View Mobile Site

Of two minds on sheriff issue

Posted: May 11, 2012 3:01 p.m.
Updated: May 14, 2012 5:00 a.m.

For half my life, I’ve wondered why in the world we still elect sheriffs in this country. I began wondering about that while working for a radio station 25 years ago in Dahlonega, Ga. Dahlonega sits in the -- no offense to anyone from there -- unfortunately named Lumpkin County.

The sheriff while I worked there from the fall of 1987 to late summer 1988 had been sheriff for a whopping 24 years. I can’t remember his name anymore, but I do remember he was a physically imposing man with the personality of Boss Hogg from the old Dukes of Hazard TV show.

As little 22-year-old me soon learned, he really was the boss of Lumpkin County.

I was the news director and sole reporter for the radio station. Part of my job entailed calling the sheriff up each morning and recording the call while he told me if anything exciting had happened overnight. On two particular consecutive mornings -- a Monday and a Tuesday -- I did just that and received a, basically, “nothing really happened” response from the sheriff each time.

The town has a small weekly newspaper (at least it was small and weekly back then) called The Dahlonega Nugget. It came out on Wednesdays and I would stop by a convenience store near my apartment to pick up the Nugget so I could see if there was any news I needed to catch up on.

Imagine my surprise when the Nugget’s lead story that particular Wednesday was about a couple of cadets at North Georgia Military College (NGMC) suspected of arson after allegedly setting off a dorm fire back on Sunday night.

Keep in mind, we had no real relationship with the volunteer fire department.

I called the sheriff that morning, asked him again if anything had happened recently and he said no. I asked him if I could stop by his office later that day, and he agreed.

When I did, I asked him why he hadn’t told me about the NGMC fire. I don’t remember his answer, but I remember I wasn’t satisfied with it. I explained that I was reliant on his information and asked him if, in the future, he would be so kind as to alert me to stories like that.

By the time I got to the radio station, the program director pulled me aside and basically told me to never speak to the sheriff “like that” again -- that he was the source of all our news and if he pulled back on us, we’d be up the proverbial creek.

To this day, I don’t think I acted poorly toward the sheriff and was quite upset that my boss didn’t back me up. From that day forward, I all but counted the minutes until I could quit and go back to college for my masters.

I’ve not strayed much from my stance as a young man that sheriffs can wield and, therefore, potentially abuse a lot of power. For years, I’ve wondered, “We hire our police chiefs, why don’t we hire our sheriffs?”

To me, politics is politics and law enforcement is -- or at least should be -- something completely different. Do we really want our top law enforcement officials getting distracted by campaigning for their next election instead of focusing on public safety, crime prevention, investigations and, when necessary, arrests?

I do not make these comments because of Sheriff Jim Matthews, former Sheriff Steve McCaskill, or the late Sheriff Hector DeBruhl (who I never met). Truly, this has nothing to do with them. As I said, I’ve thought about this literally for two and a half decades, long before I even knew Kershaw County existed.

My bet is, though, that if Kershaw County already had a county police force and Jim Matthews had applied for the top job, he probably would have been hired. Furthermore, like the city of Camden’s police chief, a supposed county chief would be hired by and report to the county administrator, not council.

But...

As much as I like the idea of taking politics out of the sheriff’s office, I had one major problem with the proposal that -- thankfully -- died without a motion at last week. For me, the timing was suspect.

If, as some councilmen told us, this had been tossed around for years, then why wasn’t it put on a council agenda last year, or in 2010, or even earlier? Or, why not wait until next year, or the year after? While I’ve thought about this for 25 years, I’d never heard a squeak about it here in my nearly 13 years with this newspaper.

Like many of the large number of opponents to council’s proposal, I also don’t like the idea of taking anyone’s right to vote for something or someone away. Council members may have said they were putting the question before voters, but as someone mentioned on Facebook somewhere, “So we’d be voting to not vote anymore?”

To me, based on staff reporter Michael Ulmer’s reports and other information gathered during the last two weeks, this proposal was politically based. Even with the proposed ordinance creating a fall referendum for voters, this wasn’t about giving power to the people. It was about trying to take power away from Sheriff Matthews. Even worse, it may have just been about playing politics, period.

As I said last December when I named him my 2011 Person of the Year, I don’t like everything Matthews has done. That’s not what the column was about. He did, however, make the most impact on the county and is doing so today.

I do want to see politics taken out of the equation here. In my opinion, though, some members of county council tried to play more politics, not less.

Interested in viewing premium content?

A subscription is required before viewing this article and other premium content.

Already a registered member and have a subscription?

If you have already purchased a subscription, please log in to view the full article.

Are you registered, but do not have a subscription?

If you are a registed user and would like to purchase a subscription, log in to view a list of available subscriptions.

Interested in becoming a registered member and purchasing a subscription?

Join our community today by registering for a FREE account. Once you have registered for a FREE account, click SUBSCRIBE NOW to purchase access to premium content.

Membership Benefits

  • Instant access to creating Blogs, Photo Albums, and Event listings.
  • Email alerts with the latest news.
  • Access to commenting on articles.

Contents of this site are © Copyright 2014 Chronicle Independent All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...