Candidates participate in forumPublished 9:15pm Thursday, July 19, 2012
All but one of the candidates involved in contested local races in the July 31 general primary election took part in a political forum held Thursday night at the Kirbo Center.
In attendance were both candidates for sheriff, five people running for two County Board of Commissioners seats and four people running for two Board of Education seats. Winston Rollins, the incumbent in the race for the Board of Education District 3 seat, was invited by The Post-Searchlight but did not attend.
About 100 people were in the audience for Thursday’s forum, which lasted approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Both candidates for sheriff, incumbent Wiley Griffin and challenger Brock Washington, agreed that usage of illegal drugs is the biggest type of crime in Decatur County. Griffin said he believed it was important for local leaders to try and reduce the demand for drugs and foster a better work ethic in young people. Washington said he was interested in implementing an “early intervention program” that might involve convicts speaking to youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
On the topic of how they believed they are qualified to run a large budget at the Sheriff’s Office, both Griffin and Washington referred to their prior business experience. Washington said he would work to eliminate any wasteful spending that might exist and control employees’ overtime. Griffin said that when he was first elected Sheriff in 1999, the Sheriff’s Office had 57 employees — it has 71 now. He claimed the department’s current budget was essentially the same level as it was in 1999, factoring in a rise in inflation.
County Board of Commissioners
The three candidates for County Board of Commissioners District 5, Democrats Russell Smith and Max Bryant and Republican Terry Ellis, each gave their opinion on the idea of opening up the county landfill to waste from Tallahassee and Leon County, Fla., to generate more revenue.
Bryant, who will face off against Smith in the July 31 primary, said he was concerned that accepting the large municipalities’ waste would open up the county to both environmental and financial liabilities. He said he was also concerned about reducing the amount of available landfill space for Decatur County’s own waste.
Ellis, who will face the winner of the July primary between Smith and Bryant, said he was familiar with Leon County Commissioners’ discussion of the idea to send trash to Decatur County and said he was concerned negotiations were not being done properly. He asked whether the county would charge a high enough price for the service to make it worthwhile.
Smith noted that the landfill is now generating a profit for the county, whereas it used to operate at a loss. He said that because the county had recently acquired 600 acres of additional land adjacent to the landfill, he believed the county would have adequate space to accommodate waste from Leon County and continue to generate revenue for the county.
One thing that Smith, Bryant and Ellis did agree on was their opposition to the proposed T-SPLOST tax for transportation. All three essentially stated they did not feel the method by which the tax’s revenues would be allocated for local projects was fair to individual counties.
BOE District 1
Debbie Elkins, a candidate for the Board of Education District 1 seat that was vacated by Clarissa Kendrick, shared her ideas in response to a question about how local schools could adequately prepare students for college. Elkins said she believed the new Common Core Curriculum that will be implemented starting with the 2012-2013 school year will help. The Common Core Curriculum is a set of learning standards developed and adopted by most of the United States, with the aim of having students in different states know the same things when they complete a certain grade. Elkins said technology should also be used to enable teachers to get feedback on how well their teaching methods are reaching students.
Both Elkins and her opponent, Kelvin Bouie, said they were generally opposed to using furlough days — in which school employees stay at home without pay — as a method of cutting the school system’s budget.
When asked how he would increase parental involvement in schools, Bouie said he believed the board should “reach out to people in the community” by getting pastors and other leaders to help foster interest in schools.
Elkins said she believed the school board’s Web site is already offering more resources for parents but said she believed school leaders should work to create an environment at every school where “children feel cared for and parents feel welcome.”
BOE District 3
Asked whether she believed hiring practices in the school system were fair, Board of Education District 3 candidate Michele Miller said she believed there was some nepotism, or favoritism, going on not only in Decatur County but also in other places.
“I don’t agree with it and I’d like to make sure that when we are hiring, everything is looked at,” Miller said. “If a candidate has both the credentials and experience for the job, they should go to the top of the list.”
Miller’s opponent, George Washington, acknowledged there have been some problems with citizens complaining about unfair hiring practices. He said the Board of Education could address that by striving to be more transparent in their decision-making and better inform the public about how hiring decisions are made.
Washington said he opposed the Board of Education raising its millage rate and said he would focus on increasing the operating efficiency of schools. Miller said she believed the current board “did what they thought they could do,” but said she believed there could be more savings in the system’s budget.
County commissioners and open meetings
The candidates for Board of Commissioners District 3, incumbent Dr. Charles Stafford and challenger Dennis Brinson, were asked about the board’s habit of holding closed sessions during their meetings and whether or not they would participate in a closed session that violated Georgia’s open meetings law.
Both Stafford and Brinson said they would not participate in an illegal meeting. Generally speaking, government boards in Georgia can only hold closed session for purposes outlined in law, such as discussing real estate acquisition, pending litigation or a personnel matter. Stafford said the reason the current board had held numerous closed sessions was because it had recently faced “significant issues” that fell under the exemptions outlined by state law.
In his closing statement, Ellis — a Republican candidate for Board of Commissioners District 5 — alluded to commissioners’ closed sessions and promised he would not participate in any if he were elected and would resign if he did so.
In his closing statement, Bryant said he would like to see citizens have more input into the workings of county government.
“Commissioners should focus on listening to people and cut out any personal agendas,” Bryant said. “‘If you let the sunshine in, things will start to grow.’ We’ve been left out of the process for so long.”
In his closing statement, Stafford said his two main goals if re-elected were to continue to work on economic development and “bring the county forward in its community relations.”
Brinson said he would focus on “putting people back to work” and that he wanted “to be part of a team that works together.”