Voters will decide SPLOST, new probate judge

By Ed Brock

Picking a new probate judge and deciding whether or not to implement a new sales tax to pay for recreation centers and road repairs will be up to Clayton County voters on Tuesday.

If approved, the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would add an extra penny of sales tax on the dollar to raise $240 million for road improvements, a new senior center and six new recreation centers for the county.

The four candidates seeking to replace retired Probate Judge Eugene Lawson are Clay Davis, Pam Ferguson, Bobby Dean Simmons and Fred Zimmerman.

The SPLOST can only be used for the items outlined on the ballot and has a five-year time limit.

"It'll stop at $240 million or five years, whichever comes first," said Lou Hisel, head of the Recreation and Roads 2003 Committee that promotes the tax.

The primary opponents to the tax are members of the Libertarian Party of Clayton County.

"This is the wrong time to be raising taxes in this economy," Libertarian Philip Bradley said. "Now's the time for belt tightening, now's the time for fiscal responsibility."

The Libertarians have also accused Hisel's committee of unethical behavior in promoting the tax. Specific incidents have included giving pro-SPLOST literature to teachers for distribution, putting up signs in support of the SPLOST on the county right-of-ways and of leaving pro-SPLOST brochures in the public library.

"That's three laws they've violated," Bradley said.

Hisel has said that the committee did not put signs in the right of way and defended their right to leave information in the public library.

In a special question and answer survey by the News Daily, each candidate for probate judge gave their qualifications for the position.

Davis said he had 22 years of practicing law including seven years as municipal court judge in Forest Park. He attended the National Judicial College on judicial leadership, special court jurisdiction and advanced evidence. Davis is also former state representative and U.S. Marine and represented the Sixth District at the Georgia Municipal Court Council.

Under education, Davis said he graduated from college and law school and has hundreds of hours of continuing legal and judicial education.

As a lifelong resident of Clayton County, Ferguson said that she has been an attorney in Jonesboro for 14 years and has not moved her office during those 14 years. She has handled probate cases and dealt with "emotionally charged issues" on a daily basis in her practice in family law. Ferguson attended Clayton State College and transferred to the University of Georgia, where she graduated with a BA degree in 1986. Later she earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia in 1989 and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in June of 1989.

Simmons described himself as having "well-rounded qualifications in all the areas needed to be an effective probate judge." He cited his legal, medical, technical and administrative training and experience and 17 years experience as an attorney handling probate matters, personal and worker injury matters, employment matters such as Title VII etc., criminal and family law. His eight years of experience as the manager of a radiology department gave him administrative and managerial training and he has training with computers.

Simmons attended Mississippi College of Law in Jackson, Miss., and has training in mediation and dispute resolution.

Zimmerman said that he is the only candidate with Probate Court Judge experience.

He has practiced in the Probate, Superior and State courts, as well as the Municipal and Magistrate courts. He sat as a Magistrate Judge in Clayton County, as well as a Municipal Judge in Forest Park and filled in for other judges in Riverdale and Jonesboro and sat as Probate Court Judge in Clayton County.