Editor's note: The profiles below are for candidates in the contested Republican primary. Al Hagan is running uncontested in the Democratic primary.
The following are Republican candidates for sheriff of Bryan County that appear as choices on the June 9 ballot. The candidates offer information about themselves and answer questions asked by the Bryan County News.
Mike Fordham, age 61
Background: I am an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice, Savannah Technical College and most recently served in law enforcement as the Chief of Investigations for the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office. As the Chief of Investigations, I served as the chief advisor and principal assistant to the Sheriff in all matters relating to criminal investigations in Bryan County. I represented the Sheriff on the Bryan County Opioid Prevention Project, Bryan County Family Connection, Internet Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force, Bryan County Child Fatality Review Committee, and the Atlantic Judicial Circuit Child Advocacy Center.
I am a graduate of Georgia State University, with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and was graduated from Columbus State University with a Master’s in Public Administration. In 2013 I graduated from the U.S. Army War College with a Master of Strategic Studies.
I was commissioned in 1991 in the U.S. Army Reserve Components after completing Officer Candidate School at Georgia Military Institute.
My first tour of duty in Bryan County was from 1983 – 1987 as a Special Agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Savannah Regional Drug Enforcement Office (SRDEO). I returned to Bryan County in 2000 as the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the SRDEO and in 2001 was deployed to Bosnia & Herzegovina as a Rifle Company Commander in the 48th Infantry Brigade (Mechanized). I served in subsequent combat deployments to Iraq as Military Police Plans and Operations Officer for the U.S. Regional Embassy Office in Mosul and Executive Officer, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan. I retired as the Special Agent in Charge, GBI Director’s Office, on September 1, 2011 and from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Colonel, Infantry, in 2018.
Melissa, my wife, and I reside in Keller where I have lived since returning to Bryan County in 2000. I have a twenty-three-year-old son, William Michael Justice Fordham, who serves in the U.S. Coast Guard. I am an active member of Richmond Hill United Methodist Church where I serve on the Administrative Board, as Stephen Leader, and adjunct member of the staff. I am a member of the Richmond Hill Rotary Club, the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, FBI National Academy Associates, North Bryan Chamber of Commerce, Laurens Lodge # 75, F.& A.M., Peace Officers Association of Georgia, and the John Duggar American Legion Post, Pembroke, Ga. I am a Past President of the National D.A.R.E. Officer’s Association and was recently selected as a member of the Leadership Bryan class of 2020.
Why are you running?
For more than a decade the citizens of Bryan County gave me the opportunity to serve at the state and national level by taking care of my family while I was serving in Atlanta or deployed in support of U.S. Contingency Operations. Bryan County is my home; I have lived here longer (and better) than anywhere else in my adult life. The person who holds the Office of Sheriff is, and arguably should be, elected by the citizens they serve for the Office holds tremendous responsibility including, but not limited to, court security, civil processes, law enforcement, detention facilities, and the Emergency 911 Center.
I am uniquely qualified to lead your Sheriff’s Office which has many moving pieces, employees who have the authority under Georgia law and the U.S. Constitution to deprive a citizen of their liberty, to secure our courts and schools, and maintain secure custody, safety, and health of inmates we may house at your Bryan County Jail. I have the experience, training, and education to direct, lead, and participate in all operations required of your Sheriff either by law or tradition, and the moral and ethical standards required of public office.
What do you feel are the biggest problems facing our community today?
In the criminal justice arena there are several. If our current trend continues, Bryan County is projected to increase in population by at least 100% during the next decade according to the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Georgia’s Coast 2030 publication. This may mean a population increase to almost 46,000 in our county by 2030 accompanied with economic changes, residential construction, and other factors. There will likely be a proportionate increase in calls for service by our criminal justice systems.
What would you do to help solve those issues?
To address this increase I will work with the citizens of Bryan County and our County Commission to quickly influence three areas in your Sheriff’s Office; 1) Recruiting and Retention, 2) Equipment Modernization, and 3) Training and Education.
