With new Fulton County elected officials being sworn in next month or earlier this month, outgoing politicians reflected on their time in office during interviews with the Neighbor.
Sheriff Ted Jackson, who was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue as the interim sheriff for the last six months of 2004, was elected to the post in 2008. He served as sheriff for three terms before being defeated by Pat Labat in the Aug. 11 primary runoff election.
Jackson said he inherited an office that was dealing with a federal consent decree regarding issues with the county jail and the aftermath of the 2005 incident in which inmate Brian Nichols escaped custody in the courthouse during his trial and killed four individuals, including the judge presiding over his case.
“Law enforcement-wise, we had thousands of warrants that hadn’t been served,” he said. “We had no reputation within the law enforcement agencies. No training. It was kind of like starting over when I took office.”
Jackson said he made improvements to the office, starting by adding an organizational structure and dividing it into four divisions: jail, courts, law enforcement and administrative. Courthouse security was tightened, and a court security plan, which had to be approved by the county’s chief judge, was completed in 2009. Following improvements to the jail, the consent decree was lifted in 2015.
Jackson said the office’s plans to decrease crime in Fulton was the next issue to address.
“We joined federal and state task forces involving crimes concerning terrorism, cyber crimes, sex trafficking, violent crimes involving gang activity and drugs,” he said. “The next thing is we updated training. We instituted a community outreach program to reach out to the youth, homeless and seniors along with a chaplain program with 145 chaplains for outreach. We developed programs within the jail such as the culinary program, the GED program, counseling program concerning mental health and substance abuse, K9 cellmate program.”
In 2016, the office also received a federal grant involving the successful reentry of inmates back into the community, including prisoners with mental health and substance abuse problems. Based on its 95% achievement rate, and it was renewed for another three years in 2019.
“We also received another grant, based on that (first) grant, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Jackson said. “We were the only jail in the country to get that grant.”
District 4 Fulton County Board of Education member Linda Bryant is retiring after first being elected in 1992 and serving from 1993 until the end of this year. She is the board’s longest-tenured member and is being replaced by Franchesca Warren, who was sworn in at its Dec. 10 meeting.
Bryant, who represented part of south Fulton, said what she’ll remember most from her tenure is the way the area changed.
“When I went on the board over 27 years ago, the schools did not look the same, things were out of control and there were rifts between north and south (Fulton),” she said. “There were a lot of things coming on 27 years that I brought some improvement to. The schools look fantastic now. All of our schools are beautiful schools.
“One of the statements I’ve always made is you can teach a child under a tree. You don’t have to have a beautiful facility. But we all have those now. They’re all warm, inviting facilities that I believe are number one in the state or in the nation. Our curriculum is all the same. We have the same books. We have all the amenities to make a wonderful school system (including) the ones in south Fulton.”
When asked what she wants her legacy to be, Bryant said, “I hope (what) I have left is a legacy of excellence. We strive for excellence and our students strive to attain excellence. I hope (for) our faculty and everybody involved with the school system, that we all strive for excellence. I want there to be no difference between one side of the county and the other.”
District 6 Fulton Board of Commissioners member Joe Carn was elected in October 2019 to replace the late Emma Darnell and will serve until the end of this year. Carn, who was defeated by Khadijah Abdur-Rahman in the June 9 primary election, started his political career as a community activist. He spent nine years as a College Park City Council member and three as vice-mayor of that city.
“It was obviously a great opportunity and a wonderful experience to serve residents,” Carn said of his time as a county commissioner. “I’ve been serving for 14 years (overall) now. … (Being a county commissioner meant) service to the people on a larger scale. It was very exciting, a great opportunity. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
He said service to his constituents will be his legacy.
“I had a commitment to service from the first day, and I’ll be committed to serve on the last day,” he said. “We had an event yesterday with a toy giveaway for our kids. I just got finished touring the renovations of our Central Library today. Full-time service for our resident is a must.”
Superior Court Judge Constance Russell was appointed to the post in 1996 and was first elected in 2000 until deciding to retire at the end of 2020. She will be replaced on the bench by Melynee Leftridge Harris.
Russell said what she will remember most from her tenure is “the change in approach to criminal justice issues both locally and nationally as ‘smart justice’ initiatives have been embraced.”
When asked what she wants her legacy to be, she said, “That I was respectful and fair those who appeared before me.”
Superior Court Judge Rebecca Crumrine Rieder was appointed to the post by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018 to replace Judge Doris Downs, who retired in the middle of her term. Rieder was defeated by Shermela Williams in the June 9 primary. She did not answer questions about her tenure but referred the Neighbor to a letter she wrote to supporters after losing the election.
“I strived for fairness and respect for all before me,” Rieder wrote. “My staff and I worked tirelessly to hear cases assigned to my division and provide Fulton County citizens a platform to be heard. While in the complex criminal division, we reduced our backlog significantly. I presided over 14 complex felony criminal jury trials in 2019 – more than 12 of the other 15 judges who sit in the criminal division. Additionally, I presided over 430+ complex felony criminal pleas.
“The assistant district attorneys, public defenders and private criminal attorneys assigned to Courtroom 4B all took on a deluge of cases randomly assigned to our division in a one-time transfer of 100+ old cases and helped bring resolution for the citizens of Fulton County, victims, families of victims, defendants, and families of defendants. I am thankful for the hard work of all the attorneys as well as the hard work of my staff.”
Rieder, who shifted to the court’s family division in February, wrote she was pleased those cases could be heard via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when criminal cases were postponed. She added she’s also proud to preside over Fulton’s Behavioral Health Treatment Court.
“(It) has been especially rewarding, serving the needs of some of the most vulnerable of our citizens,” she wrote. “Working with Accountability Court Director John Collins, we established the first 501(c)(3), The Hope and Healing Foundation, to provide monetary and community support for the Fulton County Accountability Courts. … Since taking office, I’ve felt an enormous responsibility to provide fair, impartial dispensing of justice in a timely manner; and, that will remain as I finish out my term.”
District Attorney Paul Howard, who lost to Fani Willis in the primary runoff, and Magistrate Court Judge Pinkie Toomer, who is retiring, declined the Neighbor’s requests for interviews.