Some Richmond County sheriff candidates are not as they seem

By now, most folks know that four candidates have announced they want to be Richmond County’s next sheriff, and, it would appear, social-worker-in-chief. They all talked about getting officers out into the community more to dialog with residents. A couple even promised to address poverty and the city’s dropout problem, which is all fine and dandy, but while everybody dialogs, who’s going to do the hard jobs?


Anyway, whether these four will be the final four remains to be seen.

Sheriff’s office Capt. Scott Peebles announced Monday at the Augusta Judicial Center and promised to move toward more community policing. Although Sheriff Ronnie Strength won’t be endorsing anyone until after the primary, he has often said privately that Peebles is most qualified to succeed him.


IT’S HARD TO BE A MAN OF THE PEOPLE WHEN YOU RIDE AROUND IN A LIMO: Richmond County school Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree announced his candidacy Thursday at Beulah Grove Baptist Church after arriving in a white limousine.

He promised to address Augusta’s social problems and to have more community involvement in the sheriff’s office. He acknowledged he’s made mistakes in the past but is a changed man. That’s a good thing since it’s public information he racked up seven disciplinary actions during his tenure with the sheriff’s department, including a suspension and demotion in 2008 for moving and leaving seven murder-case files, a gun, ammunition and SWAT gear in an apartment. When that lapse was reported in The Augusta Chronicle, he posted complimentary online comments about himself under the name of Grateful Mother.

In 1996, he was suspended for five days after his superiors wrote the sheriff’s review board that he had sex with three female officers on his shift at the Econo Lodge hotel in a room formerly used for a sheriff’s substation. His superior reported that although Roundtree was married, he had all the women on his shift mad at one another and that he’d appreciate him being assigned elsewhere so the shift could get back to normal.

So what does all this mean?

Roundtree likes expensive cars and cheap hotels.

Friday morning, sheriff’s Lt. John Ivey, a 32-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and the Augusta Police Department, announced his candidacy. And Friday afternoon sheriff’s office road patrol deputy Lt. Robbie Silas, Strength’s brother-in-law, became the fourth candidate.


THEY DON’T CALL IT MARCH MADNESS FOR NOTHING: Patti Strength, her brother Silas, former Augusta Commissioner Ulmer Bridges and former state Sen. J.B. Powell drew a lot of attention during lunch at Beamie’s last week because Bridges and Powell are Strength’s close allies and would be expected to follow his recommendation. But Powell said he’s going to vote for Silas.

“I just don’t know Scott Peebles,” he said. “I’ve known Robbie over 20 years.”

Bridges likewise said he’s known and worked with Silas for years in south Richmond County and thought highly of him.

Oh well, politics makes strange bedfellows.


RUNNING MAN: Another south Richmond County elected official says he will run for the 23rd District state senate seat. Robert Buckwitz, the chairman of Hephzibah City Council for seven years, confirmed he’ll challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Jesse Stone. Buckwitz, an employee of Unimen kaolin mine and a Hephzibah property owner, will run as a Republican. He ran against Jimmy Smith for the District 8 commission seat eight years ago.


THE CHECK IS NOT IN THE MAIL: We’ve been hearing that some of Augusta’s black leaders have organized to run a black candidate for every local elected office on the ballot this year. Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders is the latest to say he’ll run, challenging incumbent Augusta Judicial Circuit Court Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet. That’s good. The more candidates, the better, but we hope if he’s elected he’ll manage the judge’s business better than he does his own.

Saunders filed for bankruptcy in September, listing assets of $167,345 and liabilities of $360,745. His secured debt totals $253,237, which includes a home loan and two Internal Revenue Service tax liens totaling $109,265. Unsecured debt includes two student loans of $85,024 and $4,058, plus $18,426 in credit card and other bills. Under the Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, Saunders initially paid $1,100 a month but the court increased the payment to $1,850 in January, based on his and wife Lezettra’s $5,670 net monthly take home pay. Court records indicate Saunders has not made a payment since Dec. 21.

If he wins, could it be the first time in the history of Richmond County that a Superior Court judge’s salary was garnished?


YOU SCRATCH MY WRIT, I’LL SCRATCH YOURS: State Court Judge David Watkins’ secretary, Hattie Sullivan, who plans to challenge incumbent Richmond County Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson, has reportedly already started soliciting support from lawyers as they leave the courtrooms in the judicial center. Because the courtrooms moved from the Municipal Building and are nowhere near the Board of Elections office, does it make it OK to campaign in the halls of justice?


WHERE’S BILL MURRAY WHEN WE NEED HIM? Everybody’s speculating on the future of the Golf and Gardens property since it seems destined to fall into the Georgia Board of Regents’ and thence into GHSU’s President Dr. Ricardo Azziz’s hands. Has Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s field of dreams become a pipe dream? Everybody’s blowing smoke, but right now, the only thing certain about the once lovely gardens is that the city will be asked to cut the weeds before the Masters.


IF THERE’S A THIEF IN THERE SOMEWHERE, THEY MEAN TO FIND HIM: Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett couldn’t get the commission to agree to authorize a forensic audit of city government departments to ferret out thieves, so state Rep. Quincy Murphy introduced a bill that audits everything.

Murphy’s bill would require every department, agency and authority of the Augusta consolidated government with a budget of $500,000 or more, and certain private contractors, to undergo a forensic audit every four years.

If the bill became law, the sheriff’s department, Superior Court, recreation, utilities, the wastewater treatment plant, the landfill, transit, the airport, several garbage haulers and all general contractors who receive $500,000 or more in public funding annually would be audited.

Commissioner Joe Bowles, an accountant, said a forensic audit differs from a financial audit in that every single transaction is verified by pulling invoices and making sure they match what’s on the general ledger.

“I would estimate the cost to be anywhere from $2 million to $12 million a year for forensic audits,” he said.

Bowles obtained information about forensic audits from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and other national CPA’s, such as Brad Peber, CPA Managing Partner, Grant Thornton.

“There are no generally recognized standards to perform a ‘forensic audit,’ ” Peber said. The results will be “outrageously expensive and will raise significant issues of potential liability because you are searching for something that you aren’t sure exists.”

Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, pulled the bill off the House’s consent agenda last week, but it’s expected to be put back on and to pass in the House on Monday.

“I tried to stop it and protect not only the governing body but Augusta taxpayers,” she said. “I will not be silenced on this. This is wrong.”



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