The full Forsyth County sheriff’s debate can be viewed at facebook.com/forsythcountynews.
FORSYTH COUNTY — The two candidates for Forsyth County sheriff squared off before a capacity crowd Wednesday night in the county commission’s meeting room.
Though each camp likely will claim victory in the debate, it is safe to say no love was lost between incumbent Sheriff Duane Piper and challenger Ron Freeman.
The debate was the last in a series put on by the Forsyth County Republican Party that covered races for county commission and school board, as well as coroner, ahead of the May 24 GOP primary. As there are no Democrats running for sheriff, the winner will be decided next month.
B.J. Van Gundy, former chair of the Gwinnett County GOP and former vice chair of the Georgia GOP, moderated the debate. He asked questions that covered the sheriff’s budget, the local war on drugs, school safety and agency accreditation.
During his tenure, Piper said the agency has been successful in opening two new buildings, keeping the county among the safest in metro Atlanta and restructuring the office to cut the budget by $4.1 million in the first year.
He said his spending has been under budget every year compared to 2012, which was the last his predecessor, Ted Paxton, was in office. This year, Piper said he will be about dollar-for-dollar with 2012.
Freeman, who has lived in Forsyth most of his life and worked for the agency for more than 25 years until 2013, questioned Piper’s budget, saying he actually went over by $6 million.
He contended the money is still being spent but is listed in a different place in the county budget. To help reduce spending, Freeman said he would hire part-time deputies to cover security duties.
Piper maintained that Freeman’s plans to put a resource officer in every school instead of having them cover multiple campuses would be a huge cost increase.
The candidates also disagreed on their plan to fight drug trafficking and distribution.
Freeman said there are two narcotics officers on the active roster and that he would work with surrounding agencies to fight the problem of drugs coming in.
Piper countered that there are six narcotics officers in the agency and that he has implemented cross-training of deputies so they don’t just have one specialization.
Freeman responded by saying he would take deputies from “overinflated units” and move them to narcotics.
Another major source of dissention came from the agency dropping its national accreditation status from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
The commission is a private organization that awards levels of standards to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Piper maintained the decision was a voluntary one made with financial backing to help the budget.
The sheriff’s office is still accredited by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, which he said is much less expensive and mirrors most of the standards of the national level.
“It’s one of the better financial decisions I’ve made since taking office,” Piper said.
Freeman countered by saying the pullout was not voluntary but that the agency had failed the standards and no longer has its “blue-ribbon seal of approval.”
“National accreditation is putting our walk with our talk,” Freeman said.
At the end of the hour-long debate, each candidate had the opportunity to ask the other a question.
Though Piper declined to do so, Freeman asked about his opponent’s 2012 campaign promises, about half of which Piper confirmed he upheld.
About the only issues on which the two agreed were for Second Amendment and conceal carry rights and against the declassification or legalization of marijuana.
Early voting begins May 2. Anyone county resident can vote in this race.