The state’s sheriffs want Gov. Nathan Deal to start the process that could lead to Victor Hill’s suspension moments after he takes office as Clayton County sheriff in little more than a month. But several legislators from Clayton say that request is premature and they want time for Hill to resolve the 32 felony charges against him.
As of Monday, the governor was siding with the legislators.
Hill is to retake the office he lost in the 2008 election on Jan. 1. “We won’t take any official action until he is sworn,” Deal spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield said in an email.
According to Georgia law concerning indicted elected officials, the governor is to name a committee — in this case two sheriffs and the attorney general — to recommend if Hill should be suspended while his case is pending.
Hill is charged with racketeering, using his county-owned cars and credit cards for personal trips and requiring member of his staff to work on his failed 2008 re-election campaign while they were supposed to be at their jobs.
Soon after he was indicted in January, Hill lost his state law enforcement certification, which means he cannot make arrests or serve warrants.
Still, Hill defeated incumbent Sheriff Kem Kimbrough in a Democratic primary runoff in August and won again in November with almost 64,000 votes against nearly 17,000 for write-in candidate Garland Watkins, the current chief deputy under Kembrough.
To remove Hill is “totally disrespectful to the voters of Clayton County,” said Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “Allow the judicial system to do what they do.”
The legislators would not say whether they wanted Hill to be allowed to stay in office until the case goes to trial or just wanted the governor to wait until he is sworn in to name the suspension-recommendation committee.
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, said the organization asked the governor start the process now because the indictment of a soon-to-be sheriff puts a “cloud” over all sheriffs. The group suggested that D.G. “Bill” Lemacks, Clayton County sheriff in the mid 1990s, temporarily fill the post. If Hill were to be suspended, he could reclaim the office if he is acquitted. But if he is convicted, he would be removed and a special election would be held to pick a new sheriff.
“The law provides that if a public officer is indicted with some reference to his office … the governor has to appoint a committee. It’s not an option,” Sills said. “The only thing we ask the governor to do is to do this as expeditiously as possible … I cannot fathom how one can be the chief law enforcement officer of the community and conducting the day-to-day activities while under indictment for felonious crimes in that county. I find it incredulous that someone would think that wouldn’t have some adverse effect on the office.”
Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, has drafted a letter asking the governor to leave Hill alone until the criminal case is resolved with a trial.
“It seems to me, governor, that when certain people can’t get their wishes at the voting booths, then they employ raw, unmitigated, egregious and flagrant attacks on the Voting Rights Act,” he wrote. “This is unconscionable. The people of Clayton County are tired of this shabby and condescending treatment from people who don’t even live here.”
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