Bulloch County sheriff’s hopeful Keith Howard kicked off his campaign for the 2020 sheriff’s race Thursday, greeting visitors with slices of cold, fresh watermelon as they stopped by on Highway 24 across from Mill Creek Regional Park during the Firecracker Fest July 4 celebration.
Howard, a Republican, admits it might seem a bit early to start campaigning, but he is serious about the county’s future. “Elections may seem far away but it seems like it was New Year’s Eve only yesterday,” he said. “Time flies.”
Official qualifying dates are March 2-6, 2020, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Howard ran for office before in the 2016 race, which was won by current sheriff Noel Brown.
“My family and I are honored again to have the privilege of campaigning for the office of the sheriff of Bulloch County,” Howard said. “There are two types of people who run for office – those who are passionate about pursuing change for all, and those who run for personal and political reasons.”
Putting all of Bulloch County first is his goal, he said. “We need a sheriff’s department that not only looks out for its employees, whether it be pay, insurance or retirement, but also looks after all the people, who want a change for the better.”
A sheriff not only works to keep the public safe, but also protects the citizens in other ways as well, he said. “We need an administrator who spends taxpayer money wisely and frugally, with no waste in spending. We need an administrator that, when asked about money and budget requests, can and will give an answer other than ‘I guess we need it’ or ‘we are short-handed.’”
Bulloch County deserves a sheriff who will “set a positive example and uphold the county’s integrity,” he said. “We need a sheriff who is transparent to the people, who is not in it for political gain and who will not embarrass the citizens of Bulloch County. We need a sheriff who won’t use his position to influence (others) and who won’t threaten to sue our county commissioners” if they do not agree with his requests.
“Our commissioners and county manager bend over backwards to see the citizens of Bulloch County get the best bang for their buck,” Howard said. “There is no need to threaten to sue them” for what a sheriff wants.
Plans for cooperation and growth
Howard said he is concerned about crime in Bulloch County and feels the break-up of the tri-agency Crime Suppression Team (a former partnership between Statesboro and Georgia Southern University police and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office) was a mistake.
“We need a leader to fight crime in all areas and not break up units who were working cohesively together in a positive manner,” he said. “We need a leader who doesn’t depend on subordinates to do his job- a leader, not a follower.”
If elected, Howard said he plans to revive the cooperative partnership between all agencies.
He also has several ideas about new programs as well as growing the successful ones currently in place.
One idea he would like to implement could go far in solving the current shortage of deputies. Brown has said his department is understaffed and that is one reason a large amount of overtime exists. Howard said revising the school resource officer agreement will ease both sides of that problem for the county.
“I would see about letting the school board pay the school resource officers for the 9 months they work (while school is in session) and allow those SRO’s to supplement their income during summer months by working for us (the sheriff’s office),” he said. “This will free up seven deputy positions to help with the shortage, and the schools will still be protected.”
He admires the Statesboro Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy and would, as sheriff, implement a similar program geared towards people learning more about the way the sheriff’s office works. He would also launch a citizens’ ride-along program, he said.
The current DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and Explorer Scout programs are great assets to the community, Howard said. If elected in 2020, he will continue with the “great work” being done in the youth programs. “I hope to expand them and reach out to more kids.”
He also wants to help veterans become active in the community by implementing a program to hire them as reserve deputies.
“We can utilize veterans – retired, active and disabled – as reserve deputies to help out when short- handed,” he said. “They can direct traffic during the fair, freeing up deputies to patrol the community and save on overtime.”
The Statesboro Kiwanis Club pays deputies to direct traffic during fair week, helping relieve some of the overtime.
The veterans would either volunteer or he would work with the county on some type of compensation, Howard said. He is also eyeing a program used in another county where deputies are assigned traffic duty as part of their weekly duties – a move that would generate revenue and help offset any overtime.
“If we are going to cut overtime we have to find other ways to compensate, and work out a plan that won’t cost the county and taxpayers,” he said. The Fiscal Year 2019 overtime expense for the sheriff’s office topped over $1,410,000, according to county records.
Howard also said he intends to partner with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, and seek grants that would “save taxpayers money.”
Working closely with other agencies to combat crime is imperative, he said. “We need a sheriff who networks with all other agencies. Without cooperation, there is no way we can fight this crime.”
Other areas he says are lacking include the fight against cyber-crime, sex trafficking and gang activity. “We have to have an administrator who focuses on these. We are so far behind in this area it is not funny.”
On a personal note
Howard is a
Bulloch County native who said he has always loved the community. In recent
months he launched a Neighborhood Watch program, and said the effort has had a
positive reaction from area municipalities and citizens.
He joined the Georgia State Patrol as dispatcher in 1984. After his retirement from GSP, Howard served as chief deputy for the late Jenkins County Sheriff Bobby Womack. As state trooper, he logged approximately 3,000 training hours including include VIP protection, drug interdiction, driving school, marijuana courses, impaired driving school, prisoner training; first responder, first aid and CPR.
Howard is a certified operator of the Georgia Crime Information Center system; certified in Operation Lifesaver; and has attended training in courtroom testimony, proper evidence gathering, storing and labeling; and crowd and riot control. He received Georgia Bureau of Investigation training in assisting agents with stolen items and crimes; criminal investigation courses and has attended several multi agency seminars on the war on drugs, he said.
He grew up farming and has owned several companies including construction and landscaping; and currently owns a successful septic and portable toilet business.
Married to Gail Beasley Howard, he graduated from Statesboro High School and Swainsboro Technical College, and attended Brenau University with college hours in criminal justice. He has one adult daughter, Hannah, and a son, Keith Howard Jr.
For more information on this sheriff’s candidate, visit website www.keithoward4sheriff.com or call him at 912-682-2723. “I will always be accessible to the citizens of Bulloch County,” he said.
He also has a Facebook page and plans online “meetings” where voters can ask questions and get answers, he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.