CONYERS - Seven candidates in locally contested races met last week for a forum held by the South Rockdale Civic Association and addressed a broad series of questions about why they are running for office and what they hope to accomplish if elected.
The forum was held Tuesday with less than a month remaining until the July 15 primary election. Event organizers allowed only those facing opposition within their party's primary election to participate. Attending were County Commissioner Jason Hill and challenger John Thompson in the Board of Commissioners, Post 1 race; Holly Bowie and Sharon Barksdale in the open race for Clerk of Courts; and Coroner Stephen Boyle and challenger Ron Rollins in the county coroner's race.
Randy Akies was the only Democratic candidate for sheriff who participated. His opponent, Donald Ferguson, did not appear, citing a prior commitment.
Board of Commissioners, Post 1
Hill, seeking a second term in office, touted his accomplishments on the board in controlling development, improving recreation facilities and making county government run more efficiently.
He said he was proud of his part in the passage of the unified development ordinance. The UDO revamped the county's planning and zoning ordinances that Hill said would clarify what developers can and cannot do.
"The days of bad development are over," he said.
Thompson, a resident in the Lorraine district in south Rockdale County, took aim at Hill's past trouble with ethics questions surrounding his position on the board of the local arts council, which receives funding from the county, and his previous position on a bank board of directors that has done business with Rockdale County.
"I have no business ties in the county that may in any way be conflicting," Thompson said.
Thompson, who works in sales for a concrete company, said his business and engineering experience would benefit him as a county commissioner.
He said if elected, he would seek tighter budget practices and makes sure the county has "an understandable written budget."
Later in the evening, Hill said he believed ethics was not a problem with the county government and that he had recused himself from voting on items that would pose a conflict of interest. Hill said he lost his seat on the Board of Directors of First Nation Bank when it was taken over by North Georgia Bank, a sister institution within the Synovus Financial Corporation.
Rollins, who had worked at the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office for 15 years before going into the pawn shop business, said his law enforcement experience would help him do the work of county coroner when determining the time and cause of deaths recorded in the county. He promised that he would be a full-time coroner and operate with one deputy coroner, compared to the four used by Boyle, the current coroner.
Boyle, a retired surgeon, said the coroner's office works well with four deputies with the budget provided. The deputies are paid $300 per month and take turns being on call during their eight-day shifts each month.
Rollins stressed that he is in the county full time and does not work out of state, a reference to Boyle's work in Indiana.
"I agree to do the job, and not ask someone else to do it," Rollins said.
Boyle responded that he went into consulting after retiring from general surgery and that the work takes him out of state.
"The coroner is a part-time position, and that's the essence of the job," he said.
Boyle noted the deputy coroners have experience in either the medical field or in the funeral home business. He the use of the deputies provides around the clock coverage without burnout and their annual costs amount to less than half the salary of a rookie firefighter.
"The county expects us to make another way of living," Boyle said.
Both men said they would focus on making sure the work of coroner will be done as fast and efficiently as possible to help families of the deceased and funeral homes with their paperwork.
Boyle added that if he's re-elected to a fifth term, he will push to computerize the coroner's office to match similar efforts with the state. He also said the county uses facilities at the DeKalb County Medical Examiners office or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for autopsies. As the county continues to grow, county officials will need to consider the cost effectiveness of having a facility built locally, he said.
Clerk of Courts
Bowie, who is the director of the county's Department of Community Compliance and Legal Affairs, said she is qualified to be Clerk of Courts by pointing to her experience working in county government and her understanding of the legal processes.
She said one of her major accomplishments was the reorganization of the county legal affairs office to oversee code enforcement. This move, Bowie said, has enabled the county to become more responsive to citizens. Bowie said if elected she would also work make the Clerk of Courts Office as responsive to citizens as possible.
Barksdale, who runs a local law firm with her husband, said her work as a lawyer gives her the experience to understand the impact the clerk's office has on people's lives, and she would apply that to the job.
"I've felt like I'm not giving up on a career, but taking up a different aspect of it," Barksdale said in response to the question of why she is seeking elected office.
Both women said electronic filing of pleadings is something that could make the Clerk of Courts Office more efficient and convenient for citizens and attorneys, but said security issues were a major concern.
"I would be concerned about the integrity with the court records and keeping track with what records can be open to the public and what records are not," Bowie said.
Barksdale agreed with those security concerns. She stated many filings have a strict time element and said cases could be endangered if a proper backup system is not in place.
Akies had the floor to himself with the absence of Ferguson. He highlighted his goals to raise deputy salaries to retain qualified personnel, to implement a pay-to-stay program to charge inmates fees for being in jail and to develop closer ties with the Conyers Police Department.
"You can't vote the same officials in to do things the same way and expect different results," Akies said.
Jay Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At A Glance
What: The next primary candidate forum will be held by the Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters. All candidates have been invited to participate.
When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Rockdale Auditorium, 903 North Main St. Conyers.