If you’ve met Ira Edwards even once, you know he loves being Clarke County sheriff.
He basks in the pomp and circumstance – sporting the dress uniform, marshaling graduations, glad-handing community leaders. He loves the ceremonial.
But when challenges arise, his dedication gets shaky. He either offers up empty excuses and bad reasoning or simply disappears, shrinking behind his subordinates.
We saw it when he was caught up in a phone system used to spy on calls between inmates and their lawyers. Or when he pitched a $58 million jail destined to doom the county’s SPLOST vote. Or in the recent jail escape.
Now we’re seeing it in the fallout from the questionable dismissal of Brett Hart, a former Clarke County Jail commander who was investigating a controversial religious sect’s infiltration of the jail.
That’s explosive stuff. So you would think this is no time for Edwards to hide behind his “empowerment management style” (as he described it in this newspaper last week). He needs to lead from the front on this one.
That’s why his name is on the letterhead. That’s why he’s sheriff.
But I don’t think you’re going to see it.
Edwards denies Hart’s firing had anything to do with his investigation. Now if you look at the timeline of events, that excuse is shaky at best.
But Edwards doesn’t want any part of it.
And who can blame him?
You remember the Nuwaubians, a religious sect headed by Malachi, into which he incorporated aspects of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Egyptian mysticism and space monsters. Now this guy has claimed to be a lot of things – a god, a comet-riding alien, a multi-reincarnated “Master Teacher.” He even unsuccessfully argued he was an American Indian.
As you might guess, none are true.
Simply stated, Malachi is a huckster, a showman, a slick, snappily dressed leader of a cult. Picture Liberace meets David Koresh.
His world came crashing down two years ago when he was convicted on 11 counts of child molestation and racketeering. He was sentenced to 135 years in prison.
Listen, few tears were shed when this guy was put away. But not only do some still love the man, they are working for his release.
And thanks to a collection of letters to Malachi obtained by the Athens Banner-Herald, we see that some of these folks might be working in the Clarke County Jail.
These letters – some directly from a Clarke County deputy, several others from the home addresses of deputies, but attributed to different names – spooked me. Each read with this eerie childlike glee, a combination of ignorance, gullibility and frighteningly blinded allegiance.
One dated Feb. 25 reads: “It’s me Robbie. I miss you so much, so much, so much. … Baba I feel so good when I write you like soooo good. You are my sunshine …”
Another dated March 2 reads: “They may think we are at our weakest but really the tree is merely being shaken and the nation is being purged only to be stronger with your return to us.”
Another, one of two directly from a jail deputy, dated April 16 reads: “I am a deputy for Clarke County, working in the jail. I have still managed to propagate our doctrine to many of the inmates there. The administration of the jail really doesn’t want our books in the jail but they can’t stop Pops ;-) I have many scrolls circulating in the jail. The irony is that everyday I work there, though, makes me realize more and more that YOU DON’T BELONG IN PRISON!”
I’m not sure a winky-eye emoticon is the best selection for a convicted child molester. Anyway, after what Malachi pulled, I can’t say I miss him so much, so much, so much. Not many of us do.
But I do have a problem with jailers corresponding with federal inmates. So should you. And so should our sheriff.
However, he’s shrinking away again. “The sheriff’s office investigated allegations of violations of policy involving communication with convicted felons and after consultation with counsel concluded that there were no policy violations,” Edwards wrote us last week.
Really? Because if the sheriff is reading the same thing I am, then he might need to look a little deeper. Something potentially this big cannot be delegated off.
I know this kind of thing isn’t his favorite part of the job. But it is his job to do.
• Jason Winders is executive editor of the Athens Banner-Herald.
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