By Ed Brock
Suggestions that the Clayton County Sheriff's Office might be stripped of its involvement in the county's drug task force has Sheriff-elect Victor Hill crying foul.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray and Commissioner Charlie Griswell said that discussions have been going on for some time and no official action is planned. Hill said that the move is being planned as a "vindictive" act taken by the two men who he believes actively tried to block his election.
The Drug Task Force was formed in the 1980s in response to former President Reagan's aggressive approach to drug enforcement, Bray said.
"It's basically a police operation with an advisory committee from the sheriff and the district attorney's office," Bray said. "It's grown such that now it needs more structure and that's what we're looking at. It's certainly a commission decision."
But right now, Bray said, the idea has not been placed on the agenda for commission action and was only mentioned casually at a previous commission meeting.
Bray added that he wanted to discuss the idea with Eldrin Bell, the Democratic nominee for the commission chairman position as well as sitting members of the commission.
Also, Bray said the commission had signed a resolution in 1994 regarding putting the task force under the police department but delayed action on it due to personnel issues. Bray said he did not have a copy of that resolution and would probably revisit it and draft a new resolution if the issue comes before the commission.
Griswell said discussion on the idea began earlier in the year. He also said he believed the decision on what to do with the task force is up to the commission.
Hill said the only reason it hasn't been placed on an agenda is because of Bray's and Griswell's efforts to do so were exposed.
"It shouldn't have even been a thought in their minds," Hill said.
Hill had confrontations in the months before the election with Griswell and Bray about the enforcement of a policy restricting county personnel who are seeking political office in the county. Hill, whose term as a member of Georgia House of Representatives expires Dec. 31, is also a Clayton County police detective. He has complained that the ordinance was being selectively enforced against him.
That the commissioners should be discussing the issue after the county had just elected its first black sheriff and black district attorney (Jewell Scott who defeated long-time incumbent Bob Keller) is an "insult to the black community" and he said so in a message he left on Griswell's cell phone. Hill had called Griswell and Tuggle after hearing about the discussions.
"Not once did they call the incoming district attorney or the incoming sheriff and ask them their opinion," Hill said. "Crandle and Charlie need to do something constructive like paving roads rather than interfering with law enforcement."
Griswell said he found Hill's message threatening, particularly his reference to the discussions as an insult to the black community.
"That is nothing more than him trying to separate the people in this county and I resent it," Griswell said.
Hill countered that if it was Griswell's intent to bring the community together he should "do what I did for him and pick up the phone and call me."
Bray said that if the commission did choose to move the drug task force to the police department it would be a "blessing" for Hill.
"He'll have his hands full running the jail and serving warrants," Bray said.
Scott did not return a call to her cell phone seeking comment but Hill said he had talked to her and she was also unhappy about the discussions. Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle also did not return calls seeking comment and Keller said he had not heard about the issue.
Bell also did not return phone calls seeking comment on the issue. His spokesman, Frank Bailey, said Bell was very busy at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Michael Onyemenam, the Republican candidate for commission chairman who will face Bell in the November election, said nobody had called him about the discussions.
"The past administration should keep their hands off," Onyemenam said. "There's no need to change things now."
The idea of putting the task force under the police department has been discussed for several months, said task force head Special Agent in Charge Clarence Cox. But Cox said the task force has been very successful so far and "if it ain't broke don't fix it."
"To reinvent the wheel would hamper some ongoing investigations that are already in place," Cox said. "I feel like to dismantle something that's been so successful would not be good business."
Cox came to the task force from the sheriff's office but said that members of the task force are independent from the offices from which they came and are employed by the county commission.
Hill said that any changes made to the sheriff's or district attorney's offices before the changeover in January would be "looked at with a microscope."
Hill said Tuggle never called him on primary day to congratulate him and said he has been told that the sheriff's position is that there will be no transition and Hill is not welcome at the office until he takes over.
Hill defeated Tuggle 16,455 to 9,469 with two other candidates getting a total of 2,507 votes. There is no Republican opponent in the general election.