DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The 2020 campaign season got off to an early start Monday when the Dawson County Republican Party invited the three candidates for sheriff – Sheriff Jeff Johnson, Jeff Perry and Marcus Sewell to introduce themselves to a packed house at The Bowen Art Center.
Former County Commission Chairman Mike Berg served as event moderator and each candidate was given 10 minutes to speak and a few minutes more to answer questions.
Johnson, who has 26 years’ law enforcement experience, took the lectern first.
His education includes graduating from Dawson County High School, University of North Georgia, Northeast Georgia Police Academy, Sheriff’s Select Academy, National Sheriffs Institute and 3,400 hours in specialized training.
Johnson encouraged voters to consider “true experience” when it comes to electing a sheriff. “The function of the sheriff’s office includes jail operations, court services, 911, patrol and investigations,” he said. “I’m thankful that throughout those 26 years of experience, I have been able to work in and serve each of those components.”
Johnson said one thing that has been a success during his first term is the focus on community programs. “I’m thankful to our citizens who have taken part in those. I still get to teach and take part in those and to empower our community.”
Johnson said the sheriff’s office has overcome internal conflicts and a mass exodus during his first year in office. “When I say mass exodus, we had over 20 employees leave and for a sheriff’s office of 115 employees at the time, that is pretty substantial. Still, we’ve been able to forge ahead and accomplish a lot of good things. One of those being we are a state certified law enforcement agency.”
Johnson also pointed to the state certified medical department within the jail system as an accomplishment. “Should something happen, it should serve to minimize any liability we have. We’ve also been able to better equip our officers with standard weapons, standard gear. We’re proud of our man and women and what they have been able to accomplish.”
Jeff Perry, who is making his second campaign for sheriff, has 30 years’ experience working for the state’s Pardons and Parole Board. After he retired, he started the Criminal Justice program at Dawson County and now teaches criminal justice at the school. His comments focused on managing the budget and retention of deputies.
“It’s easy to manage a budget when you have the money,” he said. Perry said he managed a budget during the recession when his department could not only get additional money, but the governor took some money away.
“You have to adopt,” he said. “People have to take on additional roles. It takes strategic planning. The Dawson County Sheriff has to have a strategic plan that focuses on retention and recruitment of deputies and looks at future growth.”
Perry is a graduate of the certified public management course at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vincent Institute. “They reminded us that people don’t leave jobs because of money. They leave jobs because of bad leaders. We have to identify those who are going to become capable leaders and promote those from within instead of promoting bad people who perform bad behavior.”
Perry also said if he is elected he would start an educational allotment that rewards employees five percent for a four-year college degree and an additional five percent for graduate degree. We have to award those people who go above and beyond.”
Sewell started his law enforcement career in 2004, working at the state prison in Alto where he was promoted up to the rank of Sergeant. In 2009, he went to work in the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office. From then on his career took off.
“In 2011, I became jail commander then I was over Special Services which does narcotics, canine, victims’ advocate and school resource officers. For the last four years, I’ve been Chief Investigator over Criminal Investigations.”
“Over the last eight years as Commander, I’ve managed the jail budget which is half the sheriff’s office,” he said. “You have to learn to control your budget. Every penny, nickel, dime and dime we spend is your tax money.”
“We’ve got to realize we can’t sue the county” he said in reference to Johnson’s failed lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
“We can’t increase the budget every year,” he said. “We’ve got to work and compromise. In the last two and a half years, the budget went up 18.5 percent.
“In Lumpkin County we have 33,000 residents our budget is $5.8 million. In Dawson County the budget is $9 million with 24,500 people.” With that kind of budget, he said, there is no reason the county can’t put 8 or 9 people on patrol instead of five.
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