The Walker County Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum Tuesday evening, June 19, at the Walker County Civic Center in Rock Spring. Nearly all of the 34 candidates for 14 separate races spanning Walker and Dade counties were in attendance, each speaking briefly on his or her qualifications for office as well as answering a question prepared by the Chamber.
The crowd of more than 200 public attendees packed the civic center auditorium for about two hours as the candidates each took a few minutes to speak, some opting to take an extra 30 seconds of rebuttal time as well to finish their statements or speak to what an opponent had said.
Incumbents, of which there are eleven in contested races, spoke on their experience in office, some for a decade or more, and asked that voters remember their service and dedication come election day July 31.
Below is reproduced the question asked of each candidate by the Chamber, followed by an excerpt of each candidate’s answer. Candidates are listed in each race in the randomly selected order in which they spoke at the forum.
Walker County commissioner
What is the best form of government for Walker County and why?
George Paul Shaw: “I want to be the last solo commissioner of Walker County. I want to move this county into the same type of government that not only surrounds us, but is practiced throughout the whole United States. That is a five-person commission. And I’d also do this during my second year in office, have a special election. We would have a resolution that people would serve two consecutive terms...I believe we can actually save money by having a five-person commission, because the commissioners are not paid what a solo commissioner is...We would have a county manager who would be on salary. He would be hired by the commission and could be fired by the commission and would report directly to them. There will be a county meeting when I’m elected the last Thursday of each month at seven o’clock in this room and people will be free to ask any question they want of their government...there will be no more nefertism [sic]...All of our bids would be sealed and they would be opened on this stage in front of everybody...right now there are no sealed bids that I can ascertain.”
Bebe Heiskell (incumbent): “I’ve had a lot of experience in government, and I think that a sole commissioner form of government is good for Walker County. Because of purported irresponsible government, there was a great demand for a change in the form of government in Walker County to a sole commissioner. Georgia laws of 1939 reflect that change...This office is about leadership. In a multi-member commission, leadership comes to the top. One member usually controls the commission and it is not always the chair. Multi-member commissions hire an executive director who tells the commission what the problems are, what the best answers are and the commission usually goes with the director’s advice. So a hired employee, not an elected official, is actually running their county...Sole commissioner forms of government are transparent. There is no buck-passing such as if you have a commissioner that represents your district in a multi-member commission, your district may want a project that is too expensive or not feasible. That commissioner that represents that district then says to the other commissioners, ‘I know we can’t do this, but I’m going to vote for it, so it will look like I support this in the community, but in fact if you vote against it, we won’t have to do it.’ And that happens. A sole commissioner doesn’t have that luxury and must take full responsibility, good or bad. The local media can testify that we take sealed bids and sign all legal documents in an advertised public meeting.”
Walker County sheriff
How important is experience in developing and managing budgets and in managing jail operations to this office?
Freddie Roden: “I feel like working between those two sheriff’s departments and those three sheriffs has given me a solid perspective on how the office ought to be operated efficiently and effectively. As to the question of developing and managing a budget, if I’m successful in my election bid, I will assume a budget that Mr. Wilson will do prior to me taking office, just as he did when he took office. He assumed a budget. Granted, there will be times when that budget needs to be tweaked, it will need to be looked at to see where a way can be found to be more efficient...The operation of the jail is very important for several reasons, your safety being number one...There’s documented cases where the back gate’s been left open along with the side door and inmates have escaped...I’ll do my best to prevent that from happening again. It will be maintained as a secure facility.”
Steve Wilson (incumbent): “I am the only candidate who has qualified to run for sheriff who has 23 years law enforcement management experience. I have written and managed 16 sheriff’s office budgets, and I have also written and managed three drug task force budgets prior to be elected sheriff...With a $6.7 million budget, almost a third of the county’s general fund budget, I have been able to keep that at 49.87 percent...The jail budget itself accounts for over a third of the sheriff’s department budget, and represents the largest division within the sheriff’s office...We have never had an escape from inside the jail since I’ve been sheriff. We’ve had walk-offs from work details where civilian workers were managing and overseeing inmates who were non-violent, most of them were misdemeanors and child support, but never a breakout from the jail.”
