From left, sheriff candidates Macon Davis, Paul Sumrall and Joe Berlin answer questions from Leader-Call owner/publisher Jim Cegielski.

Roundtable result of sheriff cowering from debate challenge

Three candidates for sheriff were candid with their opinions about why three-term incumbent Alex Hodge refused to debate them, why they’re running for the office and several high-profile issues involving the Jones County Sheriff’s Department.

In Part 1 of the roundtable discussion hosted by the Laurel Leader-Call, Independent candidate Joe Berlin, and Republican candidates Macon Davis and Paul Sumrall discuss the raid on Lyon Ranch Road, deputies living outside Jones County and budget issues at the JCSD, among other things.

“He doesn’t want to defend his record,” Davis said of Hodge’s refusal to debate. 

“He says he’s done a great job,” but his record says different, Davis pointed out. At least 18 accused felons went free this year because indictments weren’t served in a timely fashion, plus there have been “a wild amount of burglaries and drugs are out of control,” added Davis, who has 24 years of law enforcement experience, including time at the Laurel Police Department, Jones County Sheriff’s Department, Soso Police Department and as South Jones School Resource Officer.

People have become “dissatisfied with the way the department is being run,” said Berlin, who is a sergeant at the LPD with 22 years of experience, including with the Sandersville Police Department. “We need a full-time sheriff, not a part-time sheriff.”

Sumrall agreed, adding that Hodge is “hiding” from a debate because “he’s not running the sheriff’s office, he’s running B Clean.”

The three challengers talked at length about the high-profile animal seizure at the property of Col. David and Mary Ellen Senne last July. 

“He thought he would get publicity,” said Sumrall, a retired businessman who has worked government security details. “Those people should have been treated with respect. They were treated wrong.”

Davis said it was wrong to “parade them around” in front of the media. “There’s ways to help people without making yourself look good.”

Berlin agreed that the Sennes needed help and that the sheriff should have paid them a visit before bringing in an out-of-state organization and TV cameras to cover the execution of the search warrant.

“It wasn’t fair to them,” he said.

As for Hodge’s budget battle with the Board if Supervisors, Sumrall said he would “bankrupt Jones County” if he got what he was asking for. Hodge asked the board for $7.3 million and received $5.5 million — almost double the budget of the previous administration. 

“Taxpayers are paying all they can pay,” Davis said.

Berlin added, “There’s room to trim the fat. There are positions at the sheriff’s office that don’t need to be there. If the sheriff, chief deputy and upper command would get out and patrol and help serve indictments, we wouldn’t be in the dilemma we’re in now.”

Berlin and Davis said they would work to bring back volunteer deputies to help with the workload and the budget.

“The auxiliary force worked well until Alex,” Davis said.

Sumrall brought up the fact that many good deputies have left the JCSD for other departments.

“Look how many quit,” he said. “There’s a reason for that.”

Davis said there’s been “huge turnover,” and “there’s only one place to hang that — on the sheriff’s door.”

Sumrall said he plans to hire deputies from Jones County.

Berlin and Davis said that there is a shortage of good people applying for law enforcement jobs, so it may be necessary to hire people from outside of Jones County, but neither would allow personnel who live outside the county to take their county vehicles home.

“That’s unacceptable,” Berlin said, and it “puts undue strain on the budget,” Davis added.

The roundtable was hosted by the LL-C in response to Hodge turning down a request to debate that was made by the political action group Citizens Against Corruption. Parts 2 and 3 will be available at the first and second weeks of July.

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