If the Walker County Sheriff's Office were a railroad, Rhonda Guthrie would be the person who made sure the trains ran on time.Guthrie is the gatekeeper for Sheriff Nick Smith, Chief Deputy Anthony …
If the Walker County Sheriff's Office were a railroad, Rhonda Guthrie would be the person who made sure the trains ran on time.
Guthrie is the gatekeeper for Sheriff Nick Smith, Chief Deputy Anthony Leach and Director of Operations Nick Key. She schedules their meetings, gives them daily reminders about what's on their calendar and confirms each meeting with the person who requested it so that time isn't wasted waiting on no-shows.
Having Guthrie as the go-between is also beneficial to citizens who have known the frustration of dropping by the office to speak with someone about a problem they are having only to be told that no one is available.
Guthrie, who was hired earlier this year as an administrative clerk, is the reason that Smith can balance his conflicting pledges to be a working sheriff and one who is accessible.
"I can't be a working sheriff and sit behind a desk all day. I've made myself more available than other sheriff in a long time. My cell phone number is out there for the public. People reach me on Facebook. But if you want to see me, the best way to make sure that I will be here is to make an appointment through Rhonda," Smith said.
Guthrie, a Curry High graduate, has a background in retail management. Before coming to the sheriff's department, she worked as secretary of the crime prevention division at the Tuscaloosa Police Department.
When she took the job at WCSO, she expected to handle typical clerk duties such as processing pistol permits. Although she does that as well, it is her organizational skills that have made her indispensable.
Prior to the department's recent civilian firearms training, Guthrie gave Smith a color-coded spreadsheet that showed who had confirmed their attendance and who had not.
For every person who leaves a phone message for Smith, Guthrie has a record of the specific times that either he or she returned the call and whether any of the attempts were successful.
The key to bringing order to chaos, she said, is keeping detailed notes, asking questions and remaining calm.
"I just think of it as using common sense. I'm an oldest kid, so I think it all comes naturally from growing up being the responsible one," she said.
Without Guthrie, Smith said the office would be "total chaos."
Guthrie compares her role to being mom to a group of boys. Instead of extracurriculars and schoolwork to juggle, these boys serve a county of approximately 64,000 people and the demands on their time are constant.
The call volume (excluding dispatch) is so high that Guthrie and four other women who work in the office can barely keep up while also dealing with the thousands of people who visit the sheriff's office each year for various reasons.
"We've had people sit in the lobby and say, 'Wow. I could sit here for the entertainment because there is so much going on all the time,'" Guthrie said.
Smith dedicates two hours of office time each morning to meeting with the public. He averages between four and six meeting a day. Since taking office in January, he has met with nearly 200 people.
Scheduling meetings in the morning frees up Smith's afternoons to be on the streets working alongside his deputies and investigators.
Meetings are usually held between 9 and 11 a.m., although alternate times can be scheduled for those who have work or other conflicts.
Most of the people who request a meeting want to discuss civil matters that are outside the jurisdiction of law enforcement.
"I see more people over property disputes than anything, and there is nothing that the sheriff's department can do over a land dispute," Smith said.
Smith also requires that anyone wanting to make a complaint against a deputy do so in person rather than over the phone.
Citizens can call the office at 302-6464 to schedule a meeting or go to the Meet the Sheriff tab on the department's website, walkercountysheriff.com.