Friday, March 9, 2012
Sheriff Ronnie Strength Calls It Quits
By The Outsider
It's now official. This is the last year Ronnie Strength will serve as the Sheriff of Augusta-Richmond County. He announced his retirement at a press conference earlier this afternoon. Strength has been the Sheriff for the past 11 years but has been a familar face in Augusta area law enforcement for the past 35 years. For the most part Strength has been lauded as one of the best sheriffs the county has ever had, restoring integrity and confidence to a department that was often the focus of corruption and scandal. Strength spearheaded several high profile stings responsible for taking guns and criminals off the streets, with the most recent being Operation Foxhunt. However, Strength's tenure is not without some criticism, most notably his denial early on that Augusta had a gang problem and his reluctance to adopt community policing strategies.
Now the question is, who will replace Strength? By all accounts, it is believed that Scott Peebles is Strength's hand-picked successor, but politics may get in the way of that. Unlike most local offices, the Sheriff's office is partisan, and Strength always ran as a Democrat, despite having little in common with contemporary party leaders. Strength was able to keep in tact a coalition assembled by predecessors like former Sheriff Charles Webster, which included elements of The Southside Mafia political machine. But doubts remain if Peebles can keep that coalition in tact and whether he would even want to run as a Democrat.
It's been no big secret that high level movers and shakers in Augusta have been twisting Sheriff Strength's arm to stay on for one more term to give Peebles time to politically ripen. Their fear is that a strong black Democrat with high name recognition could easily win the Democratic nomination without Strength's name on the ballot. And that candidate appears to be Richard Roundtree.
For all practical purposes, if Peebles intends to take Strength's place, he will have to play pretend and run as a Democrat. A white Republican would have an uphill battle winning against a black Democrat in a general election with President Obama on the same ballot. But Roundtree has his critics, even within the black community, and is by no means a shoe-in. Roundtree said that if Strength decided to run for re-election that he would bow out and not run against him... and that sparked an effort to encourage Strength to stay on for one more term. Critics of Roundtree say that morale would plummet with him at the helm and there would be an exodus of deputies from the department. Questions also linger over an alleged self-promotion campaign on The Augusta Chronicle website comments section, with Roundtree supposedly posing as a "grateful" mother of a crime victim.
But Scott Peebles will have questions of his own to answer from critics, such as what went wrong with Operation Foxhunt, where officers accidentally raided the wrong home, which could have resulted in injury or death of innocent citizens? Peebles has since publicly apologized for the mis-hap and has vowed to correct the problems that lead to it.
Peebles has still not announced that he intends to run, but with today's news, we expect to hear something soon. Richard Roundtree is most likely definitely in the race now that Strength has bowed out. So is a duel shaping up between Roundtree and Peebles? Not so fast. There is another name being mentioned as a possible candidate to take Strength's place: Lt. Robbie Silas, who is Sheriff Strength's brother-in-law.
So who will the power brokers back in this one? This could end up being the most expensive Sheriff's race in Augusta-Richmond County history. For an office where the incumbent rarely ever has an opponent, this could be a real nail-biter and could be the end of conservative white democrats dominating the Sheriff's office. It looks like we have a race on our hands.***
Sheriff Strength's Exit Could Have Big Impact on 12 District Congressional race
Peebles Announces Run for Sheriff; Silas Could Be Starting a Family Feud
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