The political circuit amped up last week in Augusta, with fundraisers for sheriff candidates, a political forum that sparked fireworks at a church, a rousing speech by Sheriff Ronnie Strength that got the old folks at the Committee for Good Government meeting on their feet twice and a retirement dinner for the sheriff held by the Shield Club of Augusta.
Democratic sheriff candidate Richard Roundtree played host to a good crowd during a meet-and-greet Thursday while Republican opponent Freddie Sanders was meeting and greeting folks at a fish fry.
Roundtree didn’t talk much about what he’d do as sheriff. Instead, he talked about love and overcoming obstacles that divide Augusta and quoted from the Bible and the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I thought it was nice, but when I called Sanders to clarify something he’d said at Strength’s retirement dinner, he asked whether I thought Roundtree had gotten Browning mixed up with a Browning automatic.
Sanders said he had to go or he’d be late for the Henpecked Club supper in Hephzibah because he had to go to the bookstore and buy a book of poetry first.
“Roses are red. Violets are blue,” he said with a laugh.
SAME OLD SAME OLD: The appointment of a white juvenile court judge to the Augusta Judicial Circuit and the terms of black incumbents Ben Allen and Willie Saunders not being renewed last week set the stage for a question that had black Democratic Probate Court Judge candidate Harry James playing the race card and white Republican rival Carleton Vaughn bristling during a forum at Williams Memorial Church on 15th Street.
District attorney, state court solicitor and probate court candidates were asked what they thought about the recent juvenile court appointments. James lambasted Chief Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet, saying the appointments were horrible and unfair and implied they were racially motivated. He said of all the judges in the judicial circuit, there were only two blacks.
Vaughn prefaced his remarks by telling the audience, which audibly agreed with James, that they weren’t going to like what he had to say.
He said that in his time as acting judge in the probate court, “I have never based a decision on what color you are. Every decision I made was made after I had all the facts. You are making a decision on only one fact. You are always saying we need to come together and heal the racial divide. What you have just said is more divisive than anything I have ever heard.”
RONNIE’S METEORIC RISE: At the Shield Club dinner, Sanders told tales about Strength.
“When we had a police department, I was appointed chief of police. Sheriff Charlie Webster took over the sheriff’s department. And we came in and created a department. Sid Hatfield was my assistant chief. We were making assignments, and I called Ronnie in and made him a captain. I said, ‘You’re a captain.’
“He went back to the CID office. About five minutes later, we realized we already had a captain, and we didn’t have a spot where he could be captain. So I said, ‘Call Capt. Strength back over here.’ He walked in, and I said, ‘Captain, you did so good we’re going to promote you.’
“I made him a major. He went back over to CID and told them he’d done such a good job in the three minutes he’d been captain, he’d already been promoted.”
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: In Strength’s rookie days, he rode with a senior deputy. One night the senior deputy happened to be passing near his property and turned off to check his turtle traps. Unfortunately, the patrol car got stuck on a little hill. The senior deputy said, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” He returned on his lawn tractor and pulled the bumper off the car.
HE’S GONNA GET LOST IN HIS ROCK ’N’ ROLL: When Hatfield was hired in 1965, an article in The Augusta Chronicle said, “Drummer takes a new Beat.” Now he’s come full circle – to retirement, where he’ll take up the old beat again.
“I’m going to go back to the drums,” said Hatfield, the former drummer for Johnny Hensley and the Red Hots. There’s talk of a 50th anniversary reunion next year, he said.
Hatfield has been a mainstay in the sheriff’s office for the past 44 years – except for one year in the probation office, another in the district attorney’s office after he saw Sheriff J.B. Dyches was headed in a direction he didn’t want to travel, that being the penitentiary, plus the short time he was on the county police force. He’s served with seven sheriffs and one police chief. He can also tell you something interesting about each one, beginning with George Mutimer.
“He was a gentleman, gracious to people within the community and well liked by everybody,” he said. “He created a summer camp for children off Highway 25.”
“Sheriff E.R. ‘Foots’ Atkins was cordial and easygoing. His wife wasn’t so much. She called him Ryder. She was working a booth at the fairgrounds with the ladies auxiliary, selling hot dogs and hamburgers. A big storm came up and blew the napkins off the counter. She said, ‘You’d better not let any more of them napkins blow off, or I’m going to have Ryder take it out of your paycheck.’ So I went around the corner and got a brick and laid it on top of the napkins.
“Sheriff Bill Anderson was a street man. He stayed in the street all the time. He went to prison. It had something to do with a nightclub on Peach Orchard Road. The Shrimp Boat was the name of it.
“Sheriff James Beck was a disciplinarian. Very firm. You knew right where you stood with Beck. He was a good sheriff. He got killed in a traffic accident on Lumpkin Road a few years ago.
“Sheriff J.B. Dyches was confused. That’s what I remember about him. I wasn’t comfortable with his leadership. So the rest of the story is Dyches was arrested and indicted. I got a call from county attorney Bob Daniel who said to be in the commission office the next morning, that the commission was going to create a county police office and leave the sheriff’s office in charge of managing the jail and courts and that they were considering me and Freddie Sanders to be chief.
“We were both there the next morning, but they couldn’t decide which one of us should be chief. So they appointed Dayton Sherrouse who was county manager as interim chief. About a month later, they appointed Freddie Sanders. He called me in the DA’s office and asked me to be assistant chief. A little over a year later, the commission abolished the county police and put it all back under the sheriff’s office, and Charlie Webster asked me to serve as chief deputy.
“Freddie Sanders is a businessman. All business. He loves to play and have humor, but when the time comes, he’s a true businessman. He gets it done.
“Sheriff Charlie Webster is much like George Mutimer. Gracious. A gentleman. Liked by everybody.
“Sheriff Ronnie Strength brought the department to where it needed to be. He is professional and well respected by everybody.”