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The Monroe County Reporter
Forsyth, Georgia
August 15, 2018     The Monroe County Reporter
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August 15, 2018

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August 15, 2018 Page 7A Sheriff candidates seek Blue Bridge votes By Diane Glidewell news©mymcmet Candidate for Secretary of State John Barrow said tax- payers deserve an expedited decision on the Monroe County—Bibb County boundary line. Members of the audience were quick to ask his stand on the issue when he introduced himself at a gathering hosted by Monroe County’s Blue Bridge Society on Monday, Aug. 13. Blue Bridge Society hosted Barrow as well as candidates for Monroe County sheriff, who quali— fied last week There were no surprises during qualifying as the six expected candi— dates signed up, and four of them attended Monday’s forum. It was not a debate, but citizens had the chance to meet the candidates. Iohn Barrow Secretary of State candidate Barrow, Democratic nominee for the state-wide position, addressed the group of about 50 people at the Forsyth Presbyterian Church Parish House briefly and then stayed to answer questions. Sheriff candidates Lawson Bittick, Michael Bittick, Brad Freeman and Stacey Penamon told those attending about their experi- ence and backgrounds and their plans for the sheriff’s oflice if elected Candidates Ronnie “Iocko” Evans and Troy Copelan were not able to attend because of other commitments. Barrow served as Georgia’s 12th district representative in the US. Congress from 2005-15. He said that during that time his district was the most gerrymandered in Georgia, its boundaries changing several times as it wound through the state and stretched from Augusta to Savannah. He said that his district was awkward and ' it was diflicult to develop a relationship with his con- stituents and to represent people who often had very different needs and con- cerns. However, the positive is that dealing with diverse populations across the state gave him a good perspective in running for a state—wide office as he is now. Barrow said that Secretary of State is the most impor- tant office in the state that ' no one knows about. The oflice has a wide variety of responsibilities, including registering voters, oversee— ing all elections, tracking the ’ annual filings of corpora- tions, granting professional licenses and overseeing the state’s securities market. “700,000 people in Geor- gia depend on the office for their licenses,” said Barrow. He said the Secretary of State also has the obscure responsibility of working with two other state offices to clarify the referendums that appear on ballots so that they do not mislead voters and, of particular interest to Monroe County, the Secretary of State is the officer who decides county boundaries. “This is one of the areas no one knows about until it affects you,” said Barrow. “This dispute [between Bibb County and Monroe County over their boundary line] is going to be expedit— ed. Taxpayers deserve it.” When a member of the audience asked why the land in dispute couldn’t just be divided equally according to the tax basis, like Biblical Solomon offering to divide the disputed baby in half, Barrow said that the deci~ sion has to be guided by law. However, he emphasized that there is no reason to wait in making a decision according to law. Barrow said that while serving in Congress he held the most bi-partisan record of anyone in Congress, repeatedly reaching across party lines to find solutions. He worked closely with both Republican and Democratic administrations to resolve issues for the Oflice of Veterans Affairs, to support Georgia’s military bases and to deepen the Port of Savan- nah to increase its use and importance. Barrow holds degrees from University of Georgia and Harvard Law School. He is from Athens and served as an Athens-Clarke County Commissioner from 1990 until elected to Con— gress in 2004. He is married, and he and his wife have five children. Truett Goodwin wel— comed the candidates for sheriff and thanked them for putting themselves out there to serve the public. He noted that Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is nationally accredited, which means it is a quality, professional agency. It includes four divi- sions: investigations, patrol, detention and jail (with a 168-bed jail) and support (warrants, school resource officers, 91 1 dispatch, CARE Cottage, an Explorer Post for students, etc). “It [being sheriff] is a big job, a big deal,” said Good— win, who had a career in Georgia Department of Corrections and served as the first warden at Al Bur- russ Correctional Training Center. Lawson Bittick Lawson Bittick said that being sheriff is something he has wanted to do since he was a child. He has 12 years experience in law enforce- ment, working in Forsyth, Newnan, Atlanta and back to Forsyth. He began his ca- reer with MCSO as a jailer, went to mandate school, became a deputy, worked in the jail as a supervisor, went to patrol, then to accident reconstruction. He said that working several fatalities and two vehicle homicide prosecutions increased his interest in criminal investi- gation, where he served for five years. Lawson Bittick said while he was public information ~* officer for MCSO he made an effort to tell media, espe- cially Macon media, about positive events in Monroe County to balance report- ing of negative happenings. He said that supervising the support division has made him aware of all that its employees do, such as the CARE Cottage’s support for victims. He re—negoti3 ated the MCSO contract to provide resource officers to Monroe County Schools so that the schools are going to contribute $35,000 toward the vehicle costs for the of- ficers. “I will make sure the Sheriff ’5 Oflice remains f ' ,” said Bittick. He said that, if elected, All Shackelford has agreed to stay with him as chief deputy, which keeps 40 years of experience at the Sheriff’s Oflice. Stacey Penamon Penamon grew up in Monroe County, graduating from Mary Persons in 1993 and going on from there to playa football at Georgia Southern University. He came