Reggie Rachals and David Cheshire
LEESBURG -- Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals and former Lee sheriff's deputy David Cheshire -- Rachals' opponent in the county's July 31 Republican primary -- responded to charges and offered countercharges last week as their campaigns moved into the critical final weeks of the election cycle.
And with early voting scheduled to start Monday, each candidate was eager to "set the record straight."
"Even though my family and I have endured the hardships of name-calling, false accusations, mudslinging and outright lies, I have chosen to take the high road and not give in to this slander of both my family and myself," Rachals said. "I have turned the other cheek more times than once and, in doing so, I still have kept the faith and fought the fight in an ethical and professional manner."
Cheshire, meanwhile, said he and his supporters feel an obligation to point out concerns they have with Rachals' running of the sheriff's office.
"I want to bring some issues to light so that the voters and the taxpayers in Lee County will have an opportunity to see that they have a sheriff who doesn't have the best interest of the public in mind when he makes administrative decisions," the challenger said.
Rachals said he is particularly concerned about allegations made by Cheshire that directly impact his family. Cheshire accused the incumbent sheriff of nepotism, noting that Rachals had hired his daughter, whom the challenger said "makes more than some of the road deputies who have been there longer than she has," and his nephew since taking office.
Rachals said, and his daughter, Cpl. Daphne Lindsey, confirmed Thursday, that she makes less money ($12.49 per hour) than starting deputy pay ($13.18 an hour). Lindsey is a public relations officer with the department.
"My opponent has taken offense to the fact that two out of 90 employees under my direction are related to me, even though he never objected to the multiple relatives employed by the previous sheriff (Harold Breeden, who Rachals unseated in the 2008 election)," the sheriff said. "It has been suggested that my daughter is being overpaid.
"She was hired in 2009 with a bachelor's degree. Her duties include neighborhood watch, Special Olympics, ladies firearms (instruction) and other community programs that require her to transport equipment and supplies working hours beyond 8 a.m.-5 p.m. I have also hired a nephew who worked his way through the jail as a jailer and then became a deputy in the uniform division. Both are qualified and dedicated employees."
Cheshire has also included in campaign literature a statement indicating Rachals "has two investigations through the EEOC that are on the verge of becoming lawsuits." The investigations, Cheshire notes, are based on claims of discrimination and wrongful termination.
Rachals said such claims and lawsuits come with the position.
"That's one of the first things they teach you at the Sheriff's Academy; you're going to make people angry and you're going to get sued," he said. "Of the two EEOC investigations mentioned, one is still pending and the other claim was denied. A former female employee, whose name cannot be mentioned because she requested a gag order, filed a civil suit that was settled by the county.
"What my opponent has not mentioned, though, is that there was a legal case filed during my first year in office that lists the Lee County Sheriff's Office and David Cheshire as defendents. This incident occurred under the previous sheriff."
Rachals also expressed concern over his opponent's "criminal history" in Sumter County, an incident from 1998 in which Cheshire -- then a deputy in Early County -- was arrested for a traffic offense after "cutting a doughnut" in a rural churchyard.
"I'm man enough to admit I made a mistake," Cheshire said. "Even though I was never convicted of any offense, I've learned from my mistake. It's made me a better man and a better law enforcement official.
"I'm surprised that this issue concerns the sheriff, because he had three opportunities to either punish me for it or to fire me. Instead, he gave me three promotions."
Many of Cheshire's supporters have accused Rachals of cruelty to animals in an incident that involved a horse under his care. The sheriff said an official ruling by the Georgia Department of Agriculture (which he provided) showed no wrongdoing.
"The Department of Agriculture inspected this false accusation against welfare of animals in my family's care and ruled that all care was humane," Rachals said. "There was no wrongdoing or inhumane treatment and the case was closed Dec. 19, 2011."
Cheshire has also complained about what he said was Rachals' failure to follow "proper county procedure" in securing bids for such items as a camera system at the Lee County Jail and a $24,000 fence job at the jail.
"After taking office, Sheriff Rachals awarded a fence job at the jail to his father-in-law and he has yet to produce any bids for this job," Cheshire said. "He did the same thing with the camera system at the jail, and when a local vendor complained that he hadn't been allowed to bid, Sheriff Rachals allowed him to bid.
"When (the local vendor's) bid came in $17,000 less than the original ($45,000) bid and included more features, the sheriff stayed with the original bid. He continuously refuses to comply with county policy for accepting bids on projects."
Rachals said Cheshire's claims are not valid.
"From day one, I have had an open-door policy when it comes to the bidding prtocess," Rachals said. "My opponent has never inquired about that process, and now he questions me in public about the procedure. Let me set the record straight: On any item above $10,000, I request multiple bids, then I accept the lowest qualifying bid and submit it to the County Commission for payment."
Rachals also said Cheshire's claim that he "fired an employee because he did not come in on his off day when asked because he was taking care of his disabled son" is not an accurate accounting.
"That employee's termination was based solely on his own conduct and his failure to report to duty on time as required of all employees who work for the sheriff's office," Rachals said. "I would never terminate anyone because they have a special-needs child. I have a brother with cerebral palsy, a nephew, several close friends and even other employees who have special needs or children with special needs.
"I have always treated (these employees, friends, etc.) with the respect, consideration and dignity they deserve."
Advance voting in the sheriff's and other races starts Monday and ends July 27. Special Saturday advance voting will be held July 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting in Lee County will be conducted in the Kinchafoonee Room of the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building.