Quite a number of local citizens turned out for the first of two political forums last Thursday, to hear from candidates for County Commission Districts 1, 2 and 3, Coroner, Clerk of Superior Court, State Representative District 131, State Senate District 18 and 3rd Congressional District of Georgia. Each candidate was given one minute for opening and closing statements and one minute to answer each question asked by the moderator. Those vying for the office of Clerk of Superior Court were not asked to participate in a question and answer session due to the fact they will not be on the ballot until November.
County Commission, District 3
The biggest group of the evening included those running for County Commissioner of District 3 to fill the unexpired term of former Commissioner Rusty Blackston, who resigned to run for Commission Chair. All of the five individuals seeking office, Norman Allen, Sylvia Chapman, Brandon Creamer, Ralph Ellington and Joel Pitts, were on hand to inform the public of who they are and why they should be elected. All five are running as Republicans. In addition to speaking about themselves, each hopeful was asked their position on a liquor referendum for package and liquor by the drink sales in the county, as well as their thoughts on keeping county fire service through the volunteer fire departments or moving to a county funded and managed fire department.
Norman Allen wants to be involved in the community as a County Commissioner for District 3 because he feels service to the fellow man is an obligation, not a choice. He has served in the Navy and as Post Commander for the VFW. He is in favor of letting the voters decide if they want to allow liquor sales in the county and put the issue to rest once and for all. He also supports the Volunteer Fire Departments and feels that there needs to be a spirit of cooperation between the volunteers and the City of Thomaston Fire Department. He expects the people of Upson County to hold him accountable and he pledges to work diligently for everyone if elected.
Sylvia Chapman is a life-long resident of Upson County and feels her 24 years of experience in the textile industry and 25 years experience traveling the world as an entertainer will bring a diverse amount of knowledge to the table. She served as the Downtown Manager for the City of Thomaston for three years. Chapman is in favor of letting the people decide on liquor sales for the county and wants to keep the volunteer fire departments because they love what they do and wouldn’t want to take that away from the volunteers. She pledges to work for the people and work to bring industry back into the county.
Brandon Creamer is a life-long resident of Upson County and a local business owner. Before obtaining his business degree and purchasing Tahiti Tans, he worked for 11 years at Quad Graphics. Whenever possible he uses his business as a platform to give back to charities and the local community. He is not particularly excited about the idea of liquor sales in Upson County, especially if they were for an establishment that the sales of alcohol were their primary source of income. He believes that a lot of volunteer firefighters enjoy their job and feels it is a good idea to keep them funded. He is a member of Mountain View Baptist Church and believes in team work and helping your neighbor.
Ralph Ellington has served the Upson County community in many aspects over the years, such as Chamber Chairman for two years and chair of the Government Affairs committee for three years. He has worked throughout many areas of the state while with the telephone company and feels that his experience will help when it comes to stimulating jobs for the local economy. He feels the idea of having liquor sales for the county has been discussed for many years and it is time to finally let the people put it to a vote. He is a believer in the volunteer fire departments and was co-founder of the Northside Fire Department. He feels that they continually give of themselves and deserve more recognition and respect than they get. If elected he promises to listen to the issues and give a response to the people in a timely manner.
Joel Pitts is a Christian and a life-long resident of Upson County. He is a retired educator, Navy Veteran and Association of County Commissioners of Georgia certified commissioner, having served for eight years as County Commissioner for District 3. He knows the question of liquor sales in the county has been brought up since 1990 and while he himself does not drink, he thinks the voters should be allowed to decide on the issue. He feels the volunteer fire departments provide a valuable service to the community, but also thinks if there is a way to increase fire service for the county, then it should be pursued as well. If elected he will serve with honesty, integrity and ethically. He pledges to be professional and respond to all questions in a timely manner.
County Commission, District 1
George Carriker and Lorenzo Wilder are running for the County Commission District 1 seat and were present at the forum. Both are running as Democrats. Their questions also included their position on package and liquor by the drink sales in Upson County and their feelings on giving preference to local contractors when bidding for contract work.
