Putnam Sheriff Sills honored by peers

Veteran lawman named 2013 Sheriff of the Year

lfabian@macon.comSeptember 26, 2013 

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills not only has a reputation for being tough on law-breakers, he can be just as hard on lawmakers.

The immediate past president of the Georgia Sheriffs Association was honored as the organization’s 2013 Sheriff of the Year at a luncheon Thursday.

When Jones County Sheriff Butch Reece offered to host a barbecue, Sills imagined a small gathering behind Reece’s jail. What he got was a pavilion full of political powerhouses at the Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve.

“Who says I don’t have friends at the Capitol?” Sills asked as he took the stage before hundreds of colleagues, elected officials, judges and friends. “Look around here, now. There’s all manner of senators and representatives here, so they don’t hate me near as much as you thought they did.”

J. Terry Norris, the association’s executive director, said Sills was selected for the second time as Sheriff of the Year for his “tireless efforts in helping people understand the role of sheriff and helping with legislative issues at the General Assembly. He was also Sheriff of the Year in 2008.

The Eatonton native, who has nearly 40 years in law enforcement, is known as a fierce advocate for evaluating whether proposed legislation is in the best interest of public safety and local taxpayers.

“People tend to glaze over the fact that we as taxpayers pay for the office of sheriff, whose duties are defined by legislators,” Norris said.

For example, lawmakers mandated sex offender registries at a great cost to sheriff’s offices, he said. Sills currently is fighting legislators’ efforts to make it more difficult for law officers to seize drug dealers’ assets, funds that can purchase valuable equipment when budgets fall short.

In his remarks, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the state needs more people such as Sills, who stand up for what they feel is right.

“There is no one who fights for his community, that represents law and order better than Howard Sills,” said Cagle. “He’s going to tell you what he thinks, but it’s not based on selfish motives. It’s really based on a conviction that he has, and the respect and the appreciation of the office of sheriff.”

When Reece welcomed guests, he repeated some advice he was given after the election.

“The former sheriff said to kill an alligator and put on the hide, because I’d have to be a tough SOB,” Reece said.

Although he joked that Sills must have been selected in some “crooked election,” Reece privately said Sills is a “sheriff’s sheriff.”

“There are not any words to describe the tiger,” Reece said of the top lawman in neighboring Putnam County for the past 17 years. “If you’re a sheriff, he’s been able to put a little jump in our step. He’s been a great president.”

Reece’s wife, Linda, baked 19 cakes for the lunch on Brother Stewart’s lakefront property. Her husband and his deputies barbecued a 200-pound hog, smoked dozens of chickens and put on quite a spread -- all paid for by donations.

“No taxpayer money was used,” Reece said.

Sills asked that his portrait poster be given to his former boss, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee, whose “favorite thing to say about me was, ‘If he could have a bucket of nickels big as my head, he’d be a millionaire,” Sills said. “By God, that head there would hold a lot of nickels.”

At least four of the Georgia’s Supreme Court justices were at the gathering, as was Ocmulgee District Attorney Fred Bright.

“There’s nobody I’d rather sit with me at counsel table than Sheriff Sills,” Bright said.

On the eve of closing arguments, Sills shares his own version behind closed doors with the DA.

“He has taught me more about how to really give a closing argument,” Bright said. “He’s the master of one-line zingers.”

Sills choked up a little when telling everyone how humbled he was by their attendance.

“I’m getting real emotional in my old age,” the 57-year-old said. “But liquor will make it go away, though.”

Rumors had been flying about why he was being honored.

“Everybody thought I was running for something, I was retiring or dying. I checked for snipers good when I rode in,” he joked before being serious. “It was a great honor and I appreciate it.”

To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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