David Cheshire is running for sheriff of Lee County.
LEESBURG, Ga. — David Cheshire, who announced recently that he will challenge Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals for Rachals’ office during July 31 county elections, criticized the sheriff’s office Wednesday after the Lee County Commission paved the way for approval of an almost $46,000 security system at the Lee County Jail.
Cheshire said LSO’s refusal to use “proper procedure” resulted in a “$17,000 loss to the county’s taxpayers.”
The candidate’s comments came in response to Jail Administrator Maj. Sandra Pressley-Fordham and Assistant Administrator Capt. Jennifer Dunbar’s request for $45,852 to replace the “antiquated” security camera system at the jail during the commission’s Dec. 13 meeting. Rachals later told The Herald he’d been contacted by other vendors offering to do the job for less, but he wanted to make sure the vendors were “comparing apples and apples.”
Former LSO Deputy Chris Anderson, who is supporting Cheshire’s bid for sheriff, said Rachals should have “brought those apples on the table.”
“If he’d done this properly,” Anderson, who was fired by Rachals when the Lee sheriff took office, said, “there would be no complaints. He should have brought those apples to the table to start with.”
Cheshire said a vendor who had approached Rachals about installing a security system after Safe Security Inc. was approved for the job indicated he’d offered additional features for a price “around $29,000.”
“This is not something I heard somewhere,” Cheshire said. “I talked with the guy who made the (second) bid. He said his proposal included five more cameras (than in Safe Security’s proposal) and audio, which you would think they’d want. But his bid was turned down.
“I’m not saying anyone can foresee that they might go over budget with an item, but if they do you’d think they’d try to save as much money as possible. If I’m a citizen and I read something like this, I’d think it’s favoritism instead of doing things the right way, the ethical way.”
At a special called meeting Wednesday to discuss the jail security system and other items, Commissioner Bill Williams said he had sent LSO Chief Deputy Lewis Harris copies of the department’s proposed budget worksheet that indicated the sheriff had requested $8,000 on his budget proposal for a camera system upgrade.
Williams had told Pressley-Fordham and Dunbar “you really caught us off-guard” with the $45,852 request and asked them to do a better job of providing accurate budget requests in the future.
Harris defended the pair by telling Williams he’d asked for $60,000 for a security system at the sheriff’s office’s budget hearing. Williams told Harris he’d send him a copy of the request form, but Harris said he’d rather have “minutes from that meeting.”
In an email to Harris, which included the budget worksheet with an $8,000 line item for “capital renovations,” Williams wrote, “You can see that this item was for ‘upgrade camera system’ and that $8,000 was both ‘requested’ and ‘approved.’ Neither the Budget Committee (n)or the Board of Commissioners ‘cut’ your budget request as you stated last night. We gave you exactly what was requested and no ‘cuts’ were made for this item.”
Harris said Wednesday the $8,000 line item was inserted by Williams, not by the sheriff’s office.
“During the budget meeting, during my opening statement, I explained that part of my job as chief deputy was to protect the sheriff and the county commission,” Harris said. “I said there were two things that were badly needed: security at the courthouse and a camera system at the jail. We had gotten some prices on a new system, and one of them was for $60,000. I mentioned that during our hearing.
“There was no real discussion at that hearing. The commission — actually Bill Williams — just told us ‘You will get this amount’ on every item. Even when I warned them about liability, he put the figure $8,000 in that line item.”
Harris said the sheriff’s office requested funds from impact fees to pay for the camera system.
“After talking with (county administrator) Mr. (Tony) Massey, we understood that there would be no problem getting the $45,000 for the camera system,” the chief deputy said. “When Commissioner Williams made that statement about catching the board off guard, he was putting Maj. Fordham and Capt. Dunbar on the spot. He knew they weren’t at the budget hearing.
“I was simply standing up for my people when I told him I’d like to see minutes from that hearing. Of course, there were no minutes because they didn’t record the meeting. That’s something that should be done.”
Williams refuted Harris’ claim that he put the $8,000 figure on the budget worksheet.
“I don’t know where he got that from,” the commission’s Finance Committee chairman said. “The department heads submit their budget requests to our finance director, and she puts exactly what they request onto the worksheets. There’s no changing their requests.”
An email from Finance Director Heather Kittrell to LSO Maj. Dennis Parker, sent March 14, requested a breakdown of the “other capital equipment” line item, noting there was $20,000 requested for the sheriff’s department and $8,000 for the jail.
Parker replied, “The jail capital renovations will be used to upgrade camera system. The figure is a conservative estimate at this time due to the cost is unknown at this time.”