The Floyd County Magistrate Court will end its longstanding tradition of using constables and rely on the sheriff’s office to handle security, warrants, writs and evictions.
Chief Magistrate Gene Richardson signed an order late Tuesday abolishing the three constable positions in his court, effective Sept. 1.
As a constitutional officer, the decision is his by law.
Richardson said Thursday that few Georgia counties the size of Floyd still use constables and he wants to focus solely on judicial matters.
“I’ve been looking at it for about a year,” Richardson said. “The sheriff’s office is a law enforcement agency trained to do all that. We’re a court. The citizens are going to get better protective service this way.”
Magistrate Court is essentially a small-claims court where financial disputes of less than $15,000 are handled. It’s where a motorist can sue a driver who dented his car, a customer can seek restitution for faulty workmanship or a landlord can evict a tenant who is not paying the rent.
Richardson has a budget of $722,480 this year.
Just over $600,000 is for personnel expenses, including benefits and pension allocations. Nearly $8,000 is earmarked for uniforms and vehicles used by the constables.
“I expect the money for those constables, their vehicle maintenance, weapons – all that will be transferred to the sheriff’s office,” he said.
That’s still unclear, said Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, who met with Richardson and County Manager Jamie McCord before the order was signed to go over options.
“It’s still in flux, how it’s going to work,” Burkhalter said. “We’ll figure out a way to do it, but how it happens is still up for debate.”
A point Richardson makes in his order is that constables are paid less than deputies. The added duty of handling evictions also means the sheriff will have to revamp his civil and court services division.
“We were fortunate that the Magistrate Court handled that. Nobody liked doing it,” Burkhalter said. “They’re not very popular, but we will do what we have to do.”
It’s also not as simple as just hiring Richardson’s constables.
Burkhalter said his agency has its own vetting process that applies even to police officers transferring over.
“We also could have a nepotism problem,” he added.
Constable T. Roberson is the wife of Maj. Dave Roberson, commander of the field services division.
“Our policy is one spouse can’t work for another, and with him being the No. 3 in our agency it will be tough to figure out,” Burkhalter said. “We would love to have experienced officers come work for us. ... The turnover rate here and in law enforcement in general is pretty high right now.”
McCord said the county’s personnel policy spells out what happens when an employee finds their position eliminated.
“If there are openings they’ll be offered comparable positions, if they’re qualified,” he said. “If they’re not, they can take a demotion to an open position they’re qualified for.”
He said he expects to be able to place the three constables in new positions this fall.
“We’ve got openings,” he said, referencing an ongoing struggle to fill positions in a tight job market.
The Floyd County Human Resources Department is holding a job fair in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Labor on July 25 from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Rome Career Center, 462 Riverside Parkway.
There are more than 20 positions to fill, including in the sheriff’s office and the police, fire, recreation and water departments.
Applicants can create an account at EmployGeorgia.com to save time during the interview process. They are encouraged to bring their resumes and driver’s licenses and dress business casual to improve their chances to be hired.