Tuesday was a day for new beginnings, and it started as early as it could.
In a break with tradition, Sheriff A.J. Smith hosted a formal ceremony beginning at 12:01 a.m. at Apalachicola’s First United Methodist Church to conduct his swearing-in, as well as that of about 75 law enforcement staffers of the department that he now oversees.
The sanctuary was hushed, and standing-room only, when the Rev. Themo Patriotis took to the altar to oversee the ceremony. Angeline Stanley offered a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, and following a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey, who served in Franklin County for three years and now is on the bench in Tallahassee, swore in Smith.
Following that, Smith swore in his deputies, as well as the department’s other affiliated staffers, and administered to them an oath of loyalty in which they promised to uphold the U.S. and state constitutions.. Also on hand were members of the Apalachicola Police Department to lend their support.
In his brief remarks, Smith stressed to his staff that “I just want everybody to please treat the public like you want to be treated.
“A lot of times the people that who criticize us are the first ones to talk, and the ones who like what we’re doing are quiet,” he said, predicting that the department would see fewer complaints and greater accolades with an improved community outreach.
“There are no finer men and women anywhere than in the Franklin Country Sheriff’s Office,” Smith said. “I’m honored and humbled, and I want you to know I work for you. If you need something, tell me. My door’s open, come and see me.
“I look forward to the next four years, to working really hard with you and solving some of the problems that we have in Franklin County, Because I know if we work together and we bring in the community, we can solve a lot of the problems we have in the county.
“One person can make a change,” he said. “And it starts right here.”
Patriotis closed the ceremony with a rousing benediction, praising the sheriffs who have come before and blessing all those lawmen gathered on the occasion. A reception followed in the fellowship hall.
Accompanied by his family, Smith was sworn in again later that morning by County Judge Van Russell during the more traditional setting of the county commission meeting.
Also taking the oath were Tax Collector Jimmy Harris, now embarking on his seventh term, and 25th year in office; Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson, who is entering her fourth term; Property Appraiser Rhonda Millender Skipper, who was sworn in for a second consecutive term; and Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley, now entering her first term.
The elections office held an open house throughout the morning, as Riley greeted well-wishers.