D.A. has concerns with proposed new drug unit

DISTRICT ATTORNEY Joe Mulholland

The top law enforcement officer in the Southwest Georgia Judicial Circuit expressed doubt that a local drug squad would be effective under the management organization proposed by Grady County Sheriff Harry Young, Cairo Police Chief Keith Sandefur and Whigham Police Chief Tony Black.
District Attorney Joe Mulholland expressed his concerns with the proposed city-county drug unit to county commissioners Tuesday.
During a recent planning meeting, which included the sheriff and two police chiefs along with County Administrator Rusty Moye and Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton, Mulholland said he learned that after having been asked to serve on the proposed drug squad’s governing board, the county’s top law enforcement personnel thought it better if the district attorney served merely in an ex-officio role.
“If my name is going to be on the letterhead, I’m going to demand accountability. Otherwise, I’m not going to waste my time. I can’t have accountability without a vote,” Mulholland said.
County Administrator Moye emphasized that nothing had been decided and, ultimately, it would be the two city councils and the county commission who would decide the make-up of the governing board and not the sheriff and two police chiefs.
District 3 County Commissioner Charles Norton expressed his opinion that the district attorney should be on the governing board. “The police chief and the sheriff are certified law enforcement officers, but they are not what Joe and Kevin (Cauley) are. They are not attorneys and they need guidance if a case is going to go to court,” Norton said.
Chairman Bobby Burns wondered out loud should the district attorney not only serve on the governing board but also on an oversight board, should one be created. “For example, the county administrator, the Cairo city manager and the Whigham mayor could make up the oversight board. Sometimes, with these law enforcement officers they can get out of control. You know the law and you know what can and cannot be prosecuted,” Burns said.
“I agree with you, Chairman Burns, I’d love to serve on the board as long as it has teeth and accountability. I’m not interested in just having my name on the letterhead,” D.A. Mulholland said.
The district attorney pointed out that on the agenda for the recent meeting he was listed as a member of the governing board, but after the meeting started he was informed of the change.
Chairman Burns questioned the county administrator as to why a change was made. “All I can tell you is that the sheriff and the two chiefs said they could manage it better without having to get Joe involved but, again, nothing has been decided. We’re still in the infancy stage of this, in fact, I’m not so sure we’re out of the womb yet,” Moye said.
Mulholland told commissioners the first meeting “didn’t go very well” and admitted he had gotten “mad” over the development. Moye said that the district attorney  was late for the meeting and left before it was over. Mulholland countered and said he was there for 12 of the 13 agenda items and left when the discussion turned to budget.
Vice Chairman Al Ball told his fellow commissioners that if no grant funding is available for a local drug squad, he is not in favor of creating one in “name” only. Ball said that if a local drug squad could be effective in combating the trafficking of illegal drugs, he is in favor of it, but he opposes creating one just to have one.
District Attorney Mulholland told commissioners he is not opposed to the county and cities appropriating what has been spent on the Southwest Georgia Drug Task Force directly to the sheriff’s office and the police departments.
“I don’t have a problem, whichever you decide. I’m going to prosecute cases regardless of how it’s organized. I don’t have any faith in the new board as currently proposed,” Mulholland said.
Commissioner Norton commented, “We had a drug squad here several years ago and it went sour, and now we’ve had problems with Mitchell County, but it looks like we could put together something right after two bad experiences.”
Chairman Burns added, “We’ve already started on protective turf. If there is a reason why the sheriff and police chief don’t want the district attorney involved, I’d like to know.”
Norton added, “It will not be successful until we get the buddy-buddy and politics out of it.”
The District 3 commissioner also expressed his view that if the Whigham police chief was going to serve on the governing board, then the city of Whigham should be required to help fund the drug squad. Moye said that Whigham Mayor Jimmie Laing understood, but like the commissioners and Cairo officials, he wanted to see a proposed budget, which Moye said was not complete.
Chairman Burns briefed the board on a letter that had been transmitted to the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners that Grady County would cease to fund the SWGA Drug Task Force effective June 30, 2009. Grady County’s portion of the multicounty drug squad funding is $120,000 annually.
Moye added that a local drug squad would not be eligible for federal funding as the SWGA Drug Task Force is since it would not be a multijurisdictional effort.
District 2 Commissioner Charles Renaud reminded commissioners of the county’s opportunity to apply for Community Oriented Policing grants offered through the recently passed federal stimulus bill which would cover the base salary of three law enforcement officers for three years. “That is another option to consider,”Renaud commented.
Renaud also encouraged the district attorney and all other parties involved in the discussions regarding a proposed new drug squad to “check your ego at the door.” The district 2 commissioner said that the ultimate goal is to make Grady County the most “unpleasant place in the world to be for drug dealers. If we can apply some pressure, the drug dealers are like cockroaches, they’ll leave,” he added.
Chairman Burns instructed Moye to convey the opinion of the board that the district attorney should be included on the governing board of the local drug squad if a squad is organized. “If the councils agree, he will be part of it,” Burns said.
Moye and Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton are in the process of developing a proposed operating budget for a local squad, but no date has been set for a follow-up meeting.
In a related item, the district attorney advised the board of his desire to appropriate 10 percent of all drug forfeitures to a scholarship program to be offered to Grady County students. According to Mulholland, all students with perfect attendance records will be put into a lottery for a $1,000 scholarship. Chairman Burns suggested the money should be rolled back into the war on drugs, but Mulholland said that under Georgia law it is the district attorney’s discretion how the funds are to be spent. “As good as the program sounds, and it sounds good to me, but it sounds better to turn back that money into the drug program,” Burns stated. After discussing the matter, the board agreed with Mulholland to pilot the program for one year. The district attorney also informed commissioners that he would not seek additional funding for his operating budget for the county’s next fiscal year.

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