Cook resigns as Sheriff; Benison takes office

Pictured L-R Commission Chair William “Nick” Underwood, Sheriff Jonathan Benison, and Commissioners Tennyson Smith, Elzora Fluker and Allen Turner, Jr.

Surrounded by members of the Greene County Commission, Sheriff Jonathan Benison announced that he had officially taken the oath of office as Sheriff of Greene County on December 22, 2010.
This followed the surprising resignation of Sheriff George Cook, who had been appointed by Governor Bob Riley earlier in the year.
Commission Chair William “Nick” Underwood told the crowd who had gathered at the courthouse, “This is cause for deep thanks. Benison represents stability for Greene County. Joe is the 4th person to serve as Sheriff since April of this year. We welcome with open arms this appointment,”
Benison promised all those gathered that he would be “a sheriff for all the people of Greene County.
“Under my administration, this will be a fair playing field. Nobody would be left out.”
Benison spoke of his ties to Greene County – of having started his law enforcement career as a Greene County Deputy, serving with the Alabama Highway Patrol until his retirement and then run for and been elected sheriff.
Members of the audience were quick to ask him about his position on the legality of electronic bingo in Greene County.
“Bingo is the issue,” said Benison, “and I am prepared to deal with bingo. We voted for bingo. I am for bingo.”
Benison will publically take the oath of office on January 9, 2011 at 5 p.m. at the courthouse.
Several at Tuesday’s press conference asked Underwood where former Sheriff George Cook was going from Greene County. Underwood said he was not at liberty to discuss anything about Cook.
A majority of local citizens still believe that Riley sent Cook to Greene County for the sole purpose of halting electronic bingo at Greenetrack.
Just days after Cook took office, on June 18, 2010, Riley’s task force attempted to raid Greenetrack, but were unsuccessful due to action taken by Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway.
A second raid on June 30, 2010 was successful, due to intervention by the Riley Supreme Court. Hundreds of State Troopers and members of the Task Force removed all the electronic bingo machines.
This action negatively affected most of Greene County. Hundreds of people lost their jobs; many charities and governmental organizations lost the funding which had been a part of the Constitutional Amendment legalizing bingo; businesses lost customers due to the high unemployment.
After the Tuesday press conference, Greenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn spoke about Benison, saying, “I was pleased to hear the comments made today by our new Sheriff, Joe Benison, in regards to bingo in Greene County. The Alabama Board of Industrial Relations is reporting that $516,000 has been paid over the last quarter to unemployed residents of Greene County due to the closure of bingo at Greenetrack. Currently, Greene County has the second highest unemployment rate in the state with Wilcox County being number one. Prior to the closing of bingo, Greene County had reached economic success and had come from being listed as the 66th poorest county in Alabama out of 67 counties to being 31st. Until July 2010, Greene County was the fastest growing county in the state. We know that we can achieve this success again, and I am very encouraged by Sheriff Benison’s remarks and hope that we can put the people of Greene County back to work soon.”


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