The finish line is still a year away, but already the race is on.
This month, two men announced their decisions to seek the Richmond County sheriff's office in November 2000. Woodrow Fryer filed a declaration of intention with the local board of elections Nov. 8. Lt. Leon Garvin, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department, filed Friday.
The man to beat is Chief Deputy Ronald Strength, who's been with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department since 1976. Chief Deputy Strength filed with the local board of elections Sept. 29.
Sheriff Charles Webster announced last month that he won't seek re-election and endorsed Chief Deputy Strength's bid for sheriff. Chief Deputy Sid Hatfield dispelled rumors that he might run for sheriff and said he's supporting Chief Deputy Strength.
With the declaration of intentions on file, the three candidates now can accept campaign contributions. But only Chief Deputy Strength's campaign bank account is growing. His campaign treasurer said his committee has raised more than $15,000. Lt. Garvin and Mr. Fryer are in the initial phases of their campaigns and said they have collected no money.
The rush to the election office stems from rumors that Sheriff Webster might retire early. The sheriff said he will not leave before the end of his term, but Lt. Garvin and Mr. Fryer said they want their names recognized, just in case he changes his mind. If Sheriff Webster stepped down, candidates still must qualify for a special election, which would be nonpartisan. None of the candidates has declared a political party. The special election winner would grab the advantage of incumbency in November's general election.
If Sheriff Webster fulfills his term, candidates for the sheriff's office must qualify in April. Chief Deputy Strength and Lt. Garvin will have to take a leave of absence to campaign.
On the same day he filed with the local election office, Chief Deputy Strength registered his campaign committee with the secretary of state's office. Although county employees aren't allowed to campaign or solicit funds while in office, the campaign committee can. However, creating a campaign committee is optional. Lt. Garvin said he intends to register with the secretary of state later in the campaign. Mr. Fryer said he's taking a different route.
"We're going to do everything grass-roots -- word of mouth," Mr. Fryer said. He doesn't plan to register with the secretary of state.
Mr. Fryer, 37, worked with the sheriff's department, assigned to road patrol for a little more than two years. Before that, he served in the Marine Corps for six years and later in the Air Force Reserves. Since 1987, Mr. Fryer has worked at Savannah River Site in the fire protection maintenance department. He graduated from Georgia Military College and Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga., where he received a bachelor's degree in public administration, with a concentration in criminal justice. He said he's working toward a master's degree in human resource management. He's married with two young children.
"I'm enthusiastic about getting Augusta on the right foot. Augusta is ready for a change," Mr. Fryer said. "We need to set some standards." He said Richmond County officers should have some type of formal education, such as a two-year degree in criminal justice. Mr. Fryer also believes the county should utilize more inmates to clean up the streets of Augusta and disagrees with Sheriff Webster's decision to not create a citizen's advisory committee.
"A lot of people want a change in this county," Mr. Fryer said. "I think 2000 will be my year."
Mr. Fryer and Lt. Garvin both said their decisions to seek the sheriff's position weren't spontaneous but a path they've been planning for many years.
"Ever since my first interview with (former Richmond County) Sheriff (George) Mutimer, I've always said, `If I'm qualified, I'll run for sheriff,'°" Lt. Garvin said. "That time has come."
Lt. Garvin, 56, was first hired at the sheriff's department in 1965, when he worked in the jail for a year. He was then assigned to road patrol and in 1976 was promoted to an investigator in the criminal investigation division. He rose to sergeant over the records bureau. In 1983, he became a lieutenant in the public relations/crime prevention department, where he currently works, supervising the DARE program and promoting safety and drug awareness programs in schools, churches and other organizations. Lt. Garvin is married, with four children and eight grandchildren.
"I wouldn't foresee any tension between Chief Strength and I," Lt. Garvin said. "We both have the same desire, the same goal, although I'm sure we'll disagree with philosophies in law enforcement. This campaign won't have any effect on our friendship -- win, lose or whatever."
Reach Jessica Rinck at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.