The Big Question
Is Augusta willing to acknowledge what the sheriff’s race really means?
This year’s sheriff’s race has been a tough one for everyone, especially outgoing Sheriff Ronnie Strength, whose retirement after 12 years has thrown Augusta into a political frenzy, the repercussions of which have been felt throughout the CSRA and across party lines.
Ask certain Republican congressional candidates how they feel about the race, and you’re liable to get plenty of grumbling.
Those familiar with the Sheriff’s Office understood that Strength’s retirement would free former investigator Richard Roundtree to run for the post, a prospect that troubled many in the community who felt that Roundtree lacked the discipline and maturity, the ethics and the good judgment, to hold such a powerful position.
That fear was seemingly confirmed early in the race, both at Roundtree’s announcement, where he pulled up in a white limo to address a mostly black audience, and in an early Facebook post, where he basically told those in the black community that they could either get on his train or stand in front of it.
It’s no secret that Strength had been pressured not to retire by those around him until he could find a suitable replacement with enough name recognition to keep Roundtree from office.
By all accounts, Strength felt he had that successor in Scott Peebles, who had risen through the ranks, most recently as head of the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and as SWAT Team commander.
Peebles was a prominent figure in some of Strength’s most successful operations, including the recent Operation Smokescreen, which liberated hundreds of guns and rooms full of stolen merchandise.
Peebles announced shortly after the operation that he was running for sheriff.
This hand off of power was complicated, however, when Strength’s brother-in-law, Lt. Robbie Silas, announced his own run for office. A well-respected road patrol supervisor with strong ties to South Augusta, Silas was not immediately considered a legitimate threat to win, but political observers understood immediately that he stood a good chance of splitting the white vote, potentially paving the way for a Roundtree victory.
Another African American, Lt. John Ivey, joined the race, but his impact on Roundtree was gauged to be minimal.
On the Republican side, former Chief of the Richmond County Police and longtime attorney Freddie Sanders, who is also Strength’s closest friend, threw in for the office, as well Mike Godowns.
It was Silas’ entrance, however, that was seen as particularly tough on Strength, who would be unable to endorse Peebles as planned because of his wife’s loyalty to her brother (she briefly had a Strength for Silas sign on her car).
That sign and Strength’s unwillingness to make an endorsement in spite of the perceived consequences came to a head last week when WGAC talk radio host and Metro Spirit columnist Austin Rhodes lashed out against Strength.
Lost in all the drama is the thing no one seems willing to come right out and say — the fact that many in the community actually fear what a Roundtree victory could mean for Augusta, a city with plenty of racial tension already.
Though it’s easy to blame the South’s engrained racism, Roundtree isn’t just a black man aspiring to power. He is a black man, yes, but he is also a man with significant baggage.
Roundtree lost face — and his position with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office — after repeated scandals, some personal, some professional and some so fundamentally manipulative that it would be hard for much of the community to respect a sheriff with such things in his past. And a community that doesn’t respect its sheriff is a community on the brink of dissolution.
Though by all accounts a likeable man and an exceptional investigator, Roundtree’s lack of control, displayed by reports of checking women out of the jail, having relationships with multiple women under his command, being sued for unpaid child support and reports of wage garnishment, all lead to the question — is this what the community wants their chief law enforcement officer to be?
And then there are the files and guns and equipment he left behind as he moved out of an apartment and the Grateful Mother issue, in which Roundtree allegedly defended himself on message boards through the use of a pseudonym.
Regardless of all of that, if it weren’t for a Board of Elections ruling many still don’t understand, Roundtree wouldn’t be in the race at all because of unpaid taxes at the time of filing.
In an interview with the Metro Spirit, Freddie Sanders refused to criticize any of his fellow candidates outside of the issues.
“Everybody’s got baggage,” he said. “If you’ve lived this life, you’ve got baggage. And you’re not running for pope.”
While all that may be true, the fact remains a certain portion of the city fears the particular baggage Roundtree brings with him almost as much as they fear those in the community willing to overlook it.You Might Also Like: