Three Republicans are already campaigning to take over from Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter when his term ends Dec. 31, 2020.
Burkhalter, who’s held the office since 2005, has said he won’t seek a fifth four-year term.
Qualifying isn’t until the first week of March 2020, but Tom Caldwell, Ronnie Kilgo and Dave Roberson have announced they’re running and have filed notices of intent to accept campaign contributions. The party primary election is April 20.
The three men have been speaking at civic clubs, fundraisers and other engagements. Caldwell and Kilgo presented their cases last week at a Rome Tea Party lunch. Roberson was tied up at work but responded later to the questions the group posed.
♦ Caldwell said he’s been interested in public safety and law enforcement since he was a student at West Rome High School. He spent 30 years at the FCSO, starting at the jail and working his way up to chief deputy.
After 13 years as his right-hand man, Burkhalter dismissed Caldwell last year for campaigning on duty. But Caldwell said his experience is solid.
“For over 13 years, I was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office. I learned a lot,” he said.
He listed several major projects on his watch: modernizing courthouse security, getting CALEA accreditation, renovating the jail “with very little money” and pushing through two SPLOST proposals that netted $7.4 million for construction of a medical and mental health wing that’s just getting started.
Caldwell said his campaign is based on his “Core Four” principles — public safety, policy, transparency and employee empowerment.
“In chief deputy school in 2005, they said 90% of the time a sheriff needs to be Andy Griffith and 10% of the time he needs to be Buford Pusser,” Caldwell said, referring to characters in “Mayberry R.F.D.” and “Walking Tall.”
“There’s a long tradition here of the sheriff’s office being involved in other areas of the community and I want to continue that,” he added.
♦ Kilgo owns Rome Gas — the second successful business he’s started in Floyd County — and has 18 years of experience in local law enforcement.
He majored in criminal justice at Floyd Junior College (now Georgia Highlands) and worked at the FCSO during that period of his life. He said he also spent several years with an ambulance service and in the civil defense reserves. He’s currently a reserve deputy.
“During the last 10 years I got caught up on all my (Peace Officer Standards and Training) training ... Now I’m a captain in the reserves of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Kilgo spoke of growing up in Silver Creek and learning life lessons from a father who served in World War II and a mother who raised five children while working in the Celanese mill. Honesty, openness and integrity are his watchwords, he said.
“I want my family and your family to grow up in the Floyd County I did,” Kilgo told the group. “Nobody kicking in a front door, nobody shooting up a church, no drugs in schools.”
He said his business experience is also a plus for the role of sheriff, adding that he has both the mindset and skills to do the job.
“I’ll bring new and fresh leadership,” Kilgo said. “I have no axes to grind, no scores to settle. I’m not in it for the money or the ego trip. I just want to make things better for the employees, the taxpayers and the families of people in jail.”
♦ Roberson is a major in the FCSO and commands the field services division, the operations outside the jail. He holds a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Shorter University.
But it’s his family legacy of public safety he touts. His father retired as Rome’s assistant police chief, his brother is chief of operations for the fire department, a cousin is a police officer and his wife is chief constable for the county’s magistrate court.
“We’re vested in this community,” Roberson said. “I love this community and want to make it safer. And I care deeply about the men and women who do those jobs. Public service is in our blood.”
With 24 years of “continuous service with the sheriff’s office,” he said, he’s had an opportunity to work in all areas of the agency. The field service division has added another layer to his experience, he added.
“I’m out every day, seeing and talking to people,” he said. “Whoever’s elected sheriff should be in tune with what’s going on in our community.”
Roberson said the pressure and demands of law enforcement have evolved over the years. He’s created a four-point plan to guide him as sheriff, focusing on relationships, recidivism, recruitment and retention of employees and revenue.
All three candidates cited mental health, drug abuse and violence as rising challenges they’re prepared to deal with as sheriff. Roberson said he wants to reach children and young adults “before they get tied up in that.”
He linked the societal issues to the shortage of public safety personnel, which is becoming a national problem.
“We need to be more proactive in our schools and our colleges,” Roberson said. “As a child I always saw law enforcement as a profession ... I don’t want law enforcement to be just a 9-to-5 (job). I want us to get out in the community and see how we can help.”