If you think you have seen bad examples of blatant cronyism in local government in recent years, today’s politicians are rank amateurs when it comes to the elected officials of yesterday.
But only on rare occasion have the petty attitudes and vindictive nature of some of our area leaders resulted in wholesale political upheaval at the polls. The Otis Hensley-inspired Columbia County Political Revolution of 1988 quickly comes to mind. That was a doozy. Every county elected official who had publicly challenged him on policy, or his politics, was tossed out by the voters, including the reigning district attorney. I love to call that Otispalooza.
Only once, though, do I know of political shenanigans so disruptive and so unpopular that it inspired a specific Georgia State Constitutional Amendment to bring an end to it all.
The year was 1982. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Department had seen three different sheriffs elected in three successive elections: Bill Anderson, Jim Beck and J.B. Dyches. With each election, and the defeat of an incumbent sheriff, there was turnover in the rank and file of the department that could easily be described as a bloodbath.
Good officers were busted in rank, cronies and relatives were elevated without merit and it was all done with a vindictive mindset more interested in vanquishing the defeated than promoting the cause of good law enforcement.
After the third such “spring cleaning,” conscientious businessmen and concerned citizens raised enough hell with the legislative delegation to put the sheriff (and anyone who would become sheriff) on a leash. There was no precedent for challenging the powers of the sheriff to hire and fire who he pleases, as he pleases, but everyone involved knew that if they were going to do it, it would have to be done by voter-approved state constitutional amendment. And so it was.
On November 2, 1982, the question was put to the voters, “Shall the Constitution be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to create, by local law, a merit system of employment for all or some of the employees of the sheriff in Richmond County?”
The final vote was 81.8 percent yes and 18.2 percent no.
A certified landslide to get common sense involved in the personnel policies of the local sheriff. We were the only county in Georgia to do such a thing.
In 1985, when the political powers-that-be saw Charles Webster become sheriff after J.B. Dyches was hauled to the federal pen for fixing tickets, they decided as someone they could control that it was okay to water down some of the powers of the departmental merit board that were granted to handle appeals of everything from promotions to terminations, and most actions in between.
When the merit board was weakened in a measure authored by then State Representative Charles Walker, the plan was signed off on by every member of the legislative delegation, including Republicans Frank Albert and Dick Ransom. The new rule still allowed appeals of detrimental actions, such as demotions, suspensions or terminations, but eliminated the merit board’s role in reviewing unjust or illegitimate hires or promotions.
And that brings us to where we are today, and the complaints of several dozen current lawmen and other concerned citizens, who say rookie Sheriff Richard Roundtree is bringing the bloodbath back in a sneaky way that would make the Manson Family proud.
In his first few publicly announced personnel moves, Roundtree was very wise to ordain new Chief Deputy Pat Clayton, his former political rival Scott Peebles and veteran officer Robert Partain as the heart of his leadership team. A widely loved and respected trio (by most people with a brain, anyway), the announcement perhaps distracted from a whole lot of other moves just below the radar that should be enough to make any well-behaved veteran officer’s skin crawl. And boy, have they!
Fired, demoted and disgraced officers, both on the force and outside the county, have been brought in, propped up, promoted and put in positions of authority in a way that defies logic, decency and common sense. And more appear to be on the way in.
The merit board may not have the authority to review a promotion or a hire, but to all the hard working lieutenants and sergeants who just saw a scandal-plagued serial liar and all around loser promoted into a senior supervisor position, over them, I would argue that they may be the victims of an intentional adverse action of the sheriff, arbitrary and indefensible in nature, that screams for review at the least, and possibly a court challenge at the most.
I have a list of these “misfits” the sheriff has pushed and promoted on the good people of Richmond County, and many of the lawmen slighted in their favor eagerly look forward to hearing these folks vetted properly and exposed for the poor officers they are and, by record and resume, have been for years.
Is it illegal for Sheriff Roundtree to hire and promote rejects, flunkies, discipline cases and fools?
No. But it sure ain’t right. You Might Also Like: