Candidates make introductions, answer questions from audience

Published 8:40 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Candidates running in local elections had the opportunity to share their platforms and answer questions from the audience during a forum held at Greater Macedonia Baptist Church Monday.

Mediated by former county commissioner Glenda Battle, the forum allowed each candidate five minutes to share their background and mission statements for their campaigns. The event was closed out with a 30-minute Q&A session.

A question was asked to the three candidates for superior court judge, Mike Bankston, Heather Lanier and Ryan Cleveland, on how they would handle judging DUI cases if they had one pending for themselves.

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The question alluded to Bankston’s arrest on a DUI charge in December 2015.

“First of all I don’t have a DUI, and I wasn’t at fault for the wreck that occurred,” Bankston said. “A transfer truck ran a red light and hit me. My experience in that arena is another life experience that I bring with me. I have been in law practice for 31 years, I have a broad range of experience, and this is another. Typically, superior court judges don’t handle DUI cases, they handle felony cases. I don’t think it would have any effect on me and my ability to sit as a superior court judge.”

According to the Georgia State Patrol incident report for Bankston’s case, he was under the influence at the time of arrest and his vehicle struck the side of the transfer truck as it ran the red light.

Lanier answered, “Any case that comes before me, I will review it, I will follow the law and I will treat the person fairly and within the bounds of the law based on all the circumstances. I will put any personal feelings I may have aside, because the person coming into the courtroom deserves fairness. If any place we deserve fairness and equality, it should be in a courtroom in front of a judge.”

Cleveland stated that as current city solicitor and former state court solicitor, he has seen many DUI cases cross his desk.

“I have had the opportunity to evaluate cases on its merits, with attorneys or without attorneys I’ve been known to look at the facts and what is right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,” Cleveland said. “If the facts are there, I discuss with law enforcement. I think it is very essential to discuss and refer to law enforcement whenever possible, and help them understand their roles and do what I think is right at the end of the day.”

Battle asked the candidates running for county commissioner seats about the proposed healthcare plan between the city, county and hospital, and if it was the best use of taxpayers’ dollars.

“As it was presented at the county commissioners meeting, it appears it will indeed improve the medical care and will save taxpayers $176,000 annually,” said District 2 candidate Doug Griffin.

Incumbent County Commission Chairman Dennis Brinson, who is unopposed, said, “I think it will be a great opportunity to merge those things. Ever since we selected a new county administrator, relations with between our county and city governments have been a whole lot better. That is just one of the ways we have worked together to bring some solidarity to our citizens.”

A question was asked to Dan Stone and Maggie Rentz Smith, who are running for magistrate judge, on whether there is an advantage to previous law enforcement experience and whether that would or wouldn’t affect their ability to do their job fairly.

“I have practiced both civil and criminal law,” Smith said. “A lot of what helps you as an attorney in court is knowing the evidence code. More than just knowing the laws by heart, knowing what code section is what crime, is having the training and experience in doing research and legal facts. To me, that’s what the benefit of being an attorney is. All magistrates are not attorneys, but having one is a good choice.”

Stone said, “In the state of Georgia, most magistrates are not attorneys. I have experience in both civil and criminal law. I have had lawyers come to my classes on evidence handling, how to apply laws to statutes. I have been teaching it for 20 years. I have lawyers that come to me and ask me questions.”

Stone, a police officer himself, added that he would be harder on officers getting warrants because he knows what is necessary to include in warrants and how serious it is to take a resident’s freedom.

A question was asked from a resident that described himself as “satisfied” with the current incumbents of the tax commissioner, clerk of courts and coroner offices on what newcomers to the jobs would bring differently.

“I’ll bring something new to the table,” tax commissioner candidate Mark Harrell said, “by bringing the office up to today’s standards by improving access and having new information online instead of having to drive to the courthouse.”

Tax commissioner incumbent Don Belcher countered that he had an online service that would be up in running in June that would allow residents to do all their taxes from their homes.

Coroner incumbent Kenny Hollis vowed to improve access to records, and coroner candidate Sonja Noble said she would like to update systems and keep the office professional.

Clerk of Courts candidate Revonn Miller said training would be important to her if she were elected.

“I think with all of these jobs, training is a component when you get in office,” Miller said. “Training is vital. I believe its 40 hours of training after you get into office (for the clerk of courts).”

Clerk of courts incumbent Cecilia Willis said she would continue her mission to make the clerk officer “your office” and keep it as accessible as possible.

The Primary Election is next Tuesday, May 24.