Billy Mullis: “I have approximately 23 years of law enforcement experience...After a stint in the army, I got out and went to work for sheriff Al Millard as a detention officer, which gave me a unique insight into working in the jail. I believe I am the only candidate which is jail-certified...Working in the jail will help you in dealing with the general public and also in dealing with inmates and people out on the streets who have questions about the jail, which I am very knowledgeable on...I performed the duties of a deputy sheriff for several years...I was accepted to go to Kosovo as an international police officer, where I spent two years there. While in Kosovo, it gave me an opportunity to experience handling, not a budget, but being in control of a large group of people. I started out with approximately 83 KPS officers, when I left I had 187 that I was responsible for...About two years ago, I was given the opportunity to serve as a school resource officer at LaFayette High School, where I have served since then. I believe I am the only candidate that is a police instructor and I am also a field training officer. These duties I have served will give me the knowledge to take the sheriff’s office into the future. Public education is very important. Though I have not dealt with a budget, we all deal with a budget at home, and it’s a learning lesson from time to time.”
Tim Westbrook: not in attendance
Georgia House of Representatives, District 1
Funding education that prepares our youth for global competition is one of the most challenging issues facing our society today. Do you support or oppose the state charter school amendment on the ballot in November?
Mike Nowlin: “I would be supportive of schools and, you know the schools need more money, but we’ve got to have people working to put more money into the schools. And education’s a very important thing to everybody...I want to be your representative. I want to go to Atlanta and work hard for you. Work on jobs for the next generation, because jobs are what we need now. Look at your kids’ and your grandkids’ future. What are they going to have?...I care about our next generation and I want to see them to do their very best, even better than we’ve had it. And schools I do support very well, because we have some of the finest teachers here that I know.”
Alan Painter: “When I was initially asked did I favor the charter school amendment, my litmus test was pretty simple: if I felt like that the education system for House District 1 was going well, then I would have voted against it, but...I’m going to be voting for it and I think we have an opportunity to not only unlock but unleash potential because, contrary to popular belief, charter schools are part of the public school system, and there are some folks that suggest that it does take assets or erode it away from the mainstream public school system. I like to think of it more as a new beginning.”
Tom McMahan: “It’s because of my experiences as a teacher that I’m strongly opposed to the charter school amendment. I have three reasons for this. The first reason is the issue of local control of schools. I firmly believe that oversight in the administration of schools must remain local, and that creation of a parallel school system, like the one this amendment proposes, one that would bypass our local school board and administrators and turn control of our schools over to for-profit management companies based not only out of our region but even out of our state, would be the death knell of one of the hallmarks of public education, and that is local control...The second reason I have is more of a logical argument against the framers of this amendment. They seem to believe that the problems our schools are having right now have to do with the structures of the schools themselves. But I can tell you, and any teacher who’s been in school any time can tell you, that the problems our schools are facing today, the major problems we’re facing, are problems of society that come into our schools. They’re problems involved with poverty, neglect, lack of discipline, lack of attention, and the unfortunate tendency in our culture to not value learning for learning’s sake enough. These and the other problems will not be solved by some fanciful restructuring of our schools...My third and final reason is financial, and can be summed up simply with a rhetorical question: In a state that currently does not even fully fund our existing schools, how in the world are we going to fully fund two sets of parallel schools?”
John Deffenbaug: “My issue with schools is not that one is better than the other, but right now we’re having a failing system...When you have 30 to 40 percent of your ninth graders not graduating, something isn’t right. I personally don’t know whether charter schools would answer all or any of those questions, but I think it’s worth reviewing. And we have right now every person who goes to the schools here is on a college track. And I don’t see that as every student should be on a college track. I think there are so many more ways to engage the students to try to keep them into school instead of trying to drive them away from school. And whenever you have a person that doesn’t like learning, that has trouble reading...that’s really what it is, engaging the student into a life of learning and a desire for learning. Whether it’s an electrician, whether it’s a plumber, whether it’s an IT person. And you can make good money. But you can’t make good money if you can’t get your high school degree. So we have to look at different views, and I don’t know that one’s going to be the only way to do, and I know that funding is always going to be a problem.”
