Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams is speaking out about his continuing battle with the Burke County Board of Commissioners and county manager over who controls the Sheriff’s Office budget.
At a press conference on June 9, Williams said he is tired of being micromanaged and wants the public to know what has gone on behind the scenes.
However, Burke County’s attorney, Barry Fleming, said the sheriff is attempting to exceed his authority and operate as his own island, free of complete transparency.
In May 2021, Williams filed what is known as a Writ of Mandamus asking the Superior Court to force County Manager Merv Waldrop to follow the law and allow Williams to fulfill his constitutional duties. The county responded with a countersuit.
Judge Jesse Stone ruled against the sheriff on a technicality, and so the case is now before the appeals court.
“I will push this matter all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court if need be,” Williams said.
Williams said the major issues with Waldrop began when he determined that he could save as much as $500,000 by outsourcing fleet maintenance, janitorial services and payroll instead of using those services through the county.
“We were paying $140 for an oil change when we can go around the corner to a locally owned business and pay $40 for the same service. I wanted to take those savings and use them where the rubber hits the road,” Williams said.
Instead, according to Williams, Waldrop accused Williams of being a spendthrift and basically seized roughly $750,000 from the sheriff’s budget, about the same amount of money allocated for services the sheriff wanted to outsource, meaning that if the sheriff wants to have the oil changed on a vehicle, then he basically has to ask Waldrop’s permission.
Williams said he has also been accused of hiding grant money and vigorously denies any such allegations.
In 2018, the Sheriff’s Office received a $500,000 donation from Georgia Power to add four additional road deputies to patrol Highway 23 (River Road) leading into Plant Vogtle. The stretch of highway had been the scene of multiple traffic fatalities prior to Williams’ administration.
According to Williams, when the funding began to peter out, and he was unsure if another donation was available, he asked Waldrop if the city could increase the budget and was told that he would need to lay off the deputies.
“My budget is $9.8 million. Meanwhile the budget for emergency management is $15 million and I was told to lay people off because I had too many deputies and cars on the streets,” Williams said.
Williams also maintains that his office receives $50,000 a year of federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds through the Waynesboro Public Housing Authority to place more police presence at public housing developments and foster good will between the police and residents and that Waldrop wants to control how that money is spent.
Fleming begs to differ and said the sheriff is not telling the entire story.
“(Williams) wants to be entirely separate from the rest of the government, where he only has to show up once a year at budget time,” Fleming said.
According to Fleming, no one really cares where the sheriff goes to get oil changes, but state law does not allow him to create his own payroll department as it would require him to provide separate insurance and retirement plans.
“Also, the sheriff can’t go out and buy cars and insure them, his department is required by law to go through the county to purchase vehicles,” Fleming said. “Judge Stone has ruled that the sheriff has clearly attempted to exceed his authority.”
Fleming also said that, to his knowledge, no one in government has suggested Williams lay off deputies and that the Sheriff’s Office budget has nearly doubled since Williams took office in 2016.
In terms of the funding made available through donations and grants, Fleming said the sheriff has been less than forthcoming about how the money, especially the HUD funding was spent. According to Fleming, the outside auditor tasked with the county’s yearly audit was unaware the HUD funding existed.
According to Fleming, Williams at first refused to make credit card receipts available, then conceded to allow them to be viewed in his office but then canceled the meeting at the last moment.
The appeals court is expected to hear the case in the fall.