home and worked for Georgia Department of Corrections for two-and-a- half years. A prisoner made him decide he wanted to work in law enforcement and he came to MCSO. He started in the old jail, which . had 38 beds, and moved to the new jail, then to patrol Penamon said he got to know a lot of people in Monroe County as he worked in the jail, on patrol, then as a school resource officer and served warrants and later worked in inves— tigations. While he worked his way up in MCSO, he earned a BS. in criminal " ‘justice, with an emphasis on management and supervi— sion. ' Ifelected, he plans to Candidates for sheriff, from left, Lawson Bittick, Stacey Penamon, Brad Freeman and Mi- chael Bittick, at the Blue Bridge Society on Monday. (Photo/Diane Glidewell) spend time in the com— munity to get feedback He has plans for summer camps and after-school programs to get youth and their parents engaged with MCSO. He wants to equip civilians to be safer and to coordinate enforcement with surrounding counties. His goals include facilitat- ing the smooth transition of Forsyth’s 911 dispatch to its co-location with MCSO and recruiting quality officers so that MCSO is fully staffed. Brad Freeman Brad Freeman began working for MCSO in August 1986 and was in his 32nd year when he took a leave of absence to run for the office of sheriff. He was recruited as he was on his way to vote and started to work that next Friday. He was going to Mercer University and graduated in 1987. He started by working in the 38-inmate jail when the employee at the jail did eve ' g from the mo- ment the deputy dropped off the inmate. After two years he moved from the jail to patrol and then to the 55/65 Task Force on I-75 when it was created. When the grant for that task force ended, he moved to the DUI Task Force and served there until the in— terdiction unit was created. It focused on pulling hard core criminals off I—75, with a special interest in stopping drug traffic. HoweVer, one of his most memorable arrests was when he stopped a van with a young boy in the back and felt that something wasn’t right. He discovered that the child had been kidnapped in Florida His job with MCSO encompassed manning the “complaint desk’ for 11-12 years. Over time, his years of experience helped him know many of the repeat inmates and to recognize some of the ‘games’ they play. He saved the county about $900 in emergency medical fees one evening when he got an inmate whom he had seen re- peatedly over the years to acknowledge that he was not really having seizures but just wanted a field trip out of the jail to the hospital for the night. . Freeman said he has been able to continue professional training through his years at MCSO, particularly since the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and Mercer University are close by. He was able to train'at FBI Headquarters at Quantico in'2007. Ifelected, he will continue the many good things he sees at MCSO. He would use more technology, especially in crime scene investiga- tion. MCSO no longer has a crime scene unit and desperately needs one to collect evidence thoroughly and efficiently. Freeman feels the invest- ment in two drones would be an asset to MCSO. They would be used in searching for individuals with demen- tia and children who get lost in the large rural county Of course, they would also be used to track down flee- ing suspects. The nearest State Patrol helicopters are at Perry and Atlanta, and it is about three hours between requesting them and their arrival, which is a long time in an emergency situation. The time to get a drone up and running is about 20 minutes. Freeman said that for some reason more and more people are running from traffic stops, and various reasons for their running come to light when they are caught. It can be difficult to apprehend them without some help like drone surveillance. Freeman said there are still the same number of officers in the MCSO patrol unit as there were in 1986 even though the county popula— tion has grown from about 16,000 to 27,000 during that time. Deputies can’t take the time they need to canvas an area when they answer a call because they usually have three other calls throughout the county waiting on them. “I thinkl can do it [in- crease the number of officers on patrol] without more taxes,” said Freeman. Michael Bittick Michael Bittick joined the US. Army National Guard when he was 17 and soon afterward began working in the radio room at MCSO. He accepted a position with the Macon Police Depart- ment and became part of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Oflice when Macon-Bibb consolidated. He said he understands the importance of a law enforcement agency 478.318.1596 Lauren Rodeheaver being accredited and has been a certified instructor in ahnost every field of law enforcement. He served on the Macon SWAT team for 15 years. “I have seen most every— thing many times,” he said Overseeing the Macon crime lab gave him expe- rience in dealing with a budget; he found ways to cut spending at the crime lab. While working in Macon, he has remained involved in his home county, being a member of the Leadership Monroe Class of 2016 and the Forsyth—Monroe County Chamber of Commerce board. Michael Bittick said he has made his way around Mon— roe County asking questions and has found there are , different issues important to the people in every commu~ nity. He is often asked about fiscal responsibility. He said one of his goals is to find grants to add more technol— ogy to MCSO. He said he has experience listening to those working in differ— ent areas and will continue to listen and respond He will restructure MCSO to increase manpower in areas with greatest need Michael Bittick said law enforcement was way too slow in dealing with opioids and gangs in the 1980’s and , should learn from that to be pro-active with" growth. He advocates body cameras for officers and a merit— based pay system. He will be aware of the need to keep up morale among officers because it is not all about pay and law enforcement offices around the state and nation are struggling with retention. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 15. /\ \/