December 20, 2006
AUGUSTA, Ga.---People frightened in their own homes, deputies leaving because of low pay, even a series of disciplinary hearings for officers.
In the middle of all that at Richmond County's Sheriff's Office, their elected leader says he dreads his job.
As sheriff, Ronnie Strength says he expects to have critics...and there were plenty of them when he was quoted in the paper saying he couldn't wait to get out.
So when he sat down with us today, he wanted to set the record straight.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength says concerned citizens have kept his phone ringing off the hook this week.
"They were concerned that I was planning on leaving the sheriff's office," he said.
The calls came after the sheriff was quoted in a newspaper article Saturday as saying, "I dread coming to work now" and "I've been in the business 30 years and can't wait to get out".
"What I was talking about were the complaints, the unwarranted complaints on officers," Sheriff Strength told News 12. "I dreaded to come down here, knowing these unwarranted complaints would be coming."
Strength says it's been a stressful year. On top of working 80 hour weeks, he says he's repeatedly had to defend his officers to the community after accusations of unnecessary force and for the way things were handled at the James Brown Music Festival.
Most recently, his decision to fire one deputy and suspend two others for material on their MySpace pages received criticism.
"I don't have any regrets for any decision I made, because I made every decision that I thought was correct," Sheriff Strength said. "I feel very confident in decisions I made. I can go home, sleep at night knowing I did the right thing."
And as for the sheriff wanting to get out fast, he says yes, he'd like to retire soon...but don't expect him to leave before his term expires.
"I'm not going anywhere. I was elected to do the job, and I'm going to do the job."
There is a group gathering signatures calling for the sheriff's resignation, but Sheriff Strength says he has no plans to step down. His term ends in 2008; he says he does plan to run again then and retire after another term.
Sheriff Strength isn't saying he was misquoted, just misunderstood. He says everything in the article was accurate, but some people may have taken things out of context.
The sheriff was first elected in 2000, when Sheriff Charlie Webster retired. He's worked for the department 30 years, also serving as chief deputy and chief criminal investigator.