New Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dick Mecum is returning to elected office in the area after first being elected as sheriff in 1980.
Mecum, who defeated former board Chairman Tom Oliver in an August primary runoff, said his goal is to make the county government transparent, accountable and responsible. His top priorities are providing good service to the public and providing employees the tools they need to be more efficient and productive. He wants to tackle the county’s finances, reducing debt and encouraging economic development. Friends and former colleagues describe Mecum as someone who’s extremely dedicated and “a cop’s cop.”
“Business is in the business of turning a profit,” Mecum said. “Government is different. Government is in the business to provide a service.”
Mecum said he wants to review current special purpose local option sales tax balances and spending to see where the county stands on those projects, he said. He said he’s concerned about the amount of debt the county has because of the two Mulberry Creek sewer infrastructure projects, which don’t currently have customers using the pipelines.
“People know there’s a serious problem,” he said.
County employees have been kicked to the curb, Mecum said. He was glad that furloughs were discontinued at the end of December because he was going to end them, he said. The county’s retirement system is a mess financially, he said.
Mecum has a unique background. He’s been in law enforcement as a patrol officer, trainer, sheriff and a U.S. marshal. The new chairman took office as sheriff in 1981 as the first Republican elected in Hall County. He said his wife talked him into running because he was making more money as a trainer at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. He said he was also talked into running for board of commissioners chairman.
“My wife kept saying ‘You need to run for sheriff,’” he said. “I had never run for anything in my life.”
The cost of his first campaign for sheriff was $7,000. He served three terms, with his last campaign for the office in 1988 costing more than $70,000. Part of his election strategy was to stand on street corners waving to people driving by and making direct eye contact with them.
“You can talk to people and never say a word just by looking them in the eye,” he said. “You want that connection, That’s true in politics even today.”
Hall County had about 75,000 people living within its borders in his time as sheriff and had just 66 inmates, Mecum said. It was growing and feeling pressure from the growth of Atlanta. He brought a lot of young people into the sheriff’s office with little or no law enforcement experience, but they were eager to help the department move forward.
“The crime had gone through the ceiling,” Mecum said. “Accidents and death rates on roads were terrible, burglars were out of sight; it was bad.”
There were a lot of gangs then and the department approached crime aggressively. Among his officers are Col. Tony Carter, chief deputy of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, and Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix. Mecum said he wanted to remake the office to provide better service to the public and create an atmosphere where people could succeed. As sheriff, he modernized and reorganized the department, according to the Hall County website.
Officers throughout the department underwent much more extensive training, and patrol districts and precinct stations were established in Clermont, Flowery Branch and Lula.
“Everything we did was focused around training,” he said.
Carter said he’s worked with six sheriffs in his career and Mecum is one of the best he’s worked for. Mecum knew about all the aspects of law enforcement and deputies were well trained and had the proper equipment to do their jobs.
“When something bad happened, he was there with you,” Carter said.
Former Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic brought Carter, who retired in 2004, back to the department in 2011.
Carter will resume his retirement later this month after helping with the transition of newly elected Sheriff Gerald Couch.
Cronic said he has known Mecum for about 30 years and they both attend Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville.
He worked with the former sheriff closely after Mecum was appointed a U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Georgia in 2002. Mecum gave the sheriff’s department support when it was needed, Cronic said, and was always very accessible. Mecum was one of the people Cronic said he talked to before running for sheriff in 2000.
“He’s dedicates himself to anything he does,” Cronic said. “I’ve admired him over the years.”
When Mecum left the sheriff’s office in 1992, he started his own security company, which he sold in 1998. He was a federal marshal from 2002 to 2010. As a marshal, Mecum provided protection for federal judges and Supreme Court justices. He also hunted fugitives and oversaw hundreds of federal inmates. He helped transport convicted bomber Eric Rudolph to courts in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta.
“Drove the media crazy because I won’t tell them where we were going to land,” he said.
Despite the county’s financial challenges, Mecum said Hall County is “sitting on a gold mine.”
“I’m going to be pushing on economic development,” he said.
He’s talked to local schools about getting good labor into the county and building a foundation for well-paying jobs.
“We should be a lot further ahead than where we are now and we’re not,” he said.
“Everyone in the county realizes where I’m coming from,” Mecum said. “They know exactly what I’m going to do.”