An Open Letter to the People of Gordon County:
As a career public servant, I have a unique perspective on public safety. I have been a fireman, a municipal police officer, a state trooper, and I now serve as an elected sheriff. One of the most demanding jobs in law enforcement is that of sheriff. The Georgia Constitution defines sheriffs as the state’s “basic law enforcement officers”. Every sheriff faces a myriad of duties and responsibilities: providing law enforcement (police) services, guarding, servicing, and enforcing the orders of the various courts, operating jails with hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates. Sheriffs are also responsible for even more varied duties, from the archaic duty of corralling livestock at large, to the unfunded mandate of supervising/monitoring (State sentenced) sex offenders.
Here, my staff and I are the primary providers of law enforcement services in the unincorporated areas of the county. We understand this very well and eagerly accept the responsibility. We are the first line protection of the people we serve. Fortunately, we have the wonderful services of several state law enforcement agencies available to us on a 24/7 basis. The Georgia State Patrol (GSP), The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR), Department of Community Supervision (DCS) formerly State Probation and Parole, and a host of lesser known agencies stand ready to assist my Office on a minutes notice with a telephone or radio call. The men and women who staff these agencies are often unsung heroes; for these agencies are not political by their very nature and often do not operate with a high public profile. Both the GSP and the GBI were in fact created by state government with the express purpose of assisting local law enforcement with the execution of their duties. They are support agencies, designed to bolster and enhance the capabilities of sheriff’s offices and police departments throughout the state.
Here, my Office maintains superb relationships with our local GSP, GBI, DNR, and DCS offices. I do not hesitate to take advantage of their services, such as in the devastating tornado in January 2013. With one telephone call, dozens of GSP troopers, GBI agents, and other state officers were on hand within an hour to help my deputies maintain safety and order. They came on request, fulfilled their roles, and returned to their own duties when they were no longer needed. They do not “take over”, or seek recognition for their work here.
I applaud Governor Nathan Deal’s recent initiative wherein the state’s dedicated law enforcement officers received a significant pay increase. The increase was both well deserved and overdue. I would hope that the state government continues on this path and considers restoring some of the insurance and retirement benefits that are so critical in attracting and retaining quality employees. The benefits, such as a good retirement plan and a merit system are what played a part in my becoming a state trooper many years ago. By his recent actions, I am sure that Governor Deal is aware that such measures can only lead to more professional and efficient state peace officers entering the service of the State Patrol, GBI, and other state agencies.
I am a firm believer in local control of local government. It is the foundation of our community. As the sheriff of this county, it is my responsibility and mine alone, working in conjunction with our elected board of commissioners, to manage the pay and benefits afforded to my staff. There are established procedures, exercised at the county government level, to increase pay for my staff, who are by definition and law county employees. We have a board of commissioners here that takes their responsibilities very seriously, balancing the need to attract and retain good quality employees with the fiscal duty of remembering that county government is financed largely by the property taxes received from the people who live here. Quite simply, the funding of county government is not state business, nor should it ever be.
Although our colleagues in state law enforcement often partner with us in providing the best quality of service to the people of Gordon County, comparing their pay and benefits with that of my staff is akin to comparing apples and oranges. For example, State law enforcement officers are salaried, and ordinarily, do not receive overtime pay. My deputies are paid overtime for every minute spent on duty over their normal working hours. I must honestly say that basic GSP training is much more rigorous, intense, and physically demanding than the basic police academy curriculum. I know because I completed both. State officers also live a life wherein they are subject to be sent to any corner of the state at any time, on very little notice, until such time as the mission is completed. Fortunately, my staff seldom has the need to leave their home county. We are all peace officers, but our roles vary greatly. The state officers allow my staff and I to deliver better services as they are needed to the people I serve here in Gordon County. In the end, it’s all about trust and relationships. I trust the people hired by the state to do their job of helping me do my job when help is needed. I maintain the relationships I have with them so as to better serve the people of Gordon County. Again, congratulations to Governor Deal for recognizing the needs of Georgia’s state law enforcement officers. Enhancing their services can only make Gordon County a safer place to live, work, and raise our families.
Sheriff of Gordon County