By Michael Prochaska/The Oconee Enterprise
Growing up on an Oconee County farm, lending a helpful hand was a daily habit for capt. James Hale. A career in law enforcement never changed that routine.
Hale, a U.S. Army veteran who has dedicated more than 20 years to both the Oconee Sheriff’s Office and Oconee Fire Rescue, was elected sheriff Tuesday before voting-day ballots were counted.
With absentee and early votes heavily in Hale’s favor, his opponent, retired University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson, conceded before precinct numbers came in.
The final tally was 7,201 votes for Hale and 2,400 votes for Williamson.
“I’m happy for James Hale,” said Williamson. “We wish James and the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office nothing but success.”
Hale will take office in January 2021, succeeding Scott Berry, whose tenure spanned 28 years.
“Sheriff Berry has been great to me,” said Hale. “I can’t say enough about him; I love him. … He’ll be somebody I’m sure I’ll call for advice in the future.”
Berry said he was thrilled for Oconee County and that the “Sheriff’s Office is in great hands.”
Celebrating his victory at a packed Doughby’s Pizza and More, Hale thanked everyone who came out and voted, just after he kissed his wife and hugged his 92-year-old grandmother, Mary Dodd Hale.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Mary Dodd. “He’s worked hard, and he’s going to make a good sheriff.”
Hale said the election results validated the hard work he’s been doing taking care of the people of Oconee for 20 years.
“I want to continue doing that,” he said, “because I love the people of Oconee.”
Hale, who announced his candidacy two years in advance, said he intends to run for re-election in 2024.
“Running for sheriff isn’t just a 4-year thing,” he said. “I plan to build a legacy. I want to continue to do this for a long time.”
After graduating Oconee County High School, Hale joined the U.S. Army as a communications specialist and served as a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When he left the Army, he returned to Oconee.
“I graduated high school and joined the Army so I could stop milking cows, and the first thing I did when I came home from the Army was start back at milking cows,” he previously told The Oconee Enterprise.
Hale joined the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office in February of 2000.
“I’ve always felt like I was somebody who could step up and help the person who needed some help,” Hale previously said. “It’s just engrained from my dad, my grandfather and my entire family.”