December 26, 2000, Tuesday, Home Edition Copyright 2000 The Atlanta Constitution The Atlanta Journal and Constitution December 26, 2000, Tuesday, Home Edition
(DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.) -- With the appointment of Thomas Brown as sheriff of DeKalb County, it is clear that county officials are serious about cleaning up the jail, which had become a cesspool of scandal. Brown, previously the county's top law enforcement official as the director of Public Safety, has a sterling reputation, experience in management and deft political skills. And he has made it clear that he will carry out the reforms pledged by the late Sheriff- elect Derwin Brown. That will be a tall order. Brown must complete the top-to-bottom audit which was a fundamental plank in Derwin Brown's (no relation) election platform. He must also review the work of all jail employees to make sure that they are both honest and competent.
He needs to review contracts with private companies to be sure none were handed out in violation of county policies. Equally important, he will have to work with officers of the DeKalb Police Department, the FBI and the GBI in coordinating the investigation into the murder of Derwin Brown, gunned down in his driveway on Dec. 15 in what some officials have termed a "political assassination."
While Brown is an excellent choice for the job, his interest in the post came as something of a surprise. After all, as public safety director, he was in charge of all county police and fire personnel. As sheriff, he will only be responsible for three duties: running the jail, serving summons and providing security for the courts. In a news conference Friday, Brown said he was taking the job for the "good of the county."
If Brown decides to seek the job permanently in a special election to be held on March 20, he will likely be a shoo-in (although Robert Crowder Jr., who would have been named deputy chief by Derwin Brown, may seek the job as well.) And with such a popular figure in the post, it is unlikely that DeKalb legislators would seek to abolish it.
Still, some progressive DeKalb legislator ought to be thinking about retiring the sheriff's title whenever Brown decides to leave the job. It is an outdated position going back to another era, when DeKalb was largely rural. Its current function could easily be taken over by the Department of Public Safety.
Besides, the office has a sordid history. Former Sheriff Pat Jarvis, who held the office from 1976-1996, was sentenced last year to 15 months in prison for running a kickback scheme. J. Lamar Martin, sheriff from 1965-1972, was convicted of bribery. And Sidney Dorsey, who was defeated by Derwin Brown, is under investigation for allegedly using on-duty deputies to staff his private security company and for misusing inmate labor to repair houses of supporters of his wife, Atlanta City Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey. The best tribute to reformer Derwin Brown may be to eliminate the office.
Meanwhile, however, with Tom Brown at the helm, citizens can be reasonably assured that the office will be well run. That's the least they should be able to expect.