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Sheriff succession law is obsolete
Courier editorial
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Many in Liberty County were surprised last week when Liberty County Probate Court Judge Nancy Aspinwall appointed Polly Martin to succeed her late husband, J. Don Martin, as sheriff of Liberty County. The public outcry generally questioned whether Martin’s wife was the most qualified person to manage and lead Liberty County’s law enforcement.
These questions are valid. Citizens have the right and should question decisions public officials make. Judge Aspinwall’s motivation in choosing Martin may have been to avoid giving favor to any potential candidates before the special election in November. We don’t know. She has not explained her decision.
But ultimately the real issue lies in the antiquated Georgia statutes that dictate how elected officials are replaced following death or removal from office.  
The requirements to hold the office of sheriff in Georgia are not that stringent. Official Code of Georgia Annotated 15-16-1 requires that a sheriff be a citizen of the United States, a registered voter of the county, at least 25 years old, not be a criminal, etc. Plus the statute requires that a person who holds the job of sheriff:
“Is a registered peace officer as provided in Code Section 35-8-10 or is a certified peace officer as defined in Chapter 8 of Title 35. Any person who is not a registered or certified peace officer at the time such person assumes the office of sheriff shall be required to complete satisfactorily the requirements for certification as a peace officer as provided in Chapter 8 of Title 35 within six months after such person takes office.”
We assume the new Sheriff Martin will need to complete this course.
Also under Georgia law, the county probate judge makes the appointment. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated 15-6-54, which addresses appointments for vacancy of the clerk of the superior court, specifies that the county probate judge may appoint an individual to discharge the duties of sheriff.
Is it in the best interest of a county’s citizens that the probate judge makes this appointment? Why not the governor or state attorney general? And shouldn’t citizens expect that elected officials will choose the best qualified person and explain their choice?
  A bill was introduced in the Georgia Senate in 1995 to beef up qualifications for those holding the office of sheriff, but that bill never made it into law.
So the Georgia statute was followed in replacing Sheriff Don Martin as Liberty County Sheriff, but Liberty County residents don’t know much about their new sheriff. No one is required to give any explanation or reason for why she was chosen.
Until we demand a change in antiquated state statutes, we can expect nothing different.
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