- Conduct background investigations for all applicants and employee quality personnel. Influence retention through a combined effort with our Commissioners for salary increases and a “pay for performance” management system. Based upon successful recruiting and budget allocations, increase staffing in investigations, drug enforcement, and patrol with corresponding support staff growth. Ensure transparency of operations in accordance with existing laws and best practices.
- Equip law enforcement vehicles, patrol and investigations, with modern computer platforms to access databases, fill out paperwork and record witness statements while still at an incident scene. This technology can also be used to upload digital photos of crime scenes, suspects, etc. and forward for immediate dissemination.
-Increase required training hours to include use of force, firearms qualification, and legal updates. Implement Crisis Intervention Team training for all sworn personnel to increase awareness and react appropriately to situations involving mental illnes, developmental disabilities, or substance abuse issues. Encourage and support Command Staff personnel to successfully complete the course of study at Georgia’s Law Enforcement Command College.
As required by Georgia law, review and revise, as needed, the security plan for our county courthouse and annex and submit those plans to the Chief Judge of the Superior Court for review.
Review and / or implement as needed policies and procedures that reflect the administration of these initiatives, citizen concerns, professional standards, and best practices.
Keith Welch Age: 43
Background: My name is Keith Welch and I am 43 years old. I am a native Georgian who grew up in Savannah. I graduated from Windsor Forest High School, and shortly thereafter served a two-year church service mission to Brazil.
Upon my return, I married my high school sweetheart.Amanda and I have been married for almost twenty- two years and we have two beautiful daughters.
When my wife began her career here in Bryan County many years ago, I found a community that loved family and friends as much as I did and found myself falling in love with the local culture. I loved how people felt strongly about families and how events catered to family togetherness and fun.
The kinship I felt resulted in a strong desire to serve the Bryan community. As a result, I applied to become a police officer in Richmond Hill and have been proudly serving the community since November 2010. During my tenure as a police officer I received a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and various other individualized law enforcement training.
I believe that the family unit is the cornerstone of our communities. This belief is reflected in my continued service in various leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and through my volunteerism as a coach for the Richmond Hill Soccer Club. It is these beliefs that drive me to want to raise the bar for the Sheriff’s Office.
I’m running to be your Bryan County Sheriff because I believe that families deserve the best service and protection that a Sheriff’s Office can provide.
My approach to help the residents of Bryan County will focus on three priorities. These priorities will allow families to receive better service and protection through community outreach and involvement, improving intergovernmental relationships and cooperation, and working to modernize and certify the Sheriff’s Office.
I feel that one of the biggest problems that we are facing in our community today centers around illegal drug activity.
Illegal drug activity needs to be addressed via a multitude of avenues. Some of those avenues consist of substance abuse prevention, mental health promotion, recovery services, and law enforcement.
As Sheriff, I will continue programs like CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety), SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), and other youth prevention programs. I will partner and promote programs like Bryan County Opioid Prevention Project, the fire departments Safe Haven program, and other programs that promote mental health and/or addiction recovery.
Additionally, I will work to establish programs in the jail that will help offenders work towards recovery (like the ‘matrix program- Early Recovery Skills’ currently used in Georgia State Prisons) and programs that can help offenders receive an education/diploma (like a GED program). As Sheriff, I will work towards creating a multijurisdictional narcotics taskforce for Bryan County whose mission will be to identify/analyze emerging drug patterns and problems; to develop an effective response to immediate threats to security of the community and to implement long term interdiction plans.
By no means is illegal drug activities the only problem facing the Bryan County communities. Some other areas of concern include gang activities, the need to plan for the inevitable growth in our population/community, and complacency in how the Sheriff’s Office conducts its affairs.
Since problems are rarely unilateral, I believe that strategic planning must be utilized to address these issues and others. Moreover, standards must be instilled in the Sherriff’s Office.
Bryan County it is time we raise the bar for every aspect of the Sheriff’s Office.
