Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Supporters of Clayton County sheriff's write-in candidate Garland Watkins gather Saturday at his campaign headquarters for a barbecue fundraiser. Voters will find a spot on the Nov. 6 ballot on which to write Watkins' name as their choice for sheriff. The name must be spelled correctly or it will be thrown out. Watkins, 50, is Clayton County sheriff's chief deputy with more than 25 years experience in law enforcement.
JONESBORO By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — Supporters of Clayton County sheriff's write-in candidate Garland Watkins turned out Saturday at his Jonesboro headquarters to pick up a barbecue pork sandwich lunch and offer their backing — political and spiritual.
Charlie McDowell of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro prayed with Watkins in the parking lot, asking God to give him strength and courage in the days leading up to the Nov. 6 election. Watkins has been encouraged by the increasing support of his candidacy.
"We feel like we're reaching folks," he said. "We're continuing to get good feedback and getting the word out."
Watkins, 50, is chief deputy at the Clayton County Sheriff's Office and has been at the department since 1986. He was one of 27 deputies former Sheriff Victor Hill fired on his first day in office January 2005. The deputies sued Hill and the county, getting back their jobs and a multi-million dollar settlement.
Watkins transferred in 2007 to the county police department but returned when Kem Kimbrough beat Hill in his first re-election bid in 2008. In a turnabout vote, Hill defeated Kimbrough in an August runoff and was poised to return to office in January when Watkins qualified as a write-in candidate in the Nov. 6 election.
Watkins has said he wants to make sure voters have a choice in November.
"I'm running to give people a choice," he said. "People who know me know I have integrity, character and am an outstanding leader. I want to use those qualities to prevail over Victor Hill."
In January, Hill was indicted on 37 felonies, mostly related to alleged misconduct while he was sheriff. A Clayton County Superior Court judge last week dismissed five counts involving alleged theft of $24,000 in campaign funds.
Procedurally, if Watkins prevails Nov. 6, he will take office Jan. 1 as sheriff. If Hill wins, Hill will take office only if he is exonerated in court. Hill, 47, is set to go to trial on the remaining 32 felonies Nov. 26. Conviction of one felony will keep him from holding elected office. If he is convicted, it is presumed that Gov. Deal will appoint an interim sheriff until a special election can be held.
Saturday, however, it was all about the barbecue. Larry Barge manned the smoker filled with pork butts, Brian Fisher chopped the meat for sandwiches and voters such as David and Myriam Vazquez dropped by to pay respects and pick up lunch. Both wore "Write-in Watkins" T-shirts.
The family of slain Clayton County sheriff's Deputy Rick Daly also stopped off to wish Watkins success in his campaign. Daly, 55, was shot and killed during a traffic stop July 20. His mother, Joyce Daly, said Watkins is a good man who will serve the county well as sheriff. Widow Cheryl Daly agreed, adding that she hopes Clayton voters will put Watkins in office.