Augusta mayor calls for non-partisan sheriff's race as things take fiery turn

Someone set fire to this sign supporting Scott Peebles' sheriff campaign. (WRDW-TV / June 8, 2012)
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News 12 First at Five / Friday, June 8, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It has been a bizarre week in the race for the next Richmond County sheriff. Campaign signs were set on fire and also used as weapons, and now, a challenge has been filed against a candidate's eligibility.

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver says it may be time to change the election process.

Our cameras were rolling as fire investigators surveyed the damage after one of Scott Peebles' campaign sign was set on fire.

"People get very emotionally charged when they get behind a candidate," Peebles said. "They don't want to see the other candidates' material out there."

Cpt. Peebles sent a warning shot to his team not to fire back.

"We just want to make sure that our folks, our supporters understand that we want to be above all of that," Peebles said.

"We can take a united stand against that kind of negative behavior," said Richard Roundtree, whose eligibility is now being challenged.

The hearing has been set for Monday at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building. Willie E. Cooper Jr. alleges Roundtree has federal tax liens on file against him.

"Less than eight weeks out of this race and all these things are going on and is something else behind this?" Roundtree said. "Are people trying to divide this county, are they trying to make a distraction from the candidates?"

Candidates are busy speaking at forums and using billboards to try and reach voters.

"Unfortunately, in the political process, you can't choose who supports you," Copenhaver said.

The defacing of signs comes the same week of at least two other incidents. Two female lovers used a "vote for Roundtree" sign to beat up on each other, and someone put notes on cars declaring "the needs of the black neighborhoods don't matter to Scott Peebles and the sheriff."

"It doesn't bother me," Peebles said. "I think it is a desperate attempt to try and use something that Augusta has gotten past."

Roundtree denounced the notes on Facebook saying, "Someone decided to put fliers on cars making negative comments about Peebles, Silas and Ivey. What they did crossed the line."

"I reached out to all the candidates to let them know that our camp is not running that kind of campaign and we never will," Roundtree said.

All the drama has the mayor calling for a change.

"I think the sheriff's race should be non-partisan," Copenhaver said. "I think it should be the best candidate, but I don't think you should introduce party politics into that situation."