In January, Murray County, Ga., will have a new sheriff, new sole-commissioner and new clerk of court — changes the newly elected officials say will improve professionalism and transparency in government.
Some locals say the community welcomes new leadership after their former commissioner was accused of sexual harassment and their chief magistrate judge was accused of soliciting a woman in his court for sex. Both resigned their offices.
"We felt like we needed to wipe the slate clean," said Lavon Headrick, a local barber who owns Hair Cutz by Lavon in Chatsworth, Ga. "We see some progress going on in our neighboring counties and we feel like we're not being represented fairly."
Current Sole Commissioner Greg Hogan took over in 2011 after Commissioner David Ridley resigned amidst allegations that he forced a county employee to commit sex acts and viewed pornography on her computer.
But Hogan was voted out of office this summer when Brittany Pittman, a local former banker, received 56 percent of the votes.
The most recent change came on Tuesday when Gary Langord, a retired Georgia State Patrol officer, defeated 24-year incumbent Sheriff Howard Ensley with 58 percent of the votes.
Donna Flood beat one-term Court Clerk Connie Reed with 53 percent of the votes.
Langford said he isn't sure if his victory was partially because the sheriff's office was tied to a recent federal investigation into former Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran. An officer and a deputy were fired after state investigators found they lied to police about a drug investigation into Cochran's accuser, Angie Garmley. Prosecutors later dismissed Garmley's charges.
Ensley didn't return calls seeking comment.
But both Pittman and Langford say they want to improve professionalism in their offices and become more transparent.
"A lot of voters and citizens were concerned and wanted to see more professionalism in the sheriff's department," Langford said. "I want to see more training."
Meanwhile, Pittman said she has been talking with the newly appointed Chief Magistrate L. Gale Buckner -- who replaced Cochran -- to talk about how to restore integrity in the offices.
Pittman said she first wants to put the county's financial records online and then plans to have more open meetings before she makes decisions to get broader public input.
"We have to restore professionalism and integrity in the office," she said.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...