The late Herman Talmadge, who followed his daddy, Gene, as governor of Georgia before heading off to the U.S. Senate, once observed that if you wanted to get elected to statewide office in Georgia, the first thing you needed to do was make sure the Atlanta newspapers opposed you. It certainly worked for Talmadge, who served four terms in the Senate before his career ended in a thud after it was discovered he was playing fast and loose with his expense account.
Talmadge’s observations were made in another era, but I would suggest the same principle would apply today. Pick the right enemies. That brings me to Neil Warren, who is running for his fifth term as Cobb County sheriff. He is currently under siege by a crowd that includes the liberal-lopsided American Civil Liberties Union and the Cobb SCLC, whose field director is none other than the omnipresent Cobb County gadfly, Rich “The Equalizer” Pellegrino. That is not a bad start.
They are not alone. There are others after Warren’s scalp, including La Gente de Cobb, the Cobb County NAACP, the Smart Justice Coalition, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, KSUnited, New Order and Street Groomers as well as several former inmates. The only group that seems to be missing is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
All are piling on the sheriff with a host of complaints about the conditions at the jail that led to the death of six inmates in 2019. One was a suicide and the others died in local hospitals after medical emergencies. Warren, who has not attended either of the two public meetings hosted by the ACLU, told the MDJ the accusations are politically motivated, exaggerated or untrue.
“This is a town, this 2,500-, 2,100-inmate (detention center) is a little community inside here and you are going to have sicknesses unfortunately and you are going to have deaths,” Warren said. “They don’t even know they’re sick until they come in here and they are being dried out from the alcohol and the drugs.”
Chief Deputy Sonya Allen says, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to constantly read in the paper things that we’re supposedly doing that we are not doing.”
Warren has opposition this time around from private investigator and former deputy sheriff Jimmy Herndon, who is running as a Democrat, as are retiring Cobb County Police Department Major Craig Owens and Gregory Gilstrap of the Carver College Police Department. Gilstrap was defeated by the sheriff in the 2016 general election.
There seems to be no small amount of bad blood between Warren and Herndon. Herndon left the sheriff’s office in September 2017 after a settlement was reached in which Herndon resigned on the basis that a termination record against him was removed.
Later, Herndon sued Warren and two members of his staff, Cmdr. Robert Quigley and Deputy Glenn Daniel, saying they unconstitutionally banned him from making comments on the sheriff’s office’s public Facebook page. Court documents show the issue has now been settled.
Warren, Quigley and Daniel agreed to pay Herndon $750 in damages and $29,000 in legal fees, according to court records. The sheriff’s office also must allow Herndon to post comments on the sheriff’s Facebook page.
Warren also ran into some campaign finance issues with the State Ethics Commission — it has a fancier name today but that is what it was called when I served on the commission and that is how it will stay with me — over the handling of funds from the annual Corn Boilin’ and whether or not the sheriff may have violated campaign expense rules by using his contributions for personal or improper use.
That issue now seems to have been settled. A statement from the sheriff’s reelection committee says, “Following the commission staff’s review of records produced by the campaign, the parties have reached an agreement in principle that will fully resolve all issues under investigation by the commission.” Details of the settlement should be available at commission’s April meeting.
While all of this has been going on, Sheriff Warren has raised more than three times the amount of campaign funds than his three rivals combined. Somebody must like him and the job he is doing.
Perhaps that was best stated by MDJ reader Brandon Coalson, who opined in a recent Letter to the Editor, “Reading that former inmates don’t like Sheriff Neil Warren solidifies that I will vote for Warren. In fact, I would be quite concerned if the ACLU found a bunch of ex-inmates that enjoyed their stay with Sheriff Warren.”
I don’t know Neil Warren well. I have met him a time or two and did a column on him back in 2012 but have managed to keep my nose clean enough that I haven’t had to enjoy his hospitality up-close-and-personal.
I do find it interesting that no federal or state agencies have indicated they have found something worthy of further investigation. That tells me this is about politics. If that is so, then having the ACLU and The Equalizer leading your opposition is good news for the sheriff.