Jimmy Williamson is running for Oconee County Sheriff as a Republican, but he asked Democrats assembled at the party meeting last month to help him with his campaign.
“Anybody that wants to help me get my name out, and help people understand that I’m the most qualified candidate, I appreciate the help,” Williamson said.
Williamson and James Hale are the only two announced candidates to succeed retiring Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry, and both Williamson and Hale have said they plan to run as Republicans.
Williamson spoke briefly and then responded to questions that focused mostly on gun issues and school safety.
Williamson said he was disappointed that the state law does not require any safety training for those who apply for and receive a permit to carry a weapon and that he thinks arming teachers is a mistake.
The Oconee County Democrats will meet next at 6 p.m. on Aug. 15 at the Bogart Library Auditorium where Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Teresa Tomlinson will be the speaker.
“Being a sheriff or being chief of police is basically being a CEO of a law enforcement business,” Williamson said in his introductory comments to the 18 people assembled on June 20 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.
|Williamson Awaits Question 6/20/2019|
Williamson was police chief at the University of Georgia before retiring a year ago. His annual budget was $8 million, he said, and he managed more than 100 people.
Williamson joined the University of Georgia Police Department in 1988 and served as assistant chief from 1996 to 2004.
He has a master’s degree in public administration and is currently serving as executive assistant to the vice president of Finance and Administration at the University.
“I served a very, very diverse community at the University of Georgia,” Williamson said. “You think about it. From every race, ethnicity. Economic diversity or financial diversity. People who are homeless in the Athens area to people who give millions of dollars to the University.
“In every way you can think about diversity, the University of Georgia is represented that way,” he said. “So I learned very quickly that I have to...try to be approachable by everybody who may have some issue.”
Questions From Audience
Williamson and Superior Court Judge Lisa Lott were the featured speakers, but Lott, because of some confusion over the schedule, did not attend, so the program largely was turned over to Williamson.
Williamson took less than six minutes for his introductory comments but took questions for nearly another 45 minutes.
The first question was about his approach to guns generally and the last was about metal detectors in schools.
He also commented on roundabouts–he says they cut down on accidents–and on electoral strategy.
If no Democrat is competing in the May 19 Democratic Primary, Oconee County Democrats might want to consider voting as Republicans, he said. Georgia does not have party registration, and voters simply ask for the ballot of their choice in a primary.
Williamson said he wished the election for Sheriff were nonpartisan so he didn’t have to pick a party label.
“In my opinion, I represent everybody all the time, no matter who they are,” Williamson said.
Williamson said his position on guns was not important.
“My feelings really should not come into play,” Williamson said. “My feelings should be that I uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws that you all put your representatives out there to create.”
“If there is a gun issue that you feel strong about that there should be changes,” Williamson said. “Then we should be working through our elected officials to change those laws and then all I’m going to do is enforce the law, whatever it says.”
Williamson did not take a stand on campus carry, that is, the right to take guns onto campus, but he said he thinks there will be more efforts to expand accessibility for gun owners.
“The thing that worried me is we’re making decisions about accessibility and we’re not thinking about the things that really cause the issues,” Williamson said.
“If you hunt in the state of Georgia you’ve got to take a hunter’s safety course. But if you want to carry a gun every day, what do you do from a safety standpoint? There’s nothing.”
“If you’re going to carry a gun every day for self defense, you would think we might put a safety course on that.”
One of the audience members noted that school systems around the state are arming teachers.
“The School Board will make a decision with the superintendent on what they want to do from an operational standpoint,” Williamson said. “That would not really be to me the Sheriff’s responsibility. Those people are elected to those positions and they regulate the operations of the school district.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” another member of the audience asked.
“It’s not the idea that I would probably choose,” Williamson said.
“Law enforcement officers train constantly with their fire arms. So I think teachers already have a lot on them as it is. They’re doing a lot of things in the schools already.”
“I think adding one more task to them just makes their job more difficult,” Williamson said.
Criticism Of Current Sheriff
“I know way to many of Sheriff Berry’s opinions,” one of the audience members who follows Berry on social media said. “And I don’t care about them.”
The speaker said Berry has a “cowboy mentality” and said “I want to see our law enforcement not just about enforcing law but also being part of the community. You are also here to help. You are also trained to help. Not just trained to enforce law. Or apprehend. Or arrest.”
“ I agree,” Williamson said.
“There is a number of things that currently go on that I don’t think, that I know for sure, I won’t be doing if I get elected sheriff,” Williamson said. “My job is to represent everybody.”
“I’m not going to go take somebody’s gun unlawfully,” Williamson said. “But I’m not going to be out giving guns away.”
“I think social media’s a great tool. But we’re not going to be making fun of people just for somebody else can have a laugh. We’re not going to be doing social arguments on social media.”
Police In Schools
Another audience member said Gwinnett County has police at its schools and asked Williamson to respond.
“At some point in time, there is going to be a big discussion, and I’ve already had some discussion with them, about what that looks like,” Williamson said.
“And when it starts, it is going to have to be a partnership, in the beginning, with the Sheriff’s Office, and the School Board, if that’s what they choose. It is their choice.
“And then at some point in time they may choose to do what a lot of counties have done where they create their own School Board police. And that police force answers directly to the School Board.”
Another question was about metal detectors at the schools.
Williamson said the county needs to “find ways to be preemptive. That’s the better plan.”
“We’ve got to finally start to identify these young people that are in need before they lash out the way they do,” Williamson said. “And that’s going to require people interacting and getting out of their little silos and talking and working together.”
Williamson said “I’ve already heard that I’m already being painted as a liberal candidate. I don’t care how I get painted, liberal or conservative. I’m here to serve the people.”
“Proven. Experience. Leadership. That’s what I offer,” Williamson said. “The other candidate doesn’t have that.
“He’s served this community in a lot of good ways. But he hasn’t been that experienced agency head, that leader,” Williamson said.
“Spread my name. Or tell your friends. Friend us on Facebook. Go to our web page,” Williamson said. “Whatever you can do to help us get the word out. Because I need everyone’s help to get elected. So I will appreciate any help you can provide.”
I was out of town and not able to attend the meeting on June 20.
I lent a camera to Robert Wyatt, who was attending the meeting and had agreed to record it for me.
The count of those in attendance comes from Wyatt.
Williamson began his presentation at 6:48 in the video.
Party Co-Chair Eric Gisler presided at the meeting.