For 29 years, Tulsa County knew one sheriff.
Now — in turmoil following the fatal shooting of Eric Harris, a grand jury investigation that brought down former Sheriff Stanley Glanz and the abrupt resignation of Glanz’s replacement — deputies have their third leader in the past five months.
Michelle Robinette, a 21-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, assumed the top spot when Interim Sheriff Rick Weigel retired last month. Her tenure will be short, because a new sheriff will be elected April 5.
That sheriff will hold office about seven months before another election for sheriff is held. (Robinette can’t run because she lives in Rogers County and has no plans to move.)
On Wednesday, Robinette had her first round of interviews with the media.
During her interview with The Frontier, Robinette discussed a wide range of issues, including being a single parent to six of her own children — two still living at home — and three grandchildren. She also talked about controversial issues including jail spending, deaths in the jail, grand jury recommendations and the reserve program.
Robinette also revealed what the former sheriff said to her on the day she took over his old job.
Below are excerpts of Robinette’s interview with The Frontier’s editor in chief, Ziva Branstetter. To watch the entire interview click here.
Have you thought about running for sheriff?
No, I don’t live in Tulsa County. In populations over 500 (thousand) you have to live in the county. … Right now, I’m not interested in uprooting the last of my large brood. They’re well grounded they’re doing good.
You’re the first female interim sheriff. How do you juggle the responsibilities of motherhood and being interim sheriff?
I have six kids, my oldest is 27. I have two left at home, 17 and 13, but I’m legal guardian to my three grandchildren, who are 1, 2 and 7 and I’m a single parent. … I make it work. I can have the worst day in the world and a 2-year-old comes up and grabs on, so you know everything’s OK. … They’re involved in a lot of activities so I don’t have a problem sleeping at night.
Do you plan to make any changes before the election?
I don’t have intentions to start anything brand new that the new sheriff can’t implement. … To implement what we can in the CSI report, to take care of our employees, that’s my role for the next sixty some odd days, that’s my focus. Getting back to basics, following policies that are in place for a reason. … We’re going to follow them and hold people accountable as we should have.
Have you spoken to any of the candidates about your role at the Sheriff’s Office after the election?
I’ve been here 21 years in April. This is my family this is my home, so to speak …. Do I want to remain a part of it? Absolutely. … Do I expect to maintain as a chief? I don’t know but I fully understand that the new guy comes in on the 11th; I could be looking for a new job on the 12th.
There has been some ongoing discussion of treatment of inmates in the jail, the 20 deaths that were in the jail, some high-profile cases I’m sure you’re aware of. Much of this occurred while you were administrator.
Were mistakes made? Every day. But we do 1,000 things right every day. … We have a jail that is one of the best operating, running, managed jails in the nation. … We have for years met or exceeded the national standards according to the American Correctional Association. They come in and do an audit every year. This year we had one, the rumor is we failed it. We didn’t fail it they had, we had three auditors come in and it was a very difficult audit and there were 15 non-compliant issues but we still passed it with a 98 percent. … Is there room for improvement? Always, always. Do there need to be any drastic changes? I don’t believe so but that’s my opinion.
What do you think the next sheriff needs to do to be successful?
For him to be successful he needs to invest in people. He needs to make sure they have what they need to do their job and he needs to trust him to do their job, follow policy, hold them accountable. … There’s reason for the public not to trust, I got it. Don’t trust the administration … but never doubt that the people on the street doing their job that have been here are still doing the job they know how to do.
Do you still talk to former Sheriff Glanz?
You know every now and then, just checking in, how are you. He’s the only sheriff I worked for. We had a good relationship and you know it’s sad that his legacy is going to be defined by the past few months. He did a lot of good things for this office. … So yeah I talk to him from time to time. As a matter of fact, that Wednesday morning, when I took over as acting sheriff, he called.
Oh? What did he say?
He said, “Hey sheriff.” I was like, “Hey sheriff.”
Did he give you any advice?
That he had faith that I could do it and that I was capable of taking care of people like I had always done and that he was proud of me. To me that meant a lot.
What’s the status of the reserve program?
It is still on hold. The CSI (Community Safety Institute) report is going to be released at the end of February and until then it’s going to remain on hold and at that time we’ll kind of review what their recommendations are and we’ll go from there.
Of the grand jury recommendations, are there any that you’ve crossed off the list?
We’ve completed the ones that speak to policies and procedures. … Several of them speak to the internal affairs and the ability to report complaints anonymously. That’s been done and created. … The IA has been moved away from the undersheriff’s office. It has been restructured. … There’s three or four of the recommendations that deal with records, records keeping and records tracking, documentation of records. That is, we have an action plan … but it’s not going to be fixed tomorrow.
Have there been things that have been paid out of the jail in the past that you feel like maybe shouldn’t have been or that you just have changed?
The (inmate) telephone revenue money recently, it was taken away from the jail. … The phone revenue goes to the sheriff not the jail, statutorily. It was removed and put into the cash fee fund for a purpose. I don’t know, I wasn’t involved in that. I agree with Commissioner (John) Smaligo; it should go to the jail. Everything generated from that jail should go to the jail. We’re going to redivert (return) that money.
Should Stanley Glanz’s name remain on the training center?
That is a hard one. It’s not my decision and I will keep my opinion to myself on that one.