Campaigning out of sheriff’s vehicle no problem for Sheriff Andrews
Elbert County Sheriff Melvin Andrews said last week that he didn’t see anything wrong with using his sheriff’s office truck to transport - and erect - campaign signs throughout the county.
“I am the sheriff seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Andrews said when asked about photos The Elberton Star received showing the sheriff and Elbert County Chief Deputy Greg Bryson erecting signs in Fortsonia.
Andrews defended his actions by saying as sheriff there is never any time he is “off the clock.”
Elbert County truck driver Stacey Lunsford said last week that he has witnessed Andrews and “several” deputies using sheriff’s office vehicles to transport and post campaign signs in Elbert County.
“Should they be able to use taxpayer vehicles to drive around Elbert County and put up the sheriff’s campaign signs?” Luns-ford asked. “I’m not the only one seeing them do this.”
“There has never been a sheriff in the State of Georgia that doesn’t go out campaigning,” Andrews said. “It is a double-bladed sword. People are going to complain if I do it and they are going to complain if I don’t do it.
“I am going to do whatever I need to do to run this office,” Andrews added.
Donnie Haston, brother of former Sheriff Barry Haston who lost his seat to Andrews in 2012, had seven photographs of Andrews and Bryson driving stakes for signs in Fortsonia.
Haston said he took the photographs during the work week in the middle of the day.
“He is using the county’s gas to drive all over Elbert County to put up campaign signs, and that’s just wrong,” said Donnie Haston.
From the photos, it is easy to determine that the truck is a county sheriff’s vehicle and that there are signs and stakes in the back of the truck.
“This is just my opinion, but I think a sheriff should use his own personal vehicle if he is going to drive around putting up campaign signs,” said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson, who is President of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association. “In fact I prohibit campaign signs and campaign literature in county vehicles. I would question a sheriff using a county vehicle to further (his) campaign. If he wants to call me and ask me about it, I’ll talk to him.”
“A sheriff is a sheriff 24 hours a day, but if I had big signs and I was putting them up around the county, I’d do it in my own pickup truck,” said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, a former Georgia Sheriff’s Association President and a member of the association’s press relations committee. “I used to tell sheriffs that they need to do two things before they do something. One, they need to think, ‘Would my mama be ashamed of me if I did this?’ Two, they need to think, ‘Would I want what I’ve done put on the front page of the local newspaper?’ If the answer to either one of those things is ‘no,’ then I wouldn’t do it.”
Andrews, who was emailed a photo of him and his chief deputy erecting a campaign sign and hauling campaign posts and other signs in Fortsonia, did not respond further about the issue.
Sills said that he adopted a policy in Putnam County that governs political activities of his employees.
• Does not allow employees to “participate in any form of political activity while on duty.”
• Does not allow employees to “transport any political campaign literature or matter” in a vehicle which is being paid for “transportation mileage.”
• Does not allow employees to participate “while on duty or off duty” in an “election or re-election” campaign for a candidate of sheriff.
Sheriff Andrews did not respond to two phone calls last week concerning the photos of him and his chief deputy installing campaign signs in Fortsonia. The phone calls from The Elberton Star were made to make sure he had received a copy of the photo that accompanies this story.
Andrews never responded to acknowledge receipt of the photo.