First to speak was George Carriker, who stated he has had his boots on the ground in this community for the past 34 years. He has been very involved over the years in handling issues with the schools and was an integral part of coming up with the idea for signs for the Emancipation Celebration. He is a former project manager for the United States Army, where he was in charge of managing contracts and budgets, something he fells will help greatly if elected. Carriker also attends the city council and board of commissioner meetings each week and feels it gives him a wealth of knowledge of how to interact with the citizens of the area. He is in support of a liquor referendum because he feels that it makes no sense that citizens can drive to the north side of town to purchase a drink, but cannot in other areas of the county. Carriker feels the voting citizens should be the ones who get to decide if that is something they want or not. He is also in favor of supporting local contractors first when it comes to bidding for county contract work if they are qualified to do so. He feels it would help keep money in the community, which is something we need and that the board should encourage local business to bid on the contract.
Lorenzo Wilder is a lifelong Upson County resident and is retired after 41 and a half years from Robbins Air Force Base as a Squadron Director of Precision Electronics. He has served on the Flint River Technical College Board of Directors, with two years as chairman and is currently serving on the Upson EMC Board of Directors. Wilder also wants to work with the high school and Southern Crescent Technical College to identify the students who are at risk of falling through the cracks, to start a program to help them be trained in a field so they may be productive citizens. He is in support of a liquor referendum because he feels it will help increase the tax base for the county and will give some relief to those who pay property taxes. Wilder is in favor of using local contractors over those from out of town, but feels the board needs to look at qualifications and quality of work the business does before negotiating a contract. He feels that the lowest bidder is not always the best if you end up spending more in the long run to correct mistakes.
County Commission, District 2
The final County Commission District up for grabs is District 2, a seat currently held by Steve Hudson. Hudson was present at the forum, but his opponent Heather Rush had a previous engagement and did not attend. Both are running as Republicans. The questions for this office included what would be the main priority for District 2 and what would each individual do to stimulate the local economy.
Steve Hudson has served as County Commissioner for District 2 for the past 10 years and is certified through the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia as a county commissioner, an advanced county commissioner and is half-way through his silver certification. Throughout his years as a commissioner he feels the board has tried to keep services high and taxes low. He has worked hard to improve roads and waterlines and throughout the county. He has also worked to establish wells for the county water supply, which has saved the county immensely. His main priority for District 2 right now involves the county taking over the operations of Sprewell Bluff. He and the rest of the board are currently reviewing a contract for a long term lease agreement with the State of Georgia and trying to determine how they can properly insure the park. Hudson feels without county involvement, Sprewell Bluff is destined to be shut down. Hudson stated he strongly supports the work of the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority and he and the rest of the board work closely with them before an offer is made to a prospect. Hudson noted that while it is hard to replace an industry as large as the mills, he is willing to work with the TUIDA to bring in as many others as they can.
Even though it is a partisan race, the position of Coroner will be decided during the primary in July because both James George (Incumbent) and Craig Stubbs have qualified as Republican.
James George has served as the Deputy Coroner for four years and was appointed Coroner after the death of former Coroner Tim Cochran. He told the crowd that he has been continually educating himself on the aspects of coroner the past few years and he feels confident that he will continue to do a good job if elected. He will also continue to work with local and state law enforcement and the Department of Family and Children services to continue to identify problem areas in the community and ways they can be a positive influence. George considers himself to be a public servant and hopes to continue to be able to serve this community.
Craig Stubbs formerly served Upson County as the Deputy Coroner for 13 years from 1993-2006 and wants the opportunity to serve the community again in the capacity of Coroner. Throughout his tenure he felt that he always kept in mind that he was about to be a key player in the worst case scenario for someone and tried to use that time to serve the people of the community with compassion and great sensitivity. If elected he plans to explore opportunities that the Coroner’s office can partner with other metro areas to help create and intervention for the youth; such as helping to prevent drinking and driving, drug use and gangs.
Clerk of Superior Court
Current Clerk of Superior Court Teresa Harper is seeking re-election against Russ Bridges in November. Harper is running as a Republican, and Bridges as a Democrat. Since the candidates will not be on the ballot for the Primary election, they were only asked to give information about themselves, instead of participating in a question and answer session.
