By Joe Johnson
Another candidate has thrown his hat into the ring to try to unseat longtime Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards Jr.
Sgt. Robert Hare, a 9-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, on Monday filed with the county Board of Elections a notice of intent to run as a Republican for sheriff.
He will face off in November’s general election against the winner of the May 19 Democratic primary contest between five-term sheriff Edwards and Athens-Clarke County police Sgt. John Q. Williams.
The campaign is occurring during turbulent times for the sheriff’s office. In the past year, the agency has come under scrutiny that some believe suggests that it is time for new leadership after Edwards being at the helm for two decades.
Hare said the sheriff’s office has undergone three organizational analysis audits, in 1998, 2005, and 2018, the last two coming under Edward’s watch.
“The issues are nearly the same and the solutions have also been the same – little to no improvement, the candidate said. “In the last audit, organizational analysis narrowed down the issues to four major areas. I believe that if these areas are addressed with real solutions, in time the agency’s reputation will be back to where it was with people proud to work there. These are the issues and a taste of my proposed solutions:
"Every person, officer and civilian, deserve to be properly trained in all aspects of their positions,“ Hare said. “In the jail, a training program was designed to give the new member every opportunity to learn each area. A new deputy just starting, was with a jail training officer (JTO) for 10 working days, or (approximately 2 ½ weeks, then worked the area solo for 30 days. During the solo time, the JTO worked close by in case assistance was needed or additional training was needed in areas of concern. “After the initial training phase, the rest of the housing areas was reduced to 5 working days of training and 15 days of solo time, he said.
“This was conducted because the basic content was the same, the JTO was training on specifics to the new housing area. That program didn’t last very long. It was decided to go back to three days of training, one day solo and move on to the next phase. That is not enough training for someone who has never done this line of work before. It is my plan to bring back a proper Jail Training Program so that each new deputy will feel more confident in each area before moving on the next. Now, it is under the Training Department, and that is where it will stay with additional monitoring of deputies progress," Hare said.
"Also, each deputy will be sent to advance training for their respective assignment," he said. "If a deputy wants to attend training and it fits within the scope of the sheriff’s office's objective, then they will be sent. All corporals will be sent to a leadership class and/or supervision class prior to being promoted to sergeant. sergeants will be sent to management training prior to being promoted to lieutenant.
Hare continued,"It is also my plan to expand the Training Department. With the number of certified instructors within the agency, there is no reason why we can’t have more live training instead of online-based training. Range time is already scheduled each month, other classes, like defensive tactics and crisis intervention based classes will also be offered each month."
As for safey concerns, Hare said, "Being a law enforcement officer is tough enough as it is. However, not feeling safe while on duty is unacceptable. One thing I am planning is equipping all deputies throughout the agency with Enhanced Multi-threat outer wear vests. These vests are both Level iiia and provide stab protection. By providing this type of vest if/when a deputy transfers to either Courts or Warrant/Civil, they will already have the equipment needed to start their new assignment. Also, this type of vest will allow deputies to carry most of their equipment on the vest versus on their duty belt.
"The front courthouse lobby is a major concern with most deputies," Hare said. "Yes, they have a weapon while assigned to that post, however, during the daytime, there is a lot of traffic for one person to handle. It will be my plan to add an additional deputy to that assignment during the day shift. Night will not need additional coverage because the lobby doors are locked during those hours."
He added, "Various program volunteers feel that since they have been entering the jail for years without proper identification, it should continue when they arrive each time. That will never happen on my watch. The security of the jail is our Number One priority. Not only will each person display their CCSO-issued identification, each person will have their person searched and anything they bring into the jail searched as well. Way too much contraband gets into the jail because proper security measures are not being met."
Hare promised to take on the issue of mandatory overtime for CCSO employees.
"If a deputy works, they deserve to get paid, and that is for all sections. There will be no more time adjustment for any deputy," he said. "Now if a deputy asks for a time adjustment in lieu of overtime pay, it will be at their discretion. Also, members get their overtime pay once a month. It will be my plan to meet with Human Resources and have overtime paid every pay period like every other employee of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government."
Hare said that recruitment efforts need to be stepped up.
"In the past, every time the sheriff’s ofice gets close to full staffing, they decide to stop or slow recruitment. It will be my goal to create a permanent recruitment team," he said. "Current recruitment campaigns will be reviewed to see what works. If any part of their current campaign isn’t working, those funds will be moved to areas that do. The recruitment team will be attached to the Training Department so that they can also assist with deputy training when not out with functions."
The deputy also has plans to improve morale within his agency.
"There are numerous reasons why morale is low aside from the above mentioned," Hare said. "If we as an agency work together and make positive change for the better, morale will improve. But one thing I can promise each and every single member of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office – the days of favoritism, clicks, good ole boy system, whatever you want to call it, will be over when I take office. If you want it – earn it!
Hae concluded the interview by saying, "I have many more ideas for both the sheriff’s office and the community that I will be announcing in the coming days. I am fully aware that we have a long road ahead of us -- one step at a time, one day at a time, we can accomplish greatness. But one thing I can promise to everyone. I will be a man of my word, when I say I’m going to do something, it will be accomplished. I will encourage my team to succeed and show them how to reach their full potential and achieve their goals. I will fight for them daily and at the end of the day, we all go home to our families in the same manner for which we started – together.
When asked what set him apart from the incumbent sheriff, Hare responded: “I have a heart to care and teach the people that work with me. I challenge and empower them to be better at their job responsibilities. I am not afraid to work alongside those that are subordinates. I desire to see others succeed in order that the mission succeeds. I don’t hide from difficult situations and will not pass them on to my Command Staff. We will discuss and address the problem to get solutions. I will be moving my personal office to the Jail and not run away from the biggest liability of the Sheriff’s Office. Even though we are a para-military organization, my door will always be open to listen to ideas to make the CCSO better than every agency. Every single member will have a say in the majority of the decisions. If a survey is needed, then it will be a real-time survey so that the members can see the results as they vote. Nobody should be afraid to respectively speak up. I understand the inherent risk of doing what is not popular but what is right for everyone, knowing that I am not just a figure head, but a law enforcement officer. Importantly, a true understanding of what it means to lead by example instead of relying of others to lead for you.”
When asked to distinguish himself from Williams, Hare said: “I have worked with the sheriff’s office for 9 years. I have had the pleasure of working in all three main areas of the agency (Jail, Courts & Warrants). I have been promoted through the rank of Sergeant. I have earned the trust, respect and confidence of the members of the Sheriff’s Office.
“ I have been working as a law enforcement officer for over 17 years and all but 3 ½ years of it has been in a correctional setting and 9 years of that have been with the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. I don’t plan on having a committee of officers to make change, I will be using everyone to make change. It takes more than transparency to successfully run a law enforcement agency. It takes addressing long standing problems openly, being available to the deputies and community.
“Clarke County Sheriff’s Office needs a leader that knows how things really work, what needs to be done, and has the courage to get it done. John Q. Williams has some good ideas, if he was interviewing for a police chief position. But we are not a police department, we are the Office of the Sheriff, a Constitutional agency. It is comprised of a great bunch of officers and civilians. I’ve celebrated with them, laughed with them, cried with them, and many of them have been with me during difficult times in my life. They are my family. It only makes sense that I lead them as their new sheriff.”
Hare, veteran of the U.S Marine Corps, is married to Kristina May Jerome-Hare, with whom they have a blended family with seven children ranging in age from 14 to 23.
His campaign has scheduled a “Get to Know Robert Hare” event at the Clarke County Library on Baxter Street on Feb. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and refreshments will be served.