O’Dillon firing marks end of an era - Oconee Enterprise: Online Features

     Watkinsville, Oconee County, Georgia

O’Dillon firing marks end of an era

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Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 6:00 pm

There has always been controversy and gossip in Watkinsville but mostly in small doses, just enough to draw comparisons to the fictional town of Mayberry. Police Chief Lee O’Dillon reminded many a visitor of Andy Griffith: welcoming, neighborly and often chatty. He exuded “small town America” with an outwardly attitude of goodwill infused with just the right amount of gossipy tendencies.

Except there is no “right amount” of gossipy tendencies for someone in his position. Those kind of quirky towns characterized by eccentric personalities exist only in movies and TV. 

O’Dillon treated Watkinsville quite informally, almost like it was impervious to real tragedy. Did he think that the city could just hum along with minimal preparation for the horrors of violent crime? Behind his do-gooder demeanor was a policeman with an old fashioned approach to small-town policing.

There is no doubt Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon clashed with O’Dillon the minute Shearon took office. Shearon has many goals for the city, but in broad terms, his ultimate goal is to propel Watkinsville into the future. 

Shearon is preserving some of Watkinsville’s charm, like downtown art and pedestrian pathways, but he also wants to purge inefficiencies by uprooting Watkinsville’s insular, small-potatoes character. Shearon denies hiring an overqualified code enforcement officer with the purpose of auditing the police department, but the fact remains that after only several months on the job, that code enforcement officer essentially audited the police department. 

And after successfully ousting the police chief, Watkinsville will soon hire a city administrator for the first time in its history. 

Shearon’s newfound reputation for leaving no stone unturned has earned him respect from some and resistance from others. 

He is right to modernize the Police Department in a time when law enforcement officers are scrutinized when they have to use deadly force. 

“The agency generally functions on practices and shortcuts, most of which have not evolved over time,” Code Enforcement Officer and de facto auditor Steve Davis said in his summary of the investigation. “Written policies and procedures, a standard fixture in most law enforcement agencies, were minimal at Watkinsville Police Department under O’Dillon.”

The danger posed by these policy deficiencies was not something the mayor and city council would tolerate. 

When children are being abused and criminals refuse to cooperate, the smallest weakness in a police force 

may very well result in a preventable tragedy. 

Watkinsville is evolving into something that no longer resembles the easygoing, folksy days of old. We now live in a time of vigilance and preparation, and most of all, professionalism. 

 For more on this coverage, see the Oct. 25 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, go to oconeeenterprise.comor call (706) 769-5175.

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