“The sheriff’s race is very much on my mind, and I think going through this situation and how it affects families, it’s important to understand how it affects people,” he said.
Lambert, who is one of three Republican candidates in the nine-member sheriff’s race, was terminated from his post as a Sylva officer on March 3. He had been employed with the department since January 2013, but had worked there from 1995 to 1998 and from 2007 to 2011 in between stints working in private sector security and at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Town Manager Paige Roberson, Lambert was fired for good reason.
“It was not to do with budget,” she said. “It was to do with job performance.”
But Lambert said he was blindsided by the news and can’t think of anything he’s done wrong. The day after his termination, he sent Roberson a letter requesting his entire personnel file. As of press time, Lambert’s attorney had not finished reviewing the file, but Lambert said he has nothing to hide and plans to eventually release the information.
“I’ve done nothing illegal, immoral or unethical,” Lambert said. “If you keep turning the rocks over, there’s nothing there.”
Roberson maintains that Lambert was given a reason for his termination, but Lambert said that all he’s been told is that his dismissal is connected to a verbal complaint someone filed against him.
“They won’t tell me who filed the complaint,” he said. “They say it’s a verbal complaint. I think being fired over a verbal complaint is pretty harsh.”
Roberson, however, said that while a verbal complaint was filed against Lambert, it was not the sole basis for his termination. Job performance, she said, was the overarching reason.
“There was a verbal complaint filed. That absolutely was not the basis for his firing. That was the final straw,” Roberson said. “And he knows that. He has been talked to repeatedly.”
Lambert has retained a lawyer and said that he is exploring several options for an appeal, also informing Roberson in a letter that he plans to exercise his due process rights.
With Lambert’s firing coming in amidst a crowded sheriff’s race, in which he’s competing against Sylva police officer and Democrat Douglas Farmer, questions of politics have arisen.
According to Roberson, politics are the only reason the story has garnered any media attention at all. In the past year, several people have been laid off from the sheriff’s department, she said, though all but one of those people were in their probationary period.
“The only reason this is getting any traction is because he’s running for sheriff,” Roberson said. “I can tell you he was not relieved of his duty because of anything political.”
Lambert, however, isn’t so sure.
“By no means am I saying it’s political, but you keep connecting the dots, and it sure does feel that way,” he said.