In 1995, I attended a week-long retirement conference for those having reached the age of 50. I was in federal law enforcement, and if you stayed to 57, you were mandated by statute to retire. The first speaker said that everyone in the room would know when it was time to go, when for personal or professional reasons, it was that person’s time to say goodbye.
For me, that day occurred in late 2002. I was supposed to meet a woman named Julie from the NYU School of Law advancement office (euphemism for fundraiser) at the Hotel Nikko in Buckhead. Julie was late, and neither of us knew what we looked like. But I saw what looked likely to be her getting off an elevator and frantically walking to the lounge area where we were to meet.
There was a gentleman probably several years older than me who was under-tall and hair challenged sitting about fifteen feet away. Julie approached him and asked if he was Oliver. I sat there laughing at this scene, and when Julie saw me she was red-faced and realized her mistake. I jokingly said that she had stereotyped me, but at that moment I realized that just maybe this was that defining moment the speaker had told us about seven years earlier.
Perhaps Cobb County’s sheriff, Neil Warren, hasn’t had that moment of epiphany yet, but considering he’s my age, he will. He’s running for reelection against Cobb County police major Craig Owens, who has formidable credentials and is a good twenty years younger. In other words, Owens has the mental and physical stamina to lead the sheriff’s office in a county approaching 800,000 citizens.
Owens has a lot more going for him, though. He commands Cobb’s highest crime precinct. He has a master’s degree and multiple professional certificates that reflect a wide variety of schools and training he has received over the decades. Perhaps one of the most important of his qualifications is that he is a retired command sergeant major in the U.S. Army reserves with overseas experience among his many military accomplishments. He is a man who has served this country honorably in both civilian and military uniforms.
Warren has been with the sheriff’s office since 1977 when he started as a deputy. He has served as the elected sheriff since 2004. Contrasting him with Owens, Warren did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War for reasons I don’t know but find puzzling since conservatives can probably show few better ways of demonstrating their patriotism than to wear the uniform of this country.
Warren is not without controversy. There have been a number of deaths at the jail that have led to questions concerning adequate health care and supervision of the inmates. As any leader knows, the buck stops with him, and Warren has not taken decisive ownership of the problem. It is a problem that could very well cost the taxpayers a lot of money with the lawsuits that have been filed.
Warren has come under an ethics investigation concerning his annual charitable corn boil fundraiser for disadvantaged children. The issues relate to how the money has been spent and misuse of sheriff deputies to put on this private event. Warren also resisted providing financial records for the corn boil, which is baffling if there is nothing to hide. I am not questioning Warren’s integrity so much as I question his judgment in this instance.
Warren was born and raised in Cobb County, and being a longtime elected official, it would suggest he knows a lot of people, to include key legislators at the state capitol, especially the Cobb delegation. Yet in 2018, he hired a professional lobbyist, Louie Hunter, at $75,016 and take-home car to be his public affairs/government liaison point man. According to the AJC, “In March (2019), after less than a year on the job and with no formal performance evaluation, Hunter saw his annual salary increase by nearly $18,000 to $92,770.”
Why does Warren need a lobbyist? Why does any sheriff need a lobbyist? Why isn’t the sheriff his own lobbyist considering he can call anyone in state or local government and get a phone call returned if he has concerns that need to be addressed?
A couple of years ago Warren was embroiled in a controversy where he criticized the then president of Kennesaw State University for allowing the cheerleaders to take a knee during the national anthem at a football game. Why would the sheriff get involved with this any more than the president of KSU would inject himself into telling Warren how to run his jail and who to hire?
Despite my comments about Warren, he is a decent man and deserves a decent retirement. But it is time to change horses. The “ole grey mare ain’t what it used to be”, and Owens is standing tall, ready to lead and to make changes that have led to some of Warren’s difficulties. Hopefully in November we will hear the cry of, “there’s a new sheriff in town.”