published Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Sheriff races laced with allegations

Several North Georgia sheriff races are heating up — and in Dade County one candidate's bankruptcy records have spawned a contentious debate.

Ray Cross, a former Dade County sheriff's deputy, has been attacked for not revealing all the reasons for filing bankruptcy in 2004 for $252,000 and then liquidating his assets in 2011. Cross says his financial woes — he paid more than $123,000 in debts until 2011 — were mainly medical bills after his wife and daughter had surgeries. Cross wouldn't say what the surgeries were for, but he said they were both within a few years of one another, and he had to file bankruptcy on a less than $30,000 salary.

Cross also owed on two vehicles, more than $1,000 for furniture and more than $13,000 for a Harley-Davidson, his financial records show, which he was criticized for in a recent sheriff's debate.

His Democratic opponent, former Sheriff Philip Street, says he understands health problems aren't planned, but Cross' other debts raise questions. If Cross can't manage his own money, Street asked, how can he be responsible for a $2.6 million sheriff's office budget?

But Cross said he could have paid off those loans without the heaping medical bills.

"This personal bankruptcy isn't relevant," he said. "Just because you go bankrupt doesn't mean you can't handle finances."

Street was sheriff for 20 years before he was beaten by outgoing Sheriff Patrick Cannon in 2004. Cross then defeated Cannon this summer in the Republican primary runoff.

Chattooga County

Nearby in Chattooga County, Trion police Officer Mark Schrader and former sheriff's deputy Jamye Dawson are cordial to each other because they've been friends since attending Chattooga High School. But neither is fond of incumbent Sheriff John Everett, who they say is leaving a budget mess for his successor to clean up.

"Jamye and I have been friends [since] high school," Schrader said. "We've stayed friends."

Dawson agreed, "We've shook hands and remained civil and friends throughout the whole race."

Walker County

In Walker County, longtime incumbent Republican Sheriff Steve Wilson faces Democrat Tim Westbrook. At an Oct. 9 candidates' forum, Wilson cited scrap metal theft as one of the county's most difficult crime problems, and he said one solution is educating scrap metal dealers. Westbrook said drug and methamphetamine abuse are devastating and he'll try to find funds — including donations from residents — to fight drugs.

Murray County

In Murray County, Gary Langford is challenging longtime Sheriff Howard Ensley on the Republican ticket. Ensley, who has been in office for 24 years, has faced recent challenges after he fired two officers involved in a scandal with former Murray County Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran.

Catoosa County

In Catoosa County, Chief Deputy Gary Sisk, a Republican, doesn't face an opponent on the ballot after defeating former Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force Cmdr. Larry Black in a runoff election. But Fort Oglethorpe police Officer Mark Cruise is challenging Sisk as a write-in candidate.

Sisk plans to start a program in which deputies would mentor elementary students to reduce problems such as drug abuse and "break that cycle that's going on in so many families," he said Friday.

Cruise said he was inspired to run to shake things up. Sisk has spent his law enforcement career in Catoosa County and doesn't plan any major shake-ups.

"The main thing is, you know, it's time for a change over there in Catoosa," Cruise said.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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