Debate arises in possibly merging marshal’s office and sheriff’s office in Muscogee County

Updated: Oct. 30, 2019 at 10:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) -The idea of merging the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office and the Marshal’s Office is back on the table for Columbus city leaders.

It’s a proposal that has to go through the legislative body before any changes could happen, but this week, the Public Safety Advisory Commission brought the conversation back to council. Marshal Greg Countryman said he doesn’t think the proper steps are being taken on a local level.

“What I have a problem with is not what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it," said Countryman. "No city official has invited me to be a part of any of this. It’s been very disrespectful and it’s unacceptable, to say the least.”

In a letter to City Manager Isaiah Hugley and the Georgia Delegation, Countryman expressed his dissatisfaction for the conversation to move forward without proper representation present.

“They’re bypassing the officer holder, and no one has asked me about this,” said Countryman.

Countryman said he also believes the decision should be left up to a vote by the people. According to the election’s office, the issue has never been put to a vote.

The Public Safety Advisory Commission said the merger conversation resurfaced after Countryman announced his candidacy for sheriff, leaving his current position open, therefore not displacing anyone from the office. The commission submitted a proposal to the state delegation. Hugley said the proper process has been followed.

“That process is transparent. If a person has not had conversations about it, it’s perhaps they chose not to,” said Hugley.

Hugley said the proper channels have been reached in the process. Since 1831, the Marshal’s Office has had a list of duties, including, handling evictions, warrants, and assisting other law enforcement. Hugley said community members would feel no change if a merger was to happen. He and Sheriff Donna Tompkins said there would still be uniformed officers carrying out assigned duties.

“There would be no change in the employees in that office. In fact, all of the sworn officers in the Marshal’s Office will receive a pay increase,” said Hugley.

Tompkins said the merger would be good for law enforcement.

“If they’re going to do this, let’s do it," said Tompkins. "I could certainly use the people. At the time this came up, I had 33 job openings. He (Marshal’s Office) only has 16 people. It wouldn’t even fill all of my job openings.”

Tompkins said she talked with the board members of the Public Safety Advisory Commission about the merger and thinks the timing is right for the two agencies to consolidate since Countryman is not running for Marshal.

“The mere fact that I’m not running for re-election doesn’t mean that you abolish an office," said Countryman. "What happens if you have a council member who decides to step down early or not run? Do we abolish those offices? With crime being the way it is today, this is not the time to try to dismantle an effective, proven, elected law enforcement agency.”

The decision is now in the hands of legislators who won’t be back in session until January.

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