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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Ledford, January 3, 2001. Interview K-0251. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working to ensure that community change is fair

Change is inevitable, Ledford says of Madison County, but part of his job is to ensure that the change is fair. He seems to mean that he must continue to serve all his constituents, whether change favors them equally or not. He describes the explosive growth of one highway exit in a nearby county, and worries that Madison County is not ready for similar growth.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Ledford, January 3, 2001. Interview K-0251. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

How much change is good? Where do we-
JOHN LEDFORD:
I guess my answer to that is and I think you would agree with this, change is inevitable. It's coming. You want to throttle that or control how much change comes in. The things that the county commissioners or even the sheriff have to be very careful of is to make sure that change is fair. Every community in this county is different from the next. Mars Hill people are even though they're from Madison County are different than Marshall. Marshall is different from Laurel. Laurel is different from Spring Creek. They're different in many different ways. We have to be fair about it. When I first came in, my statement was that the reason that I wanted these four COPS officers-and this is a true statement-I've got one deputy. He can spend all his time in North Marshall, Beech Glen and Mars Hill. You'll never see a deputy in Laurel or Spring Creek because that's where the calls for service are because that's where the population is and will be. But it's not fair because they deserve, you deserve, to have your house checked. Or if you need a deputy, call a deputy if you live in Laurel. If you don't give me these officers, they're going to stay up here. They can't go down. They can't be in two places at once. I don't care who the sheriff is. So we've got to be fair. Another things is, is like cell phones, I know there has been a big war in this county about cell towers. Either you're for them or against them. I know that you know having been from other places from a law enforcement stand point I can't, I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible because I felt like anything I might do might sway it one way or the other. But I felt like we were going to get them, and I felt like we needed them from a law enforcement standpoint because myself and my chief deputy from Marshall down only have the Madison County Sheriff's Department channel one, and it cannot be secured. So if I'm down here on something very, very important going down, I don't have the ability to talk to anybody any other way than come over that main channel or stop and find two pay phones. I don't think you're really going to find any pay phones in that area. These cell phones are very important and not just cell phones but digital cell phones. So I thought we needed the service, but now as far as the types of towers coming in, I tried to stay out of that. I think there's a legitimate, I think I'm glad that's a decision made by the planning board of adjustments or commissioners or whomever and not up to me. So I think what you do is we accept that cell phones are coming, but we try to determine how they're going to come. Probably how much change is coming is the good Lord only knows because I'd say it's going to be amazing.
ROB AMBERG:
Right.
JOHN LEDFORD:
I watch Haywood County and some of these counties have these interstates through them. It seems like. I'll give you an example. In 1991 my chief deputy and I, my chief deputy was the chief investigator and I was the fugitive officer working in Buncombe County. Mark Lane ran a pawnshop on Leicester Street. He was about twenty years of age and was shot and killed. They sent myself and another SWAT team member to Dandridge, Hamblen County, Dandridge, Tennessee on a manhunt. The boys that did it were named Davis and Hood. These boys, one of them was paroled, had killed a man in Ohio, did seventeen years and paroled out. Came down and lived with his sister in Hamblen Tennessee or Hamblen County, Dandridge, Tennessee there and began to armed rob everything down there. Came over into North Carolina and armed robbed the McDonalds in Canton and came out and pulled this armed robbery and shot and killed this young man. I spent five days in Dandridge, Tennessee. The sheriff down there at that time, this is 1991 now, they had about eight deputies about like my department now, a little smaller. The deputies didn't have bullet proof vests and really were no better equipped, probably not as well equipped as we are now. I know they were. They sent Charlie Long, who was the sheriff then, sent two of us down there heavily armed because he figured they'd come home and there may be a shoot out, and they wanted help. They signed a mutual aid agreement and sent us down. We had Federal warrants. We had jurisdiction. They had a hotel there, and they had one truck stop type diner. This year, which is about not even ten years later, I went to Pigeon Forge with my wife and got off at that exit, and in ten years now they have you just would not believe the place. They have McDonalds. They have Taco Bell. They have just, that whole exit is just. It's just like, you wouldn't even know it. If it weren't for that one hotel that's, that truck stop still there, I wouldn't even know the exit now. That's in nine years. So we're not going to be any different. Exit 11 will explode up here I believe, and the change will be so great, so quickly that I hope we're prepared for it. But I'm not sure that we are. I really don't know that we are. I don't know that we could be prepared for it because I'm not sure we have the tax base from a law enforcement standpoint to hire the deputies and the equipment and get them trained and pay them salaries to keep them.