By Clay Wilson
Candidates for various county posts had a chance to sound off at a NAACP-sponsored political forum Tuesday night.
The forum was the first of two hosted by the Henry County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The second forum, scheduled for June 22, will feature candidates for state office.
Each of the county candidates was given six minutes to introduce himself and his platform, and then respond to randomly asked questions from a panel of moderators composed of NAACP members.
In her opening statement, Commission District II candidate Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis introduced herself as a former minister, chief financial officer of a business and stay-at-home mom.
Mathis said she advocates a temporary moratorium on housing permits until the county formulates a solid land use plan.
"We cannot afford to make any mistakes," she said. "Once we've moved five years down the line and lose greenspace, we can't get that back."
Commission chairman candidate Phil Crosby, a construction project supervisor and former District IV commissioner, laid out his "Report Card for Henry County."
Crosby's report card featured four A's: Addressing traffic and infrastructure needs; Adhering to the principals of quality growth; Applying fiscal responsibility in government spending; and Assuring that local government works with state authorities to secure funding for infrastructure projects.
Chairman candidate and current District II Commissioner Gary Freedman pointed out that he has eight years of commission experience, and is the only person ever re-elected in District II.
"I feel there's no substitute for the experience of having sat on the board for eight years," he said.
Freedman said he thinks the commission needs to focus on bringing to the county more parks, trails, libraries, youth facilities and "roads, roads, roads."
Chairman candidate Sandra Vincent, a Fulton County government employee, said county citizens want more responsive, responsible government.
"It has become apparent that there are voices that are louder than the voices of the citizens," she said. "(The) county must be managed like a business, not a political circus."
District III candidate Lester "Butch" Oliver, a former employee of the Henry County Building Department who now owns an environmental consulting business, said he believes the county's zoning classifications are outdated. He later said he advocates a countywide sewage system.
District II candidate William "Bill" McLeer said he thinks his longtime experience as a pharmacist helped him gain understanding of budgeting and business operation that will help him contribute to effective management of the county.
He said the experience also gave him an appreciation of the importance of employees. "The county's best asset is its people," he said.
District II candidate Melody Mena, a registered nurse and business owner, also said her occupational experience helps to qualify her for a commission seat.
"I know what it's like to be an advocate for the public," she said. "I want to be your face up here (behind the commission rostrum)."
District II candidate Gene Lyle said he is a 20-year Air Force veteran with additional management experience in the civilian avionics business.
"I'm not going to promise you that I'm going to do big and wonderful things, but what I will do is give you some insight into my view of a county commission," he said. He went on to say that a commissioner must listen to citizens' concerns and then act on them.
In addition to the county commission candidates, sheriff candidate Jim Cox addressed the audience. A former Atlanta corrections officer and volunteer for the Henry County Bureau of Police Services, Cox challenged current sheriff Donald Chaffin in 2000.
Cox said that if elected, he would concentrate on cooperation among the county's law enforcement agencies, more fairly compensating officers and increasing efficiency. He said he doesn't consider himself as running against the sheriff, but running to "put the interests of the people above politics."
County coroner candidates Timothy Chambers and incumbent Ronnie Stewart also participated in the forum. Both discussed the duty of the coroner to serve the interests of the county while taking into consideration the needs of deceased persons' families.
Chambers emphasized his experience with area health systems such as Grady and Southern Regional, while Stewart said he is running on his 36-year record.
For various reasons, commission chairman candidates Jason Harper (current District III commissioner), Richard Yarbrough Jr., Nita Spraggins, Herman Talmadge III; District I candidate (unopposed incumbent) Warren Holder; District II candidates Philip Garner and Edward Toney; District III candidates Charles Mobley and Randy Stamey; and sheriff candidate Donald Chaffin did not participate in the forum.
After their introduction, the candidates responded to panel and audience questions on topics ranging from the need for more youth recreation facilities to the desirability of a countywide sewage system.
The issue that got the most discussion was whether the candidates would support the construction of a library in the county's Fifth District an action for which the local NAACP has been lobbying for quite some time.
When questioned directly, all of the candidates said they would support a Fifth District library.
After the forum, Stockbridge resident Cassandra Dozier said that listening to the candidates had helped her to clarify her voting preferences.
"It gave me a good idea of the candidates I want to vote for," she said. "When I came in, I had a different idea of who I wanted to vote for, but if they mean what they said, it cast some doubts."