COVINGTON -- Several candidates without General Primary opposition spoke at a forum hosted by the Newton County Democratic Party July 10. Others whose opposition did not attend also answered questions.
Incumbent Kathy Morgan spoke of her goals for the county and answered questions posed by the moderator. Her Democratic opponent, Marcus Jordan, did not attend.
Morgan said the top challenge facing the Board of Commissioners is balancing quality of life in the face of decreasing revenues. Due to decreasing property values because of a law that requires foreclosures be taken into account when evaluating property, the local budget has decreased by more than $10 million in the last three years. Morgan said the challenge has been to balance services without placing the burden on the taxpayer.
Morgan said having Baxter International coming here is only part of the solution for more jobs and revenue. It's also important to entice employees to live in Newton because those employees will be paid wages above the current per capita average, and raising the per capita wage is part of attracting more commercial development, she said.
Another important component of attracting restaurants is having alcohol by the drink sales, and commissioners recently voted to put that on the November ballot for voters to decide, she said.
District 3 BOC
Both Democratic candidates, incumbent Nancy Schulz and opponent Tony Flanagan, were in attendance, but Flanagan was called away prior to their turn to speak when he received a call that a family friend's son had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Schulz said that her district, one of the fastest-growing segments of the county, has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy. She noted that the tax digest is down by about 30 percent and at its peak, unemployment was as high as 12.5 percent. Schulz said commissioners have "walked a tightrope with our budget" and managed to balance the budget every year while still protecting public safety and realigning and streamlining departments.
Schulz said she supports a three-year plan to restore paid days to county employees and to add more money to the fund balance to strengthen the county's financial stability.
Asked her opinion of the county manager form of government, Schulz said, "The biggest problem is that the county manager is not accountable to the voters, period. I would retain the county manager because I think it's important to have professional consistency among changes in leadership." But Schulz said the county manager should report to the chair, who in turn reports to the board.
The current set up, where the county manager reports to the board and not the chair, is a problem because, "That county manager position just has to keep three commissioners happy and those three commissioners could change. If one commissioner gets angry with the county manager, he could be out of there," she said. Schulz added that the county needs to go to the state Legislature and get the charter cleaned up related to the county manager and chair's roles.
Phil Johnson faces Marcello Banes in the Democratic Primary. Banes did not attend the forum.
Johnson, too, said he's concerned about the county manager system put in place by a majority of commissioners earlier this year.
Johnson said he believes the county needs a professional county manager and possibly a chief financial officer and chief executive officer because the "person approving the work should not be approving the checks." He said the chair should be the chief executive officer setting policy, presiding in meetings, creating the legislative agenda and "not be caught up writing checks and meeting with employees about minor problems."
"The answer to this is not that hobbled together program put together at the first of this year to create a county manager. The answer is to go back to the Legislature and modify and amend the charter so all the issues are spelled out and we're not left in the dark with sort of a county manager system and sort of not one," he said.
Johnson also said the current tension among board members needs to subside.
"The Board of Commissioners and a lot of local politics have been involved in a lot of political party maneuvers and personal agenda issues. We've got to stop that. We've got to have people in office who put Newton County first and believe the best way to get things done is to reach consensus, not fight all time," he said.
He stated his support of T-SPLOST, the 1 percent regional sales tax that if approved by voters will fund road projects. "I don't know of no better answer for us to deal with our transportation needs than to take advantage of that opportunity," he said.
Sheriff Ezell Brown is running unopposed in the primary but faces opposition in the November General Election.
Brown said he is a "proven leader" as sheriff. Out of 139 sheriffs in Georgia, the NCSO is the only recipient of a U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services grant amounting to nearly $1 million earmarked for hiring veterans, he said.
Brown said during his nearly four years in office, the NCSO has been cut by 25 employees and $2.7 million. In 2009, when those cuts took place, he said the Sheriff's Office came within $106,000 of its budget. "I think that speaks volumes to only be $106,000 over with 25 employee cuts and $2.7 million cut," he said. During that time, "the call volume never stopped, it increased, and the jail population never did go down," he noted.
"I ask all of you to be serious about every office but remember the Sheriff's Office is the one that determines the fate of this community," he said. "The office of sheriff is the most prestigious office of dignity and the oldest office known to man."
Robert Bradley is running unopposed in the General Primary but will face Republican incumbent Tommy Davis in November. Bradley gave an impassioned speech in which he quoted from "America the Beautiful" and spoke of his first trip to Selma, Ala., and the rights of all to vote, and had the crowd clapping and shouting.Bradley said he is capable, committed and compassionate and has worked in the death care industry since 1977. Licensed in the state of Florida, he moved to Newton in 2006 and became licensed in Georgia in 2008. During his career, he said he has embalmed and cared for 10,000 bodies and been present at around 100 autopsies. "I'm more than capable of telling when someone has met their demise," he said, prompting loud laughter from the crowd.
"I will strive for the highest standard of excellence to ensure each and every family gets a proper and right and comforting investigation into why their loved one has met their demise. I will also be compassionate in that field," he promised.
Superior Court Judge, Alcovy Circuit
Stephanie Lindsey faces incumbent Judge John Ott in the nonpartisan race for Superior Court Judge.
Lindsey touted her success in the courtroom, saying she was able to obtain a $1.5 million verdict, the highest granted by a Newton County jury, for a client.
Ironically, Lindsey said, it was Ott who swore her in as an attorney following her completion of law school. She said she has concerns about her opponent's public statements that "the court system is for the victims."
"I've got to call it wrong when it's wrong; the court system is for everybody," she said. "I can't express to you how passionate I am about that."
Lindsey said that while her father is a retired police officer and she is a supporter of the police, "there's always bad apples in the bunch." If someone has been harassed by police and is claiming so in court, that person is not likely to receive a fair hearing from a judge who says the court system is for victims, she said.
Lindsey said she will be a judge who is "seriously serious about justice and seriously serious about being impartial."
4th Congressional District
Courtney Dillard was the only Democratic candidate for Congressional District 4 to appear at the forum.
Dillard said he's running because "I wanted to make sure Rockdale and Newton had representation. For so long, they haven't had a voice at the federal level."
Dillard said he's also committed to getting funds for the district from a $25 billion national mortgage fraud settlement, $104 million of which has been designated to the state of Georgia. "We're putting a demand on the governor's office to make sure those funds are brought into the community for loan modifications and payments for victims in our community," he said. Dillard said if elected constituents can expect him to support Obama on a number of issues, calling himself "a strong Democrat."
Dillard faces General Primary opposition from incumbent Hank Johnson Jr. and Lincoln Nunnally. Republicans running are Greg Pallen and J. Chris Vaughn.