Lowndes residents protest new sheriff
HAYNEVILLE (AP) — More than 60 people gathered at the Lowndes County Courthouse Wednesday to protest Gov. Bob Riley’s appointment of a white law enforcement officer to be the sheriff in the predominantly black county.
It was the first day on the job for new Sherriff Charlie W. “Chip” Williams, who was appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to replace Sheriff Willie Vaughner, who died last month of an apparent heart attack.
County Commission President Charlie King Jr., who attended the rally, said later that all five county commissioners and other elected officials in the county had recommended Riley appoint chief deputy John Williams sheriff. John Williams is a 28-year veteran of the department.
“Not only did the governor not follow our recommendation, he didn’t call us to give an explanation why he made the appointment,” King said.
Chip Williams was defeated last year by Vaughner in the Democratic primary. He is a former sheriff’s deputy in Lowndes county and most recently was employed as a supervisor for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. He will serve the remaining 31/2 years of Vaughner’s term and has promised to run for election in 2010.
Chip Williams told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story on its Web site that he hopes critics of his appointment will reserve final judgment.
“The department has some good employees. If people give me a chance, I think they’ll see we’re going to do the job,” the sheriff told the Advertiser. He said John Williams has accepted his offer to remain as chief deputy.
King said many in the crowd Wednesday felt that Riley had racial motivation for appointing Chip Williams, who is white, rather than John Williams, who is black.
Tara Hutchison, a Riley spokeswoman, said the governor did not consider race in making the selection.
“Governor Riley picked the candidate he felt was the most qualified for the position. Chip Williams has years of law enforcement experience,” Hutchison said. “The governor did not use race as any kind of determining factor. He simply selected who he thought was the best candidate for the job.”
King said he would like to see a special election called to choose a new sheriff.
“Let them both get out there and let the people make the decision. You can’t get any fairer than that,” King said.
Hutchison said state law required the governor to appoint someone to serve as sheriff until the 2010 election.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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