Georgia House of Representatives, District 2
What goals do you hope to accomplish in the next two years if elected and which one motivated you the most to run for this office?
Steve Tarvin: “I’m running for this office for the same reason I ran for United States Congress. I see our government overreaching into our lives, and I think it’s time to put a stop to it...Here, the TSPLOST is supported by this organization [the Chamber]; I want you to know I’m against it...TSPLOT, the way it’s presented, is not good. You were threatened to put it on it ballot, punished if you didn’t, you’ll be punished if you don’t vote for it, and all the money will not come back to Walker County regardless of what it says. It will have another level of government, add more government to this country. It will take one half of a week’s paycheck of your spendable income a year, five paychecks each ten years. And Walker County sales used to be $369 million. It’ll take $3.6 million that goes in storefronts out of your pocket...I’m tired of overreach of government; I want to take a different thought process to Atlanta.”
Jay Neal: “It has been an honor for me to serve you for the last eight years in the Georgia House of Representatives. I told you when I ran first that I was a public servant and I was running to serve; I also told you that’d I’d bring responsible leadership to the state House. And I knew that was important, but I didn’t fully understand how critical it would be as we headed into this incredibly bad economic time that we’ve experienced...We’ve made difficult decisions in Atlanta so that we have a balanced budget and protect our AAA credit rating, by reducing the size of the government. We’re one of seven states that still maintains that AAA credit rating. The budget that we just passed was 20 percent smaller than the 2002 budget per capita. And those are the types of tough decisions Georgians wanted us to make, and I’ve been able to deliver on those kinds of results....I promised to you that I’d work to create a better business environment, and I’ve consistently worked to lower the tax burden on businesses, reduce regulation and red tape...I promised you I’d work to make Georgia a safer place. Public safety is what I’m known for. In my freshman year I passed legislation that reduced the number of meth labs in the state of Georgia by 65 percent in the first year. I have become the go-to guy for the GBI and sponsored legislation that has allowed them to solve more than 1,000 cold cases...I have worked hard to fulfill those promises, and I will continue to do so. I am motivated to help make Georgia a better place to live, and a better place to raise my children and grandchildren.”
What is the most important qualification the district attorney should possess and please demonstrate why you feel you have this qualification?
Doug Woodruff: “The last eleven and a half years have been devoted entirely to criminal litigation, either as an assistant district attorney, or, most recently, as the chief assistant in the public defender’s office. There are a variety of qualifications that a good district attorney should have. Those include strong legal skills, legal experience and success in the courtroom, approachability, service-oriented and community-mindedness. You should be visibly engaged as a strong leader and not shy away from difficult situations...Not only do I have extensive legal experience and success in the courtroom, I’m the only candidate in this race that has actual law enforcement experience. The years that I spent in the Walker County Sheriff’s Office under then sheriff Al Millard give me a unique and valuable insight into the criminal justice system and process. I know that system from beginning to end. You might say I’ve seen it from every side except the wrong side.”
Herbert “Buzz” Franklin (incumbent): “You have to be somebody who has an extremely good work ethic. I work 60 to 90 hours per week right now. I’ve instituted a lot of things to save money since I’ve been district attorney; I’ve been your district attorney for the last sixteen years...I’ve been in this room when it’s been filled with people after the Tri-State Crematory disaster and I was here day in and day out...I’ve proven I can do this job.”
Next: State court judge, chief magistrate judge, Walker County probate court judge, Walker County tax commissioner, Walker County clerk of superior court, Walker County coroner, Walker County school board post 1, Walker County School board post 4, and Walker County surveyor.