The head of Cobb County’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge created a stir last week when he announced on the lodge’s Facebook page that he was working with retiring Maj. Craig Owens in his campaign to be elected sheriff next year.
The county website lists Owens as commander of Cobb Police Precinct 2, which includes the areas of Austell, Mableton, and Powder Springs. Owens has been employed with the police department since 1989.
“This campaign is not about being a Democrat or Republican, it’s about making things better for the outstanding men & women who work for the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office,” Steve Gaynor, president of Cobb County’s Fraternal Order of Police Kermit Sanders Lodge 13, posted on the lodge’s Facebook page. “The problems at the Sheriff’s Department have been ignored for way (too) long and it’s time for change. So please watch for our kickoff meet & greet fundraiser at the beginning of December.”
Gaynor went on to post that he was looking for good places to put up campaign signs around Cobb. He ended the post with: “Please join with me in welcoming and supporting Craig Owens as your new Cobb County Sheriff.”
Some people commented below the post that they would be supporting Sheriff Neil Warren.
“I have nothing against Craig but I for one will be supporting Sheriff Neil Warren and I live in Cobb. I vote here,” wrote one.
Replied Gaynor: “Warren’s time is over, he has failed to move forward into the future and has refused to address the serious issues facing the Sheriff’s Office. The old ways of doing things are long over and the ‘good olde boy’ way of managing is no longer acceptable. I have been in the trenches fighting for the men & women of Cobb County Public Safety for many years and he has refused to join the fight for his people. I like Neil as a person, but he should realize it’s time for change.”
Another commenter inquired as to the appropriateness of the post.
“Steve, do you believe it’s appropriate to use the Official Facebook Page of Lodge 13 to endorse a candidate who you are personally working for?” one person wrote.
Gaynor replied by saying, “Not endorsing a candidate only announcing that I am working on this campaign. However as we move into the April/May time frame the Lodge will ask all Candidates to speak at our meeting for possible endorsement.”
His post also drew out private investigator Jimmy Herndon of east Cobb, a former sergeant with the sheriff’s office who is running a scorched earth campaign against Warren in his effort to succeed him.
Herndon, a Democrat, complained to Gaynor that “in all fairness, declaring him as ‘your new Cobb county Sheriff’ as the president of the FOP sure seems like a pretty solid endorsement by you, at least to me. I must have received 50 messages when you posted that. I’ve been running for a few months as you know and you’ve not shared the work I’ve been doing to show how Warren really runs his office.”
Gaynor told the MDJ he wasn’t interested in endorsing Herndon, given “baggage” relating to his acrimonious departure from the sheriff’s office.
The day after his initial Facebook post, Gaynor made another, explaining that his previous one had generated a few questions from lodge members, a group with more than 700 members.
“Yesterday’s statement was NOT a Lodge 13 endorsement, but a statement from the Lodge President that I am taking steps that I believe will help Cobb County Public Safety,” Gaynor wrote. “Craig Owens is a LIFE Member (over 20 years of membership) and believes in the actions we have been taking for months to get the attention of the commissioners. Our next Lodge meeting is next Wednesday at 1630 if any member would like to come address the membership. Until then as the CEO/President of this Lodge I will continue to fight for the majority of the members who have voiced their safety concerns for more than a year.”
Gaynor said Owens will kick off his campaign Dec. 12 at an event in Austell.
AT asked Warren if he cared to respond to Gaynor’s Facebook posts. He did not.
The primary is May 19. The election is November 3.
JAILHOUSE BLUES: The situation in the Cobb County jail has led Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland to question whether the city ought to be sending its prisoners there.
The city’s Public Safety Committee, which Copeland chairs, voted 3-0 last week to extend the city’s contract with the sheriff’s office to house inmates. The 20-year contract is set to expire at the end of the year unless the City Council approves a seven-year extension.
Under it, the city pays a certain amount to the county to house inmates. The current rate is $69 per inmate per day, or $25,185 per year, according to the contract. A new rate is determined at the start of each new year, but the cost per inmate cannot increase by more than 3% per year.
Copeland, who has first-hand experience in the detention center, said recent reports about deaths in the jail have him worried.
“How much liability do we have as joint signers?” he asked. “In particular because since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been six deaths in the jail. There are several citizens who have called me, I don’t have the answers to it, but I’m kind of hesitant to go too much further with this, personally.”
Copeland’s numbers are accurate, according to numbers from the sheriff. In addition, the MDJ mailroom has been flooded with letters from inmates in recent months describing a monthslong lockdown where they say they have been unable to leave their cells for days on end, even to shower.
The ACLU has expressed interest in what’s going on there, hitting the sheriff with an open records request late last month.
City manager Bill Bruton said whatever goes on behind the jail’s walls, Marietta is not liable.
“In general, once we hand over one of our inmates or individuals who have been arrested to one of the jails, they have responsibility and liability,” he said. “We have responsibility to transport and bring them over there, but the minute we transfer them to them, they’ve got responsibility.”
City attorney Doug Haynie concurred.
“This commitment neither increases nor decreases the city’s liability,” he said. “The city and the county have sovereign immunity. I would say to you that the city has no liability under this. I read what you’re talking about as far as how the jail is run by the sheriff, but I see that does not carry over any liability to the city of Marietta.”
That was good enough for Copeland, who voted to approve the extension along with the other two committee members, Councilman Johnny Walker and Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson.
CITYHOOD: A select few east Cobb residents continue to quarrel over whether the community could become a financially viable municipality, trading insults among former friends.
East Cobb residents Shailesh Bettadapur, Bill Dennis, Bill Green, Russ Morrisett and Ken Pollock formed a team earlier this year called the Independent Finance Group to crunch the numbers relating to east Cobb cityhood.
They started out in agreement — that a paid university study on east Cobb cityhood needed fact-checking.
But by September, when the group was ready to publicly release its findings, Bettadapur broke ranks, left the team and denounced its 4-1 majority conclusion.
Green, Dennis, Morrisett and Pollock decided east Cobb, as a city, could offer its residents lower taxes than they currently pay to the county for various services, including policing.
Bettadapur didn’t agree, as he recently explained to the MDJ.
Bettadapur also accused Green of falsely asserting that his being married to Cobb Democratic Party Chair Jacquelyn Bettadapur had something to do with his leaving the group.
“I can say without hesitation that Mr. Green’s assertion is false,” Bettadapur told the MDJ for an article that was published on the front page of Sunday’s edition.
“Shailesh on front page today. Same antics. I’m a liar,” Green texted MDJ reporter Rosie Manins on Sunday afternoon.
“A city couldn’t possibly cut taxes because it would have to take on a police force with no new revenue transfer,” Green texted. “He’s pushing the non-starter non-compliance scenario. I would vote no, too, if I thought a new city would do something that stupid.”
Whether east Cobb becomes an incorporated city within Cobb County will be determined by public vote during an election referendum, if the case for cityhood makes it that far.