COVINGTON -- Only Newton County Democratic candidates for the November General Election participated in a political forum Thursday.
All contested candidates were invited to the question and answer session forum, which was sponsored by the Newton County Voters League at the Newton County Historical Courthouse.
NCVL Acting President Roger Smith said during opening remarks at the forum that some of the candidates were unable to attend because of prior commitments.
Candidates who spoke at the forum each had the opportunity to give a three-minute opening statement, answer a few questions from a panel and then give a two-minute closing statement.
Board of Education -- District 2
Incumbent Eddie Johnson said he wants to represent all students and help continue programs like the Newton College & Career Academy and after-school programs, which he said he's helped spearhead.
"I am committed to improving our educational system, to deliver a high quality of instruction and more effective teaching using integrated technology in classrooms, to increasing student achievement using research-based instructional strategies," he said. "We still have work to do; however, the basic foundations have been installed. Yes, we are making real and exciting progress on all fronts."
He said the board is "on the right track," even with multi-million dollar cuts, and that changing to a seven-period schedule to include a one-hour study time, helping attract companies like Baxter International and offering more types of courses to students will "have a significant impact on overall student achievement."
He said education will continue to be cut, so residents need to vote for people in charge of public education, from the governor to state representatives, and hold them accountable.
"We've got the wrong people in the wrong places to make the wrong decision for public education," he said. "Know who you are voting for and what they stand for."
Opponent Ricky Corley was absent from the forum.
Robert Bradley said he's "capable, concerned and compassionate."
After working for 30 years in the field as a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Florida and Georgia, he said he's handled more than 10,000 death cases.
As a coroner, he would like to work with the sheriff's task force on crime prevention to inform gang members about death and also speak to high school students to try to get them to stray from killing each other and "doing terrible things."
Incumbent Republican Tommy Davis was not present at the forum.
Board of Commissioners -- District 5
Marcello Banes said it's time to "believe, begin and become a better Newton County."
He said that the lack of involvement by citizens in decision-making concerns him.
"I want to be the voice for the citizens. I want to hear what citizens are saying and take it to the board," he said. "I'm passionate for this community. I believe Newton County will be one of the most premier counties in the state of Georgia."
He said he wants to inform citizens through social media, websites and community meet and greets to give them more of a voice.
"That's how we'll come together," he said.
As a small business owner, he said he knows how to deal with budgets and tough decisions and do away with wasteful spending. As an ordained minister, he said he is a "proven leader" and knows how to deal with people from all backgrounds and respect everybody's opinions.
He complimented the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, saying it deserves continued support for bringing quality jobs to the county, and said he plans to look more into the zoning regulations as part of the Leadership Collaborative's 2050 plan.
Republican opponent Levie Maddox was unable to attend.
Board of Commissioners -- District 3
Incumbent Nancy Schulz said being a current BOC member has required her to attend meetings twice a month and also attend training and education sessions weekly.
"I'm a small business owner so I understand the challenges and value of a dollar," she said. "I understand executive responsibilities and commitment to the job. ... I understand commitment and I understand success and I understand how much we want to be successful as a community."She said her priorities are bringing better and higher paying jobs to the county, maintaining and improving infrastructure, planning for the future and having open and honest government.
"We want someone we can trust, to tell us the truth, that will be honest with us," she said.
She also wants to make sure the Chamber is properly funded, since it has helped bring Baxter to the county and its employees have a good relationship with state officials, which she said is how economic development now works.
She also wants to continue having a professional acting board.
"A board doesn't always have to agree, but we can disagree civilly," she said, adding that new businesses coming to the county want to see the board working toward a common vision. "It's very important that we have worked together."
She supports the 2050 plan and having the county entities holding each other accountable for following the plan.
"When you have a common vision, it helps everyone to peddle in the same direction," she said.
Opponent Kevin Wade was not at the forum.
Board of Commissioners Chair
Marcus Jordan said working in local government for the past 16 years has allowed him to make contacts at the city and county level.
"I know the ins and outs. I come knowing what it takes to lead a department and lead a county," he said. "I'm a man who can stand on his own. I don't need anybody else to put anything in my head. I will make my own decisions."
He said focusing on economic development is "going to be a key thing."
Keith Ellis did not attend the forum.
Incumbent Ezell Brown said he and his department have accomplished more than 25 items since he became sheriff nearly four years ago.
"I have led the Newton County Sheriff's Office through one of the most financial shortfalls of the history of Newton County," he said.
Brown said he would give himself an A-plus, as well as every employee and the citizens, too.
He said accomplishments include earning state certification for the first time in history and moving forward with opening a precinct on the west side of the county. Additionally, the jail and medical board is close to receiving certification.
"Within the next year, we should have a certified agency," Brown said.
He said his greatest accomplishment is "being a good steward with taxpayers' dollars." Even with cuts, he said he came within about $100,000 of his budget two years ago and within $26,000 last year. This year, the department is expected to make budget.
"I will continue to build on the success we have made," Brown said. "I am very familiar with cost. I'm more concerned about the value. There is no value I can put on this county."
Opponent Philip Bradford wasn't at the form.