Let me get this clear in my mind: Gov. Nathan Deal, in a haze of politics, decides to remove DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis as a result of his being indicted on various counts of criminal conduct but somehow chose to not take the same action against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill.
Hill, scheduled to go to trial in the next few weeks on 30-plus criminal charges, was allowed to take office despite the pending legal proceedings.
Both men are, of course, innocent until proven guilty.
This is not to suggest Ellis did not need to be removed. The specter of criminality hanging over public officials who are allowed to continue to serve does not provide for the best interest of the community and has a demoralizing effect on employees and the general public.
The question is why was Ellis removed and Hill allowed to take office? In real world terms, who can potentially do the most damage: a CEO or a man who is responsible for people who carry guns and badges?
The law is made up of nuances and loopholes and the key is when and how to use them, and Deal, for whatever reasons, chose to look the other way with respect to Hill.
In short, someone under indictment for criminal charges — especially criminal charges related to their officer — should not be allowed to remain in a job until the matter is resolved.
They should not have to resign permanently but should be required to step down pending the outcome of the charges against them. If they are exonerated, they may be reinstated to office; if found guilty, they should go to jail.
It is time to make this a simple matter.
The General Assembly should pass a law that states if someone serving as an elected official in any capacity, or serving in a position appointed by an elected official or governing body, is indicted on criminal charges that person must step down.
This would not eliminate politics from slithering out of its hole on occasion because you can never completely eliminate politics. There is always a chance some nut case district attorney with an agenda could indict a local official for personal reasons, but this would be a rarity.
Hill has made such an allegation, but the district attorney in Clayton County wisely turned the case over to a DA from another circuit for prosecution.
But even in this type situation the law could mandate an overview of the indictment by a Superior Court judge to ensure the charges were legitimate and that undue pressure was not put on the grand jury to indict.
This would not be an end all solution, but it would be a step in the right direction. Sadly this is a law that will never come to pass simply because for it to be effective it would have to include members of the General Assembly. It is unlikely any member of that august body would vote for a law that could force them to step out of office temporarily even if they knew they were guilty.
There is simply no reason for someone facing trial on criminal charges to be allowed to keep their position, and the argument they may have been elected by the people is spurious because the people may have been hornswoggled.
Innocent until proven guilty is a standard that should never be shaken, but in the real world someone responsible for the management of any part of government under indictment cannot possibly do an effective or efficient job while getting ready to defend themselves on criminal charges in court.
And the fact they stand in front of the camera and bellow their innocence means nothing until the jury agrees.
This would not be a perfect system but it would eliminate having the governor apparently flip a coin on who should or should not be removed from office and send a very clear message to everyone in positions of the public’s trust as to what will happen should they decide to engage in misconduct.
Ric Latarski is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics and can be reached at Rlatarski@aol.com.