Who will be DeKalb’s next sheriff? No one knows just yet, but the eight candidates in the race have been stomping hard for votes, polishing their messages at debates and community meetings.
The debates largely have centered on what it takes to be a good leader, morale of jail employees and the Sheriff's operating budget and inmate recidivism.
At several of the debates, incumbent Jeffrey Mann, who has had more than a decade of serving as the No. 2 person at the Sheriff's Office, has explained that the job of sheriff is one that doesn't require street cop experience, touting his longevity as an experienced leader.
"For the past 14 years I’ve been working with Thomas Brown to restore the integrity of the sheriff’s office," said Mann, who is an attorney by trade. "We have come through some rough storms, restoring the public’s trust, integrity and fiscal responsibility to the office. There’s not been a hint of fiscal impropriety in the sheriff’s office. We have made the sheriff’s department remain in the top one percent in the county."
But Melvin Mitchell, an 18-year DeKalb resident and Atlanta Police sergeant with 30 years on the force, says DeKalb needs a sheriff who has been on the streets as a cop.
“Leadership is how you manage and influence people. That’s the kind of person you want to have. And you’re not going to be the right kind of leader if you haven’t gone through the process, been on the street,” Mitchell said during a debate hosted by Stan Watson. “A leader is a person that is respected by every employee for what he has done for the organization in the trenches.”
Vernon Jones, who has centered his campaign around attending community meetings versus debates, is touting his record as a proven leader who has served DeKalb both, as CEO and a former state representative. He said he wants a better working relationship between all law enforcement agencies to reduce crime, especially juvenile delinquency.
Ted Golden, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, said he wants to improve jail security and offer officers pay incentives for good work, rather than returning money to the county coffers.
Dale Bernard Collins, a retired DeKalb sheriff's lieutenant who managed SWAT and courthouse security, said one of his priorities would be to spend more money in order to keep good officers.
Melody Maddox, former Georgia Piedmont Technical College Assistant Police Chief, said one of her priorities would be to reduce the high number of outstanding warrants in DeKalb.
"This is about doing what I can to make a difference in DeKalb County,” said Maddox. “If elected, I will work diligently to regain, reclaim and restore the public’s trust in the DeKalb County Sheriff Department. I believe in justice, honesty, integrity and equality.”
R. “Tony” Hughes, a former DeKalb Sheriff’s detention officer and a supervisor in the DeKalb Police accreditation department, said he would improve the sheriff’s office by getting more engaged with the community and reducing the rate of repeat criminals in the jail.
“We’re locking up the same criminals, crime is out of control, morale is low in all law enforcement areas. DeKalb needs a new direction and I’m the man to take the county into the new direction,” said Hughes
LaSalle Smith, whose career spans 40 years and includes working for the Atlanta Police, FBI and GBI before retiring, said voters should note the number of candidates running.
“When you see that seven people are challenging the sheriff in the race, this means that there is a problem in the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. I’m here to address that problem. I am the change needed to restore morale values and integrity in this office,” said Smith. "There needs to be godly principals in DeKalb County. People are tired about hearing about corrupt officials and I’m here to address that.”
Voters say the forums have given the candidates a prime opportunity to shine before the constituents of DeKalb County.
“This is the second forum I’ve come out for and I have heard some of the same issues come up at both, just answered a little different. I’m glad the candidates had their agendas prepared,” said Winston Drayton of Clarkston, who attended the NAACP’s forum. “At first, it was everyone versus Mann and it could have got a little rough, but everyone in the crowd stayed well-mannered and so did the candidates. I think a lot of people left the forum with a decision made on who they will vote for.”
For Renaldo Allen, the forum at Chapel Hill was just a refresher for why he voted for his candidate of choice.
“I’m an early voter so I’ve already cast my ballot at the polls but I wish more people would come out to event like this,” said Allen, who lives in Decatur. “This is the kind of event more people should come to because you want to know who has the best strategic plan for keeping our streets safe.”