I invite you to vote for me as your next Bryan County Sheriff and by working together we can build a safer community for our families.
Doug Sahlberg Age: 55
Like most of you I was not blessed to be born in Bryan County, but I’ve lived here since 1989, 31 fantastic years. I grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I did have the good fortune to marry Judy in Savannah, Georgia thirty years ago; we have three daughters, Alisha, Brittany, and Katelyn along with five wonderful grandchildren.
Before moving here, I joined the Army Reserve in 1983 and fell in love the South. My Army experience gave me a foundation for discipline, leadership and personal responsibility. My regular job at the time was managing a retail equipment rental store which prepared me well for the next phase of my life.
In 1989 I made the move to Georgia managing Kehoe Equipment Rental from 1989-2001. It was during this time Judy and I met, we were married in 1990. After my time in the US Army Reserves ended, I missed the comradery and feeling like I was making a difference in the lives of others. I made the decision to follow in my father’s footsteps and joined the fire service. My dad was the Fire Chief in our city and both of my brothers were also firefighters. In 1992 I joined the ranks of Southside/Chatham Fire Department as a Firefighter/EMT. I rose through the ranks of the Fire Department until I made the rank of Chief, with command of four fire stations.
In 1997, I assisted in researching search/rescue K-9 operations and was given responsibility to create a special team for these duties. The following year, we obtained our first dogs and began training. My K-9, Molly, was used hundreds of times for search operations including, missing children/adults, criminal suspects, drowning victims and searching for deceased persons.
Then came September 11, 2001. The day that changed so many lives in our nation also profoundly changed my life. Due to the high death toll and the way the victims perished, remains were difficult to locate and specialized search dogs like Molly were highly effective. At the time, I commanded the Southside Search/ Rescue Team and we immediately deployed to New York City.
While in New York, Molly and I recovered the remains of hundreds of victims. We worked around the clock for days until we were ordered to stop due to the extremely unsafe nature of the site and debris. Molly and I returned to Richmond Hill after searching 20 hours a day for two weeks. Sadly, Molly died prematurely as a result of our work at Ground Zero, she had inhaled toxic material at the site and developed tumors internally. Molly was a true 9/11 Hero and I was blessed to be with her as she helped families find closure after that horrible event in our nation’s history.
I needed a change after 9/11 and joined the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. In 2002, I was recruited by the Richmond Hill Police Department by Chief Billy Reynolds. I served as a Richmond Hill Police Officer until 2017. During my time with RHPD, my duties included, patrol officer, traffic enforcement officer, K-9 handler, Detective and Division Commander. In 2017 I resigned from the police department and began working with a local company, Macaljon, where I still consult on security and monitor operations.
As Sheriff, Clyde Smith has brought the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office a long way over the last 20+ years. I plan to build upon his foundation and move our Sheriff’s Office into the future.
I believe it takes an entire community, working together, to create and sustain a professional and proactive law enforcement agency, one completely dedicated to the needs of all of its citizens. As Sheriff, I will take every opportunity to listen and to act upon the ideas and concerns of our citizens.
I will move our Sheriff’s department into the future by seeking State Certification, updating equipment, training, and establishing a citizens’ advisory council. As Bryan County continues to grow and change, we must be prepared to meet every challenge head on. We must value teamwork, cooperation and planning to ensure we deliver services to the public, always exceeding their expectations. I will work with our County Commissioners, various public safety agencies and you, to insure the best possible service is delivered to our citizens in the most cost effective manner.
Why are you running?
The Office of Sheriff is a natural progression of my career path, I have been essentially been preparing for this my entire life. The job is a culmination of all of my skill sets, I have always served the public and this will be the ultimate way to do so. I feel my skills are needed because I have the proven experience to lead LEOs, the experience to manage a department, create budgets and make command decisions. I have already formed a narcotics unit once before so for me to do so sets me apart from all the other candidates, As does my firefighting and EMT experience, What do you feel are the biggest problems facing our community today? What would you do to help solve those issues?
