WOODBINE, Ga. - As Georgia voters head to the polls for the state's primary elections Tuesday, one of the most intense races in the southeast part of the state is for Camden County sheriff.
As you head into Woodbine from Interstate 95, the first campaign sign you see is a "Bill Smith for Sheriff" placard. Less than a mile down the road, Sheriff Tommy Gregory pushes his slogan, "Taxpayer's Best Friend, Criminal's Worst Enemy."
Four years ago, Gregory was a long shot as Bill Smith held the Camden County sheriff's job for more than two decades. Smith, however, fell into controversy after a federal investigation into his use of inmate labor and forfeited drug funds. Smith was never charged with a crime, but the bad publicity helped cost him his seat.
Smith said he's spent the years out of office clearing his name.
"They bought in five different agencies to investigate me, and it was completely unfounded," Smith said. "He would stand up and say I stole money, and there was no money missing."
Smith said Gregory has cut 140 people from the department to save money and "I don't feel like he as any compassion for the people of Camden County."
"There were 140 who were terminated and had no recourse," Smith said. "If I'm reelected, they'll have tenure with the sheriff's department, due process."
Gregory said he was elected to clean up the department, and that's what he's done.
"When I took office, they knew there was corruption," Gregory said. "I published a list of 20 officers who didn't need to work here anymore. I published those names prior to the office or the election."
Gregory said while he has cut the size of the department, the crime rate has gone down by 38 percent during his term.
"My budget's been reduced by 41 percent, even though I reorganized some of the personnel here, there's 30 percent more officers on the streets, patrolling this county," Gregory said. "The protection level has come up."
Despite four years four years out of office, Smith still has strong support.
"I've known him a long time and he's always been good for the county," Smith supporter Phillip Carter said. "If everything he had done they said he had done, he'd be in jail by now."
There are no Democratic challengers in the race.
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