When Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, former Hall County Sheriff Dick Mecum figured his days as the U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Georgia were likely numbered.
Mecum, the first Republican elected to countywide office in Hall when he won the 1980 sheriff’s race, knows as well as anyone that the hiring process for his current job, which requires a nomination by the president and confirmation by the Senate for four-year terms, is highly partisan.
So Mecum acknowledged this week that he’s somewhat surprised that almost a year after a Democrat took office in the White House, he’s still a marshal.
“I’m just doing the job and trying to hang in there and keep things running,” said Mecum, who believes it is doubtful he will end up serving as marshal for the length of Obama’s term.
Mecum heads up the busiest of Georgia’s three marshal’s offices. The Atlanta-based Northern District of Georgia also includes federal courthouses in Gainesville, Rome and Newnan. The U.S. marshal is in charge of supporting federal courts through security, transporting criminal defendants, serving writs and orders, making arrests and searching for fugitives, among other duties.
Mecum, 69, figured if Republican John McCain was elected president he would have served out another four years in the job he’s held since he was nominated by George W. Bush in 2002. But with a Democrat in the White House, he’s looking toward retirement in the near future. How soon is anyone’s guess, though Mecum says he’ll likely know about a nominee months before an official announcement.
Congressional approval for some posts in the U.S. Department of Justice have been slow-going, with just nine new nominees out of 94 U.S. marshal posts confirmed by the Senate in 2009.
In Georgia, the White House nominee for U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Sally Q. Yates, was announced on Christmas Eve, four months after former U.S. Attorney David Nahmias left the job for a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court. Willie Lee Richardson Jr. was nominated as marshal for the Macon-based Middle District of Georgia in November, and former Savannah police officer Stephen James Smith was confirmed by the Senate as marshal for the Southern District of Georgia last week.
But nearly a year into Obama’s term, there has been little movement on nominating a Democrat to take Mecum’s place in the Northern District.
One likely reason is that the first choice of Georgia’s Democratic congressional delegation turned down the offer.
Mecum confirmed that DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown declined to have his name submitted to the White House for the marshal’s job.
Brown, who is believed to be considering a run for Congress, did not return messages left by The Times.
Mecum pointed to the stringent vetting process for any candidate for the job as another potential hold-up.
“The difficulty that you run into with it is the background checks that are involved,” he said. “It goes beyond intensive — it becomes intrusive. So there are some people who don’t want to mess with that.”
In addition, the FBI, which conducts the background checks, has other pressing duties, Mecum said.
“They’re focusing on terrorism right now, so that’s taking a lot away from their ability to do backgrounds, I’m sure,” he said. “It’s slowed the process down considerably.”
Mecum said he’s trying to not let the uncertainty surrounding how much longer he stays in the job detract from his duties, which include coordinating with Georgia’s two other districts in the Southeastern Regional Fugitive Task Force.
“There’s still a lot of things we’ve got in the mix here now, and my primary concern is to keep those things going and keep them running smoothly,” he said. “That’s the main thing, and I think that’s what they expect of me more than anything else.”