Keeping crime from the nearby metropolitan areas from infiltrating our community, to protect and maintain our quality of life and maintain the small towns feel of every part of Bryan County.
To address the growing opioid problem which faces every community, I feel that we must help those addicted and severely pursue those enabling their addictions. I want to equip every patrol unit with First responder trained deputies who can if needed administer Narcan, you can’t arrest everybody and you can’t help them if they die from an overdose. Another reason for having deputies who can render aid is the very nature of Bryan County, it’s big and spread out in two distinct sections, North and South.
More times than not when something bad happens, a fire, industrial mishap, traffic accident, etc. happens, the first to arrive is usually a BCSO deputy. To be on scene when a person or persons need immediate attention and to not have the skills, training and equipment to render that aid is a helpless feeling. I have no aim to have them serve as EMT’s, but if they can prolong a life until the EMT’s arrive, it will be worth it. The cost is minimal and the results are immeasurable.
Morale within the Office suffers because of perceived unfair hiring, promotion, compensation, and duty assignments, this can be remedied by developing a clear cut, in writing career path for those working within the BCSO. One of the largest expenses in any LEO is turnover, if we give our deputies and other workers a clearly defined path from their first day through retirement, we will have better retention, lower comprehensive training costs and be able to offer more competitive salaries as a result.
The BCSO is not state neither certified nor accredited; this hurts because there are funding sources available to garner new equipment, advanced training and more if the department was certified, it can also help lower costs because of liability costs.
I will add another commander to the department to oversee the certification process, working with the community crime prevention groups and to help develop an inhouse training program.
Mark Crowe Age 51
Education: Graduated Bryan County High School, attended Ogeechee Technical College, attended the Georgia Police Academy at Armstrong Atlantic College, attended the Georgia Chief Executives Training Course, received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo University.
Work Background: Began working in Public Safety in 1986 with the Pembroke/ Bryan County Fire Department.
Began working with Emergency Services as an Emergency Medical Technician in 1990. In 1994 completed Paramedics training; In 1997 began working with the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office; Assignments included; Patrol Officer, Traffic Enforcement/Drug Interdiction, K-9 Handler, Search and Rescue Diver, Undercover Drug Operations, and Civil Process Server. In 2009 became the Chief of Police of the Pembroke Police Department. In 2013 returned to the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office.
Volunteer Organizations: Current chairman of the Canoochee EMC Roundup Foundation; Past board member of the Coastal Georgia Walk to Emmaus Board of Directors; emcee and volunteer for the CURE Foundation/ Catie’s Fund; past emcee and volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life; Elder and Member of the Board of Directors for the Pembroke Christian Church.
Why are you running?
For many years now I have prepared myself to run for the office of the Sheriff. It is my passion to lead and guide others to be the best they can be in field of law enforcement. My years of service, experience, knowledge, and compassion have given me the skills necessary to be a good leader. I am running because the members of the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department need someone who is willing to stand up for them, one who is not absorbed with self interest but who is concerned about the well being of his or her staff. I am running for Sheriff because Bryan County deserves good, honest, Christian leadership and a person who is approachable and who is willing to listen, address citizen concerns and complaints, and make the changes that are needed for the betterment of the department and community.
What do you feel are the biggest problems facing our community today?
I feel that prescription drug dependency is among the concerns in our community and that bullying seems to be a great issue, not only in our schools but on social media as well. However, community trust in our law enforcement personnel seems to continue to be one of the major issues we are facing today.
What would you do to help solve those issues?
Some of you may not know that the Atlantic Judicial Circuit that serves Bryan County already has a Drug Court which is housed in Liberty County, operated by DATE funds, and overseen by Superior Court Judge Jay Stewart, so as Sheriff I would not need to establish a court that is already in service. As Sheriff, I would concentrate my efforts on working with the Drug Enforcement Agency to identify the Physicians and the locations of pain clinics, pill mills, or legitimate doctor’s offices in our area, where the majority of Opioid drug prescriptions are being written. Once these are Identified I would work with the DEA to close these locations and to arrest those who are responsible for issuing falsified or illegitimate prescriptions.
