The forum at the Stone Creek Inn brought out around 75 people to hear from the candidates.
Sheriff’s candidates Michael McGee, Johnny Moats, Randy Stewart and Michael Sullivan all said the department is in sore need of change.
The winner of the July 31 primary will face off with Democratic incumbent Sheriff Kelly McLendon in November.
“Being a manager is what the sheriff’s office needs,” Sullivan said. “I managed that jail for 16 years. Polk County never paid any money out for any lawsuit filed.”
Moats said the sheriff’s office needs more basic values and he is the man to instill them through leadership.
“I have strong moral beliefs and family values,” Moats said. “I believe in running that place like I do my home. I have never in my life paid my bills late. I don’t spend money when I don’t have it.”
Michael McGee said he had studied the budgets since 2003 and he believes the sheriff’s office has wasted millions over the years.
“It’s been misdirected for the past 15 years, even from the old sheriff,” McGee said. “There are duplications of services with drug investigations, stopping cars and running radar.”
Stewart said the next sheriff should have administrative experience and know how to manage a tight budget.
“Times are hard. We have to run an office like a business,” Stewart said. “At the same time, we have to be a good steward tax dollars.”
Regarding issues, all agree a major issue facing Polk County is drugs. All four had different ideas for handling it.
Stewart said he wanted a team to stop drugs from coming through on the highways in Polk County.
Moats said he wants to work more with local agencies with drug teams to combat the problem and isn’t an advocate of the sheriff’s office expanding its responsibilities.
“I don’t want may name in the paper. I want the drugs gone,” Moats said.
Sullivan said he wants Polk County to participate in a tri-county drug unit with Paulding and Haralson Counties. He said this county once did participate and was effective then.
McGee, who is captain of the Polk County Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET), said his team makes between 200 and 250 arrests a year.
“Why would you send your people to Haralson or Paulding?” McGee said. “If you do that, that’s where they stay. You put your people here and you leave them here because you know that’s where they need to work.”
Another hot-button issue discussed is the new law passed by the state aimed at reducing illegal immigrants.
McGee and Moats said it would be difficult to enforce the law because of a lack of manpower and room in the jail.
Stewart agreed, stating the law is unenforceable the way it is written because Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) would never come pick up people being held in the Polk County Jail.
“Until we get the manpower, the resources, cooperation from ICE, we can’t arrest them. They’ll get out and right back in,” Stewart said.
However, Sullivan said new technology allows personnel to match fingerprints across the country. Those with other felony warrants or convictions can be held.
“Federal law says you can hold them until ICE picks them up, if it’s a felony,” Sullivan said.