Russ Bridges feels he is the most qualified person for the job of Clerk of Superior Court because he has a law degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Law, where he also served as the librarian for two years, which he feels relates directly because the clerk is the librarian of the county records. He has experience in organizing and managing an office, which he has done at the law office of Richard Bridges for many years, and has a wealth of knowledge in court proceedings and interpreting laws. Bridges is proficient in all types of real estate transactions also. He describes himself as a born leader and has held many leadership roles such as President in the Sertoma Club. If elected, he promises to make the clerk’s office more efficient and up to date, and remove the lock on the door, returning to an open door policy.
Teresa Harper has been the Clerk of Court for the last four years and stated she has worked very hard to make improvements in the Clerk of Court’s Office and hopes for another four years to serve her community. Since the beginning of her tenure, the department now has a website and all docket books are available online and has managed to come in way under budget for her entire term. She has completed all of the training required for the position and has worked to make sure the staff of her office provides knowledgeable and professional service. Harper feels it is important to focus on not only what the department has to offer the community, but also the entire state and will continue to work hard if re-elected.
State Representative, District 131
The position of State Representative District 131 is being sought by former Superior Court Judge Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. and Ryan Christopher. Both are running as Republicans. The candidates were asked their thoughts on what to do if the TSPLOST does not pass in our region and what is their number one priority for the district.
Johnnie Caldwell, Jr told the crowd he feels his experience over the last 41 years as a District Attorney, Superior Court Judge, attorney, and serving on city, county and school boards, will be something to serve the community well on the state level and the fact he is on a first name basis with most of the state officials. Caldwell stated the sad truth is if the TSPLOST does not pass, there really is no alternative but to raise property taxes. However, he would use his experience to work with other state officials on road projects for the community. His number one priority is working with the people of the area to find other sources of revenue instead of just property taxes.
Running against Caldwell is Ryan Christopher of Lamar County. Christopher has grown up in the area and pledged to work his fingers to the bone if elected. He owns his own business and feels he brings the perspective of the working men and women and if given the opportunity to serve wants to work hard to lower taxes so the burden is lessened on the property owners. He stated if the TSPLOST does not pass, the only option would be to have a SPLOST in the three counties to raise the money. His main priority is to bring business to the area and promote the community.
State Senate, District 18
The only candidate to speak for State Senate District 18 was current Senator Cecil Staton, who now represents Upson County after the redistricting of the counties was done last year. Candidate Spencer Price was not present due to a previous engagement. Staton and Spencer are running as Republicans.
Staton has been in the Senate for the last eight years. Staton owns his own business with his wife in Macon and feels to enhance economic development there needs to be help for the small businesses which are the backbone of the economy. He continued that Georgia has benefited from the energy tax for manufacturers being taken away and have seen an increase of manufacturing lately. Staton also pledged to continue to support transportation issues, which he feels are vitally important to the state’s economy.
3rd Congressional District
The final two candidates to speak were Kent Kingsley and Chip Flanegan, who are seeking election for US Congress in the 3rd Congressional District of Georgia. Current Congressman Lynn Westmoreland was not present. All are running as Republicans. The candidates were asked if they support the fair tax and if they would work towards appealing Obamacare.
Chip Flanegan has been a small business owner in Jonesboro for the past 32 years, where he has operated on a balanced budget without cutting payroll during the recession. He also paid off all of his debts in 2001 and plans to use that same common sense approach in Washington to work on the national debt crisis. He is in support of the fair tax because he feels it would bring money back to America. He would also work to appeal Obamacare because he feels the third party payer is what creates a problem with health care. There is no competition, so costs continue to rise.
Kent Kingsley is a retired United States Army Colonel and is the owner of Traditions Realty in Milner. He is in support of the fair tax because he feels it will bring stimulus back to America and does not like the current tax system because he feels it favors the rich. He feels Obamacare is an example of what is wrong with Congress and that there hasn’t been leadership to defund the issue and balance the budget. If elected he promises to work hard to balance the budget, pay off the national debt and fight for the district and the entire country.
There will be another political forum held this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the R. E. Lee auditorium. Candidates invited to speak are Probate Judge, Magistrate Judge, Sheriff, County Commission Chairman, and Board of Education Districts 5 and 7. Everyone is encouraged to attend.