Regarding bullying, as your next Sheriff, I hope that with the blessings of the BOE to assign a Deputy (SRO) to each of the ten public schools in Bryan County. In addition, I plan to work with the BOE to implement programs into every public school. Programs like DARE, CHAMPS, PROJECT ALERT, and other programs designed to help students resist drugs, make better decisions, and communicate anti-bullying initiatives.
In addition, I plan to engage the community, be open and transparent, and always available. I plan to connect with the people in this community and to build trust through open lines of communication with all citizens. I plan to work hand in hand with every other leader in our community, to make Bryan County and the Sheriff’s Office the very best in service to its citizens that it can be.
I’m Mike Maxwell, candidate for Sheriff of Bryan County. My professional career began when I joined the United States Army. I proudly served my country in communication, electronic, and warfare intelligence as a paratrooper in the elite 82nd Airborne Division.
Once I left the Army, I was a demolition supervisor specializing in asbestos abatement. My duties consisted of budgeting, job bidding, payroll, and overseeing that work environment standards were met and maintained. I then moved to Savannah, started a small business, met my wife Wendy, and moved to the wonderful small-town community of Richmond Hill in 1995.
Once arriving in Richmond Hill, I enrolled in the police academy, received my P.O.S.T. certification, and began my career with the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office. At the same time my wife, Wendy, and I raised four children: Landon, Lauren, Logan, and Noah. While raising our children, we immersed ourselves into the community. Wendy started and ran her own business, Soiree by Maxwell Designs, and volunteered at the schools through P.T.S.O. functions and fundraisers. I began coaching baseball at the South Bryan Recreation, served as a member of Bryan County Family Connections, The Drug Free Coalitions, and the Bryan County Opioid Prevention Project. My family and I have also been very active in our local parish at St. Anne Catholic Church. There Wendy and I have been active on Parish Council and Knights of Columbus, and our children participated in CCD, choir, and youth groups.
Now, to my platform and what I will do as Sheriff. I believe that the driving force for crime in this community is the daily drug activity. It is our biggest issue.
My approach to battling drugs in Bryan County is 100% community-based.
Protecting our children and our families will take a multi-departmental, all-hands-on- deck approach. First, I will establish a Bryan County Drug Task Force composed of local law enforcement to address the drugs in our county full time. Combating drug use and the sale of drugs, however, requires that we provide pathways to recovery and treatment for addicts. I will work with our Solicitor, State Court Judge, and our Superior Court Judges to advocate for and help create a Drug and Alcohol Court in Bryan County. This court will not only provide an opportunity for people to receive a second chance for a better future, but also help those who are in need of long term rehabilitation.
A second major issue we must tirelessly address is the current growth in our community, for which the Sheriff’s Department must plan and grow. The continuing growth our county is experiencing is challenging, and our office must keep up.
Currently, in the Pembroke patrol area we have one deputy for every 3,300 citizens.
In the Richmond Hill patrol area, we have one deputy for every 8,300 citizens.
I believe this lack of deputies, simply, is inadequate to properly serve and protect Bryan County. I pledge to lower this deputy to citizens ratio to one deputy per every 2,500 citizens. Having this formula in place will allow the Sheriff’s Department to provide all of the necessary services our community demands and still provide an effective patrol to ensure better response time, better residential coverage, and overall better service.
I wholeheartedly believe that I am the best candidate to lead our Sheriff’s Department. Being in the unique position of having been a Lieutenant or Captain of the office for 22 of my 24 years in Bryan County law enforcement, I know our strengths and I know the areas which are in need of improvements. I encourage you to visit my website www.ElectMaxwell-Sheriff.com or my Facebook page to view my videos where I explain my platform in greater detail. And remember, please vote Mike Maxwell for Sheriff