Passion carries pair of award winners

(Left) Frank "Tank" Randle and Lt. Cassondra Smith
Staff Writer

One is such a veteran of the schools and law enforcement that she easily knows three or more generations of the people with whom she deals. Another made the rounds at Bryan Foods before the plant's closing sent him into a new career on Christmas Eve 10 years ago.

Now, their co-workers have picked them for top awards.

Lt. Cassondra Smith is the 2017 Clay County Sheriff's Deputy of the Year and Frank "Tank" Randle is the department's Corrections Officer of the Year.

For both, the awards are a reflection of an uncommon passion they have for what they say is more an avocation than a profession.

"I just love doing this, I just love it. I eat and sleep it. I get up every morning ready to go to work. I love my work, I love my people, I love my community," says Smith, who spent more than 19 years as a school resource officer in West Point schools, four years as an auxiliary officer with the West Point Police Department and was the sheriff's department's first female deputy when she joined the force 16 years ago.
"It' a passion to it. It's not something you just walk into. I'm wrapped up in it now," added Randle, who is in charge of the inmate work program which covers everything from crews that help the city, to trusties who pick up trash and litter, to the inmates on the state work program.

Randle knows about 70 percent of the 93 inmates in the county jail, either directly or indirectly through family connections. His own experience and the success of the work programs is a constant reminder of their value.

"It's real important for them to work. I've seen a bunch, not all of them but a bunch, who have left here and are still working and are doing real well," noted Randle, who is part of a staff of 13 correctional officers.
In many ways, he is like a personnel director for a mid-sized company, not only juggling the temperaments of 40 inmate workers but also diverse constituencies like county supervisors and city department heads.

"You've got to understand that everyone is different and no matter who they are, treat them right, with respect," Randle stated.

"His ability to deal with people, to earn their respect is what makes him so good," Sheriff Eddie Scott said. "To get respect, you have to give respect. It is in his heart. Let me tell you, what all the correctional officers get paid is nowhere near what it's worth to the county."

Randle, a West Point High graduate 30 years ago, has a special room for his honors and training certificates over the years. This one will go "front and center" in that room. His wife took it one step further, putting it a prime location on a new coffee table in front of the couch. 

"It's special," he said, clutching it to his robust chest than befits his nickname.

Smith's experience makes her appreciation even deeper. Her brother is a former chief deputy at the Sheriff's Department and she learned from him during the years. As she puts it, the back seat of her patrol car is the "dustiest in the department" because she'd rather talk people down than bring them to jail.

"I run into people all the time who tell me I am the reason they are a success now, that I got them going down the right path. It gives me the proudest feeling," she exclaims, clinching her fists and pumping her arms as she talks.

She now is one of only two female deputies on the staff but working in what still is often a man's world doesn't bother her. In fact, the same approach that works on the street applies to her co-workers.
"We help each other and we respect each other. It all boils down to respect. It's all about your approach, in the office or out on the road. You give respect and you earn respect. I treat the minister the same way I treat the drug addict," she says.

"I can walk in the worst club in the county and can get control," she added.

She and Scott agree "not everyone needs to go to jail."

"She's a gem in the community. Her passion is like mine, kids and the elderly. We've seen eye-to-eye from day one. She's got routes in the county where she drives to check up on people. I've got parents who will call me and want her to come talk to their kids. It happens several times a week. People will let her know things are going on in the community because they think we need to know," Scott said of the rapport Smith has built through her long years of service and her commitment.

While she doesn't believe everyone needs to go to jail, those who cross her also know her firm side.

"People know I mean what I say, that if I talk to them, I better not have to come back after them," she says, pointing her finger for emphasis.

After a gratifying career and a penultimate award voted on by her more than 20 fellow deputies and investigators, is retirement on the horizon? Nope.

"I don't know when I'm going to retire. I just love it too much," she says.