Mecklenburg County commissioners in Charlotte may strip away the sheriff’s most significant duty: running the county’s two jails, reports the Charlotte Observer. The proposal comes as veteran Sheriff Jim Pendergraph approaches retirement and the Democratic Party prepares to recommend someone to finish his four-year term. “Jim Pendergraph has been a highly competent sheriff,” said commissioner Parks Helms, “but you’re not always guaranteed you’re going to get someone like that.”
Running the jail accounts for about two-thirds of the sheriff’s responsibilities and its $100 million-plus annual budget. The jail runs a program to identify deportable immigrants; it has targeted nearly 3,000 inmates for deportation since May 2006. Pendergraph is retiring Dec. 1 to take a job with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, overseeing efforts by sheriff’s offices nationwide to detain illegal immigrants. As many as 500 inmates sleep on the floor at night in the Charlotte jail; county officials are talking about building a temporary 600-bed lockup. A consultant says the county needs another 400 beds and will need 2,000 more by 2020.