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Election 2016: In barbed debate, opponent becomes incumbent’s ally

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A charge by the independent candidate for Georgetown County sheriff that the incumbent Republican is “robbing” employees of overtime pay brought the Democrat to the sheriff’s defense. The three candidates spoke at the annual meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations this week. It was the first and likely the only time the candidates will meet to take questions from voters.

“The sheriff robs these officers. I mean literally robs them. If you don’t pay time and a half for overtime, you’re working for free, and that’s what these officers have been doing for the last 10, 15 years,” Birt Adams, an Independence Party candidate, said.

“He’s saying I robbed them? What do you mean by that?” Sheriff Lane Cribb asked.

“I mean by that, you don’t fight for your officers,” Adams said.

“You don’t know what’s going on,” Cribb said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I have to agree with the sheriff on this,” said Darryel Carr, a Democrat who is also running against Cribb. “I was there.”

Carr was a deputy when the county’s pay plan was challenged in a federal lawsuit. Under the county’s system, the hourly rate decreases the more hours the deputies work. The court upheld the system. “We’ve got to go through the county to get overtime,” Carr said.

Cribb told the audience of 40, representing the boards of property owners associations, he is doing all he can with the money provided by County Council, currently $12.8 million. The county has a fixed portion of its tax rate dedicated to the sheriff’s office. “We have everything we can afford,” Cribb said. “We can spend a whole lot more money if Sel will let us have it,” he added, referring to County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

Cribb has served 24 years as sheriff. He’s been in law enforcement 43 years. Carr was a deputy for nine years. Adams was a corrections officer for New York City and has four years’ experience in South Carolina in the sheriff’s office, Georgetown City Police and Spartanburg. He said he’s been in law enforcement for 25 years.

Both Adams and Carr said the sheriff’s office needs to do more. They propose putting more deputies on the street. Adams went further, proposing the sheriff’s office take charge of the police officers in Pawleys Island, Georgetown and Andrews. He also criticized the sheriff’s office for closing at 5 p.m.

Cribb said he doesn’t have authority to take over municipal police departments. The sheriff’s office is staffed around the clock and although the front door is locked there is an emergency phone outside, he told the association.

Carr told the association he has “a passion for law enforcement.” He said his rise from a patrol deputy to sergeant to investigator gives him the bottom-up knowledge to lead the sheriff’s office. His focus as sheriff would be to provide round-the-clock coverage of the entire county.

Adams said the sheriff’s office needs to do more with community policing. He said that would also help with drug crimes. “Waccamaw High, when I was a deputy, had more drugs than you’ve ever seen,” Adams said. Education is a focus of his campaign, by educating the public and working with the schools, he said.

The sheriff’s office is part of the 15th Judicial Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit, Cribb said. “Patrol officers work drugs everyday along with the DEU,” he said.

Carr said the regional unit was a good idea, but he added that the sheriff’s office needs to do more.

Most of the calls the sheriff’s office receives are for animals, noise, litter and speeding. “That is the majority,” Cribb said. Thefts from unlocked cars are also a major source of crime, he added. Those could be reduced if people would lock their vehicles or remove valuables, he said.

Adams also called for more community involvement. People need to report crime when they see it and the sheriff’s office needs to cultivate connections. “I believe everybody should have a concealed weapon,” Adams told the association. He backtracked when questioned by Lissa Byrd of Willbrook, a nurse at the Smith Medical Clinic. She said that kind of talk made her nervous. “I don’t want everybody to have a gun,” Adams said, particularly people with mental health problems.

As a third-party candidate, Adams said he know he has an uphill battle in a system where voters look only at major party candidates. “If I’m not doing a great job after one year, I’ll step down at your request. What politician is going to tell you that?” Adams said. “None.”

While Cribb quickly dismissed most of Adams’ criticism as uninformed, he appeared more hurt by Adam’s claim that the sheriff’s office is “antiquated.” “To say that we’re antiquated? You know, this is the second time that we’ve been accredited. You don’t get accredited by being antiquated,” he said.

“I might not be perfect,” Cribb added. “But we have tried.”

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