By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
At Aug. 7’s follow-up debates at American Legion Post 106, schedulers gave the two Republican candidates for sheriff the last slot. Whether or not the intention was to end with a bang, such was the outcome. There was enough drama to last the audience until November, when the victor of the Aug. 21 runoff will face Democrat Philip Street, who ran the sheriff’s department for 20 years prior to the incumbent’s tenure.
That incumbent, Patrick Cannon, opened the proceeding with an introductory statement that did not so much woo voters as scold them for their potential involvement in what he called “this Facebook demon” – apparently an online scandal about the sheriff, which he mentioned several times but did not specifically outline. He said it had “degraded” him and warned those responsible they would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. “I hope no one in this room is a part of that,” he said.
Cannon reminded attendees of how hard he had worked in the bleak aftermath of last year’s tornados – “I was right there with you. I never backed down one time” – and urged them to return to that sense of community. “We’ve got to come together,” he said.
In his opening speech, Cannon also said, “I never ever ran a negative campaign,” but by all indications somebody must have said something, because in his own introduction, challenger Ray Cross announced he was going to clear the air once and for all as to rumors concerning his bankruptcies:
Reading from a written statement, Cross outlined how in 2004, overwhelmed by medical bills for his wife and daughter, he had filed for Chapter 13, or debt consolidation protection, on the advice of an attorney. Later, after having paid over $123,000 of the debt, and again on the advice of an attorney, the Crosses filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection to discharge the obligation.
The bankruptcies were caused not by negligence, Cross read, but by astronomical medical bills. “Something like this could happen to anybody at any time,” he read. “People who don’t think this couldn’t happen to them are kidding themselves.”
Cross dealt separately with the issue of the family home, which, his statement read, had been advertised in the newspaper as being foreclosed on. It had not been, he said. There had been difficulty about the title from the beginning, none of it his fault, but the mortgage holder had refused payment on that basis. Cross said he had sought legal advice about the house, too.
“I’m ashamed of none of this,” read Cross, and: “Please do not hold this against me in the financial aspect of this job.”
After this, both candidates fielded specific audience questions: Cannon said the new jail kitchen had reduced the county’s inmate meal tab to $1.80 a head per meal; that his overall budget was $2.4 million, and cut every year; that his claim that Dade had the lowest crime rate in northwest Georgia was figured per capita; and that he never advised officers to “do away with” a citation but that a ticketed individual had the right to go to probate court and ask to have the citation released.
Asked if Dade had more crime than when he took office, Cannon said no, but then asked the audience to look at Georgia statistics: “It’s not just Dade County,” he said, then, apparently referring to last year’s string of burglaries: “We can’t get everybody’s stuff back,” he said. “It just don’t happen.”
Ray Cross, asked if he had promised anybody a job if he were elected sheriff, specified, no, nobody had been promised a job as deputy, but: “I am going to hire one guy who’s going to be a grant research writer.”
He said he didn’t plan to do a lot of firing if he attained the top slot: “I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “It doesn’t just affect the deputies, it affects the families, too.”
One change Cross did plan to make in the department drew audience applause:
Push officers’ salaries to the front of the budget. “Their life’s in danger every day when they stop a car,” he said.
Cannon replied glumly that he’d tried that: “I’ve fought for an increase every year.” But: “Where are you going to get the money?” he demanded. “The budget is bone.”
Cross’s answer: “By bringing revenue into the department.” Fundraising had worked during his campaign, he reasoned; why not fundraise to defray equipment costs, leaving more in the kitty for salaries?
Another audience question for Cannon was: Do your employees have the right to vote for whom they choose? The sheriff replied of course, only stipulating that the custom was, if a deputy wanted to run against the boss, he had to resign. “It sows discord in the department,” he said. “You don’t sit there and put politics in the office.” That also drew applause.
Cross disagreed: “I would not have officers resign if they ran against me.”
Moderator Tom Black said he had discarded some audience questions as inappropriate.
In closing – in all the debates, candidates flipped a nickel to determine the order of their speaking, with the loser going first – Cross told the audience, “Sometimes change is for the better.”
He had so many ideas for change in the sheriff’s department, said Cross: officers in each zone at all times, roving supervisors to keep an eye on them; officers in the schools – prescription drugs were rife in the school system, he said, clearly calling for more law enforcement involvement. “I just don’t think there’s enough being done over there,” he said.
Cannon then took his turn, giving perhaps the most memorable speech of the night.
First he reminded the audience that his eight years of service had included the worst times that Dade had ever seen.
Then he again began to castigate the audience. He was tired of being done this way, he said, and: “I’ve helped personally the Cross family.”
The people who had come out “against me,” said Cannon, and who were involved in illegal activities toward that end, were supporters of Cross. “That worries me,” he said.
The sheriff then turned his attention to attendees wearing Elect Ray Cross T-shirts. Many of those wearing that shirt, he said, had been charged with, and convicted of, drug crimes. “Some of you ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” he said.
Cannon concluded with the announcement he wanted to serve the county four more years, and the admission: “I’m not perfect.”
On July 31, Cross got 1,412 of the Republican votes to Cannon’s 1,090, with the remaining GOP candidates, Tim McDonald and Nathan Baker, eliminated at 445 and 410, respectively.