By Kathy Jefcoats
STOCKBRIDGE — Clayton County’s legislative delegation is opposing a recommendation by the Georgia Sheriffs Association to appoint a temporary substitute to run the office until sheriff-elect Victor Hill can resolve his legal woes.
The show of support was made in response to a GSA suggestion for Gov. Nathan Deal to make the temporary appointment. GSA Executive Director Terry Norris said the intent is not to undermine the decision of the people.
“This is not an attempt to circumvent the electorate,” said Norris. “We were looking at it solely from a professional aspect and to get someone experienced to sit in that seat temporarily until things settle down.”
Hill took office as Clayton County’s first black sheriff in January 2005. He lost a bid for re-election four years later. He was indicted in January on 37 felony counts related to allegations of wrongdoing while in office. He won a second bid for re-election Nov. 6. His Nov. 26 trial date was postponed for up to a year while prosecution and defense appeals are considered at the state level.
When Hill is sworn in Jan. 1, he will become the county’s first sheriff to take office under felony indictment. Georgia Peace Officers and Standards Training Council suspended Hill’s law enforcement certification when he was indicted. Under law, a Georgia sheriff has six months to become certified or he becomes ineligible to hold office. It is unlikely that Hill’s trial will be held before that deadline because of the pending appeals.
Norris said GSA officials are simply looking out for the people of Clayton County and the employees in the sheriff’s office.
“It’s a huge responsibility to run a sheriff’s office,” said Norris.
GSA has named former Clayton County Sheriff D.G. “Bill” Lemacks as a contender for the temporary spot. Lemacks was the county’s 18th sheriff and served from 1983 until 1996. Norris said Lemacks is a good candidate because he has experience.
“We’re asking the governor that, if it is legal for him to appoint a sheriff, appoint a former sheriff who won’t run again and can serve until the outcome of the case,” said Norris.
Lemacks once worked for GSA as a jail expert but has retired.
“He lives in the county, he loves Clayton County and knows as much about the office of sheriff as anyone in the state,” said Norris.
Special prosecutor Layla Zon said she hand-delivered a certified copy of the indictment against Hill before Thanksgiving. Norris said that is the first step toward getting a temporary replacement to cover for Hill.
“Fourteen days after receiving the indictment, the governor has to impanel two sheriffs and the attorney general, who will review the charges,” he said. “The review can’t occur until after Hill becomes sheriff.”
The panel can suggest Deal take no action against Hill or suggest he be suspended pending the disposition of his case.
“The governor does not have to follow the recommendation,” said Norris.
The Clayton County legislative delegation doesn’t want Deal involved. District 77 state Rep. Darryl Jordan sent a letter to Deal Monday, asking the governor to stay out of what he considers a local issue.
“I could not continue to look at myself straight in the mirror if I did not register my complaint with you about the modern-day lynching of an elected official in Clayton County, Victor Hill,” Jordan’s letter begins. “Victor Hill is my friend. He is a man who has admitted to the voters of Clayton County that he has made some mistakes in the past.”
Jordan continued to accuse Hill’s opponents of violating the Voting Rights Act by taking away the will of the people who elected him. He claims GSA is “hijacking” voters.
“When certain people can’t get their wishes at the voting booth, then they employ raw, unmitigated, egregious and flagrant attacks on the Voting Rights Act,” reads the letter. “This is unconscionable. The people of Clayton County are tired of this shabby and condescending treatment from people who don’t even live here and who certainly would not deign to even drive down to Clayton County to even eat at a nice restaurant on Tara Boulevard or Mt. Zion Boulevard.”
Jordan and delegation Chairwoman Sen. Gail Davenport of Jonesboro, Vice Chairwoman Rep. Sandra Scott of Rex, Sen. Valencia Seay of Riverdale, Rep. Keisha Waites of Atlanta, Rep.-elect Demetrius Douglas and Rep.-elect Ronnie Mabra issued a joint statement Monday, opposing GSA’s recommendation.
“We share great concern that GSA’s recommendation to Gov. Nathan Deal to fill the sheriff’s position has come before the courts make a decision on Mr. Hill’s innocence or guilt,” reads the statement.
Hill has been out of the public eye for several months. Steve Frey, one of four defense attorneys representing Hill, said their goal is to simply get the case to trial.
“We’ll be ready,” said Frey. “We’re just continuing to work toward trial.”