Thursday, December 16, 2010

16 DEC 10: GED Your Man

A court hearing Wednesday asked a question in public that's usually only whispered at breakfast counters. How smart is your county sheriff? Is there a reason why Deputy Dawg and Barney Fife never received promotions?

The court case is in Talbot County, and goes all the way back to the 2008 election. Herman Howard won the Sheriff's race at the polls. Losing candidate Calvin Willis has been trying to unseat Howard ever since. At least Willis is doing it through the courts - instead of offering Howard extra money to become a Columbus Police officer.

Calvin Willis challenged the Talbot County Sheriff's outcome in the days after the 2008 election, but a judge ruled against him. Wednesday he returned to court, claiming Herman Howard doesn't meet the "educational qualifications" to serve. In other words, Howard is so dumb that he thinks Box Springs is where The Mattress Factory was founded.

Georgia state law requires all sheriffs at least the equivalent of a high school diploma. Herman Howard insists he meets that standard, because he passed a GED exam. That statement makes me thankful Talbot County doesn't have many corporations, to encourage white collar crime.

But Calvin Willis made an unusual challenge in court Wednesday - that Sheriff Herman Howard's GED certificate is a fraud. Willis's attorney argued there's no record of it at the Georgia Department of Education. If the certificate said GED stands for "Georgia Education Department" on it, that would be a dead giveaway....

Herman Howard's attorney admitted the Sheriff's GED certificate is a duplicate. But he said it's still legitimate, because the exam was taken before the state kept computer records of GED results. This must have been a long time ago -- back when Georgia state officials didn't really care if you graduated from high school or not.

Even if the state records have holes, why does the Talbot County Sheriff have a duplicate GED certificate? Herman Howard's attorney explained the original was destroyed years ago in a house fire. Calvin Willis's attorney suspects that's a lie - but at least Howard isn't claiming the drug-sniffing dog ate it.

Sheriff Herman Howard contends even if the GED certificate is ruled invalid, he still has hundreds of hours of law enforcement experience. Calvin Willis contends all those hours are no substitute for a high school diploma. But what does a sheriff really need to read, besides Miranda Warnings?

Calvin Willis says he has good reason to be suspicious of the Talbot County Sheriff. Willis told WRBL the county government is notorious for corruption. Now hold on - I thought that baton was passed a few years ago to the Volunteer Fire Department.

A Talbot County Judge asked both sides in the dispute to submit additional documents, so a ruling may not come until January. But I have an idea: ask BOTH Herman Howard and Calvin Willis to take new GED exams -- on the spot, in the courtroom. If Howard passes, he keeps his job. If both men fail, the judge calls in the National Guard.

So what about other county sheriffs in our area? A check Wednesday night found Muscogee County's John Darr is a Hardaway High School graduate, and even has an Associate's Degree from Columbus State University. But Marshal Greg Countryman has a Bachelor's Degree - so will the Mayor-Elect please reward him with more officers?

The incoming Russell County Sheriff is a graduate of the F.B.I. National Academy. But Heath Taylor's campaign website does NOT specifically say he graduated from high school or college. Of course, there are two ways to look at this. Taylor may have decided to stay on the educational level of most criminals.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones has called in recent years for a change in the rules for his office. Alabama law allows all qualified voters to run for Sheriff -- even if they're grade-school dropouts who have no law enforcement experience at all. If enough gambling addicts move to Macon County, Victoryland could come back bigger than ever.

Let's see what else happened on National Cupcake Day 2010 (yeah, I overlooked it too)....

+ Columbus shivered again, with a high temperature of 38 degrees F. Freezing rain fell in my neighborhood during the late morning, but it didn't slow me down much while I was driving. Since I'm usually the slowest driver on major streets already, I doubt anyone noticed.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer website reported Cammie Currie's canning firing from the Columbus Parks Department was upheld by the Personnel Review Board. Currie might not have to change careers completely - as long as a nursing home needs an activities director.

+ Columbus Airport manager Mark Oropeza told WXTX traffic has increased 40 percent since American Airlines began service last summer. The airport's "destination tracker" shows local travelers are most likely to fly to Washington. Are that many officials still lobbying Congress for base realignment money?

+ Birmingham Police reported someone attempted to steal copper wire from a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree in a park -- and set the tree on fire. This thief might start a new December trend. In an era of short attention spans, he merged a tree lighting with yule log burning.

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) found Auburn's men sinking at South Florida 61-49. South Florida's leading scorer was senior forward Jarrid Famous - and if this is the first time you've heard about him, maybe he needs to change that last name.

+ The Atlanta Thrashers staged a strange publicity stunt in Gwinnett County. The team mascot pretended to steal a Zamboni, and lead police on a high-speed chase [True/A.P.]. This is what happens when the National Hockey League cracks down on fighting....

(If the Thrashers really want to improve weak ticket sales, how about bringing an exhibition game back to Columbus? I went to the Thrashers' first game ever, played at the Civic Center in September 1999. Nowadays, the only "Thrash" in South Commons involves skateboarding.)

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