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Couch beats Strickland in sheriff's race

POSTED: August 21, 2012 9:23 p.m.

Despite Jeff Strickland’s support from Steve Cronic, it will be Gerald Couch who succeeds Cronic as Hall County sheriff on Jan. 1.

Couch handily won a Republican primary runoff election Tuesday, grabbing 55.6 percent of the county’s vote to beat Strickland, who had slightly more support than Couch in the primary.

The race to be Hall County’s next sheriff never drew a Democrat or a third-party candidate. And, barring a successful write-in candidate, Couch will automatically take office in January.

He said he will get to work immediately to improve the law enforcement agency’s relationship with the community and establish a clear mission for the agency.

Couch also vowed to work with the Hall County Board of Commissioners to make the agency more efficient, to eliminate furloughs for sheriff’s deputies and to restore benefits to agency employees.

“We have got to take care of our greatest assets and that’s our employees who deliver the services to the citizens,” Couch said.

Strickland, the agency’s former chief deputy who had risen to the rank of colonel in his 28 years, did not return messages left by The Times on Tuesday.

The two men had been the top vote-getters in a July 31 primary, each winning more than 30 percent of the vote with three other contenders on the Republican ballot.

Strickland, who was second in command of the agency before his October 2011 retirement to focus on his campaign, often touted his rank during the campaign, saying he had a “higher level of experience” than Couch.

Strickland came out of the July 31 primary some 516 votes ahead of Couch.

But after three more weeks of campaigning, Couch more than overcame the margin, beating Strickland by 2,000-plus votes.

Couch attributed the victory to efforts he made to reach out to voters who had not supported him in July. He said he went door-to-door in neighborhoods that voted in precincts where he previously lost.

The strategy left Couch feeling “pretty good” about what Tuesday’s results would be before the votes were tallied.

Couch, who worked at the agency for 30 years — two years longer than Strickland — retired last March to become the assistant chief of police in Gainesville. He quit that job eight months later to run for sheriff.

At a recent candidate forum, Couch called the decision to quit the job for the campaign “a huge leap of faith.”

And while the leap proved fruitful Tuesday, Couch said as sheriff he would rely on leaders who already worked for the agency, describing his leadership style as one based on “empowerment of employees.”

“The sheriff’s office is much larger than any one person,” he said. “You have to rely on all those other ranks to get the job done.”


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