going to miss that,” she said. “I think they are always looking for something, but you just have to get to a point that you know you’re never going to be perfect, and I’ve never had any problems with it, thank goodness.
“They’ve actually been very good to work with.”
Sheridan actually juggled two jobs in her first few years with CCSO. Along with handling the books, she also spent a brief stint during Scott’s first few years as a dispatcher, which she said brought its share of interesting moments.
But that was nothing compared to what is believed to be her first, and only time, of putting her deputy training to use. She said she has never had to fire her service weapon, never had to pursue a suspect or even take action after hours. In 1994, it was decided that a female deputy was needed to accompany Deputy Dennis McDaniel to Alaska to retrieve a prisoner who was wanted in Calloway County for allegedly having stolen a valuable ring, along with $10,000 from the Bible of an elderly woman.
She said she could not prepare herself for what transpired once in Alaska.
“We go (to a jail) and get her and she looks at me says, ‘I can’t fly. I’ll die,’” Sheridan recalled. She and McDaniel had taken a commercial airline flight the previous day. “Dennis has to like nudge her in the knees to get her on the plane. Then she starts screaming.”
Soon, a flight attendant had arrived to check on things. Sheridan and McDaniel told the attendant the situation, but the prisoner continued to, in Sheridan’s words, ‘“have a fit.”
“So the pilot gets on and says, ‘You three! Off the plane!’ He kicks us off,” she said of how this put the deputies in a major bind because they had already checked out of their hotel and returned their rental car. “So we call Stan and tell him what happened, then a (Alaska) state trooper comes and gets us to take her back to the jail, and when she realizes this, she asks me, ‘They’re taking me back to jail?’ Like she thought we were just going to let her go.
“We wound up flying back (to Kentucky) without her and they ended up having to send somebody from Paducah to get her and it took them two weeks to get her back here.”
“I’ve never heard about that one, but I think I’m going to have ask her about it,” Steger said, chuckling.
Steger explained that Sheridan was what is known as “grandfathered in” when the Police Officer Professional Standards began being required in 2006, setting new standards for all law enforcement personnel in Kentucky, including telecommunications and office staff. He said he knows she was the only CCSO deputy given this treatment and believes she was one of only a handful across the commonwealth.
“That’s because she was already a sworn officer before that program took effect,” he said, explaining that he is glad something like that did not jeopardize her tenure. He said he would have missed her.
“One thing I’ve learned about this job is that a lot more goes with it than law enforcement and that’s meant working with Dana on all of the tax money collections, all the stuff with vehicle inspections, all of that. Absolutely you’re comfortable — the most comfortable — when you know you’ve got somebody who is trustworthy and has the same goals you do. That’s a big worry that is lifted off your shoulders.
“She’s going to be a tough one to lose, but you know what? She’s done her time, 27 years! But I am trying to talk her into being part time for tax season.”