Clayton County's runoff election provided political drama on Tuesday, as former Sheriff Victor Hill emerged as the apparent winner against incumbent Kem Kimbrough.
Hill is facing a 37-count felony indictment that essentially accuses him of running the sheriff's office like a criminal enterprise for his own personal gain.
He served from 2004 until 2008 when voters replaced him with Kem Kimbrough. The two fought a nasty battle leading up to Tuesday's primary. Kimbrough hammered Hill for being under criminal indictment. Hill accused Kimbrough of using his deputies to spy on him and bring about the charges.
Late Tuesday, before all the votes were tallied, Hill released a statement declaring himself the winner. It said, "Tonight, I am humbled by God and the support of the Clayton County voters and accept their will to serve once again, as Sheriff of Clayton County. I want to thank the many volunteers, advisors and friends that worked tirelessly over the last few months to make tonight's victory a reality. As promised, I want to advise those who prey on others by breaking into homes, robbing businesses and drug trafficking to stop or leave Clayton while you still can. Your presence is not wanted and your lawlessness will not be tolerated. I want to thank everyone once again. May God bless you all and may God bless Clayton County."
As it became clearer that the votes weren't going his way, Kimbrough said, "I am concerned about the county. But me personally? I'll be fine. This isn't about me. I keep trying to tell people that. I'm a licensed attorney. I will always eat. I will never go hungry."
By Wednesday morning, all but the provisional votes had been tallied. Hill had secured nearly 54 percent of the vote.
In the race for chairman of the Clayton County Commission, Jeff Turner won with two-thirds of the vote. The former Clayton County police chief soon will lead the commission that demoted him out of a job.
"I wouldn't say it's vindication, but it makes me feel good," said Turner.
Turner beat Eldrin Bell, who was running for his third term.
"I've appreciated these seven years I've had," said Bell. "I've tried to remain the adult in the room, and I've done that. I've never missed a board meeting, and I've dedicated myself to the people of Clayton County, and I'll continue to do that in some capacity."
There are no Republican candidates for the commission chairman or sheriff's office seats, so the results in both races are final.
Life-long resident Daniel Collum was stunned to hear that voters returned Hill to the sheriff's office.
"Oh crap," he said. "I mean, he shouldn't have been on the ballot at all." He added, "I just wish I'd have gotten a chance to vote."
"I must say I'm shocked," said Clayton County voter Candace Duvernay who declined to say how she voted Tuesday. "As a criminal defense attorney, I must say that I admire that the voters are not looking at what somebody's been charged with, but they're voting their consciences and their beliefs."
What can Gov. Nathan Deal do?
Hill is facing a 37-count felony indictment.
According to Brian Robinson, Governor Deal's chief spokesman, Georgia law mandates that if a sworn county official is under indictment, the governor must form a panel to review the case. The panel will be comprised of Georgia's attorney general and two sheriffs from other counties appointed by the governor.
If the panel recommends that the official not be suspended, the governor has no choice; the official will stay in office. If the panel recommends that the official be suspended, the governor then has the option of suspending that person from office or leaving the person in office.
If the person is suspended by the governor and later found not guilty, that person would be put back in office.
If the case is resolved in court before he takes office in January, the governor will not have to step in at all.
If an elected official is found guilty before being sworn in, he wouldn't be able to take office, which would trigger a special election.
If he's found guilty after being sworn in (whether the governor has suspended him at that point or not), local ordinance in Clayton County requires that a probate judge appoint a temporary sheriff.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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