A Fulton County sheriff's race? Who knew?

9 Democrats vie in July 15 primary

You'd think a county as large and affluent as Fulton could elect a decent sheriff.

After years of choosing crooks, scoundrels and even a killer, DeKalb County finally chose Tom Brown, who's widely credited with restoring trust in the sheriff's office. The same can't be said about Fulton.

The county's previous two sheriffs left office in disgrace – Richard Lankford was convicted for extorting a jail contractor (that conviction was later overturned) and Jackie Barrett was removed by Gov. Sonny Perdue after handing $7.2 million in county funds to shady investors. But instead of the third time being a charm, incumbent Sheriff Myron Freeman has been variously described by fellow local elected officials and others as incompetent, ineffective and clueless for his mismanagement of the county jail and poor handling of the 2005 courthouse shooting rampage.

On July 15, Fulton voters again go to the polls to select the Democratic nominee for sheriff (early voting starts July 7). Traditionally, the winner of that contest goes on to claim the post in the fall. With nine candidates including the incumbent vying for the job, it should be a lively race.

Judging, however, from the campaign's visibility, which chiefly amounts to scattered yard signs, you'd think the state's most populous county was electing assistant dogcatcher. Even Freeman is doing all he can to downplay the vote – by not doing much of anything. He has no campaign website, hasn't registered a re-election committee and has yet to show up to a forum. Nor did he return calls for this article.

Not that Freeman's absence is likely to hurt him. Two debates held so far were so poorly publicized and sparsely attended that none of the candidates is likely to get much of a boost from them.

Freeman's eight Democratic opponents have varied levels of experience:

• Ronald Brandy, 43, has worked as a Fulton sheriff's deputy for 15 years and is pursuing a criminal justice degree at a state junior college.

• Frank Brown, 62, retired as East Point police chief, after 27 years on that small force.

• Curtis Steven Farmer, 46, is another Fulton deputy, with 20 years of experience.

• Ted Jackson, 61, retired from a 32-year FBI career as the agency's top official in Georgia, supervising hundreds of agents across the state. When Barrett was forced to step down, Jackson was appointed as interim sheriff for the six months prior to Freeman's election, but this is his first campaign for office.

• Pat Labat, 40, is a major with the Atlanta Department of Corrections, having worked at the city jail for 20 years.

• Aubrey Osteen, 66, another veteran lawman, managed the Fulton jail annex in Alpharetta.

• Charles Rambo, 39, is a hard-charging ex-deputy who's run against both Freeman and Barrett, and a president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers local chapter.

• And Charles Shelton is a mystery candidate who has no discernible campaign in place.

The sole Republican, former Fulton County Marshall Michael Rary, faces no primary opposition.

Deputies Brandy and Farmer advocate expanding the office's responsibilities to include more policing functions. But recent sheriffs haven't been up to the task of handling even their two primary duties: managing the county jail and providing courthouse security.

After years of shoddy conditions, overcrowding, and laughable management practices that led to inmates being held long after they were ordered released – the jail remains under a federal consent order that compels the sheriff to report occupancy stats and other details to a judge. The Southern Center for Human Rights, which successfully sued to upgrade the jail, has accused Freeman of repeatedly violating the order.

The reality is that the sheriff doesn't need to run the jail; he needs to be good at hiring qualified pros to run the jail. Sadly, there's scant reason to believe such people exist in the department's current ranks. As for courthouse security, Fulton's judges had so little faith in Freeman in the wake of the shootings that they hired an outside consultant – who advised them to bring in their own private security.

Because of the number of candidates, the contest likely will come down to a two-man showdown in the Aug. 5 runoff. Apart from Freeman, the most active campaigns seem to belong to Brown, who touts his experience running the East Point force; Osteen, who advocates building more satellite jails to reduce overcrowding; and Jackson, who'd draw on his experience managing FBI operations in Georgia and his familiarity with the department.

We can only hope Fulton voters make the right choice this time around.

Still gripped by Obamania? Busy charting John McCain's policy reversals? Snap out of it, wonk boy! The presidential election is months away, but state primaries are right around the corner.

On July 15, voters will go to the polls to choose nominees for some mighty important offices. Early voting takes place July 7-11. Because of gerrymandering and the quirks of Georgia politics, many races will be won in the primary. Among the biggest contests:

• Five Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

• Four Georgia congressional races could be decided in primaries, although the Atlanta area's John Lewis and David Scott still are heavily favored.

• The DeKalb County CEO's race is an all-Dem showdown between five candidates.

• The Fulton sheriff's contest will pit the winner of a nine-man Democratic contest against the sole Republican candidate. DeKalb Sheriff Tom Brown also faces Democratic primary opposition.

• There are races for two seats on the utility-regulating Public Service Commission.

• And popular state Sen. Nan Orrock of southeast Atlanta is one among many intown legislators facing opposition in the primaries.

CL has more to say about these and other races at clfreshloaf.com. In coming days, including the latest information about the races and the candidates..

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally contained erroneous information about former Sheriff Richard Lankford. It has been corrected.