LITTLE ROCK — The embattled Saline County sheriff said Friday he will retire next month, backtracking to a commitment he made a week earlier before nixing the idea and saying this week he planned to run for re-election next year despite pleading guilty to alcohol-related charges.
In a letter to the county judge, Sheriff Bruce Pennington said he would retire Oct. 1. Accompanying the letter was Pennington’s application for retirement annuity filed with the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System.
"I had hoped for immediate resignation, but this will work," County Judge Lanny Fite told the Arkansas News Bureau.
The Saline County Quorum Court scheduled a special meeting for Saturday to declare a vacancy in the sheriff’s position.
Pennington originally announced an Oct. 1 retirement after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest.
By Monday, the sheriff had changed his mind and announced he would put off retirement until Jan. 1, 2015, at the end of his term. A day later, Pennington said he would not resign at all and would seek re-election to a third term next year.
The pronouncement prompted a letter from Fite urging Pennington to leave office immediately. The county judge told the sheriff he had lost the public’s trust and that "your personal problems are preventing you from impartially performing your official duties."
The quorum court followed up Tuesday night by passing a resolution calling for the sheriff to step down.
Pennington’s retirement notice Friday came a day after the Saline County Republican Committee passed a vote of no-confidence in the sheriff and urged him to step down, and after the Saline County prosecutor requested a special prosecutor to explore whether the sheriff could be removed from office under a constitutional provision authorizing removal of county or township officials for criminal conduct.
The state has no statute providing for recall of county officials, and Prosecutor Ken Casaday concluded that the constitutional provision for removal of election officials for "infamous crimes" did not apply to Pennington’s case.