For the second time in two weeks, the R. E. Lee Auditorium was filled last Thursday night with people wanting to hear from candidates for a number of political offices. Candidates for Board of Education District 5, Board of Education District 7, Chief Magistrate, Judge of the Probate Court, Upson County Commission Chairman, and Upson County Sheriff took part in the forum. Each candidate was given one minute each for opening and closing statements, and one minute to answer each question asked by the moderator.
Board of Education, District 5
Incumbent Leon Fowler and challenger William Roberts are running for the District 5 seat on the Board of Education.
Leon Fowler was born and raised in Upson County. He graduated from R. E. Lee in 1968 and attended Georgia Tech. He worked in the family business for 33 years until it was sold in 1997. He recently retired from Aaron’s Sales and Lease. He has served on the Board of Education since 1988. Fowler said the Board of Education typically seeks input from the community, so he would support a citizen oversight committee for SPLOST. He doesn’t believe the county’s current economic condition should deter the school system from setting the highest possible goals. Fowler said the school system can use some of its fund balance to make up shortages in revenue if needed.
William Roberts is a native of Upson County and a 10-year Navy veteran. He is a local business owner and has been a Partner in Education for the last three years. He and his wife have three children in the school system. Roberts is in support of a citizen oversight committee for SPLOST because everyone needs to know how the money is being spent and where it is going. He said he will work every single day to help make the school system the best it can be, despite the current economy. Roberts said in order to make up revenue shortages, there are cuts that can be made in the school system without having to raise taxes.
Board of Education, District 7
Incumbent Terrell Jackson and challenger Bryan Trickell are running for the District 7 seat on the Board of Education.
Terrell Jackson is a native of Upson County. He, his children, and most of his grandchildren, have gone through the public school system and he has always been a strong advocate of public education. His career was in recreation, and he has been a Board of Education member for 12 years. Jackson said while the school system can use its fund balance to make up revenue shortfalls, the fund balance cannot go below a certain level, and whatever they do should not affect the quality of the education. He would support a citizen oversight committee, stating that the business of education should not be left up to the Board of Education and the schools, but depends on involvement of all stakeholders in the community. Jackson said they should not use the economy as a crutch to say they can’t be as good as other school systems, and that they are working on best practices for the school system.
Bryan Trickell has lived in Upson County for 22 years. He and his wife have two daughters in the school system, and he has been volunteering in the school system for the last 20 years. He owns a local business and is a Partner in Education. Trickel said by better managing the funds the system has, it can make up any revenue shortfalls. He said he is in favor of a citizen oversight committee, as long as the people on it are qualified in resource management and project management. He said in order to improve schools, the school system needs to work with the city and county governments to find out what other counties have and go get it.
Incumbent Danny C. Bentley and challenger Terry L. Salter are running for the office of Chief Magistrate.
Danny Bentley is a lifelong resident, a Vietnam veteran, and has been married for 39 years. He has been Chief Magistrate for 18 years. Bentley said he has worked closely with law enforcement and the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) ever since he has been in office and has things in mind he wants to do with DFCS and other agencies. He said his number one priority is to continue the programs put into place years ago, such as working on drug abuse, especially among youth, and continue going into the schools to educate the youth on issues like drug abuse. Bentley said by state law his whole staff has been trained in the law and he is up on his training and will continue to do so. He said he is bound by a code of conduct that governs what he can say and do and has a manual of ethics that he reads and stays abreast of.
Terry Salter is a native of Upson County. He is married with three sons and five grandchildren. He brings 24 years of business experience with him. Salter said he has known most of the law enforcement in the county and city his whole life and will be tougher with anyone who breaks the law, especially violence towards children. His number one priority will be working with law enforcement to cut down on drug use in the county, and start educating children at a younger age about the dangers of drug abuse. Salter said he is not legally trained, but has dealt with issues on the civil side and he believes he brings more experience to the office than the last three Chief Magistrate. He said he has been reading the code of conduct and has found situations that aren’t covered by the book, such as giving businesses more leeway on collecting on bad checks.
Judge of the Probate Court
Incumbent Danielle McRae and challengers T. Larry Dawson, Marc Ellington, and Harry (Joey) Thiel are all running for Judge of the Probate Court.
T. Larry Dawson is a retired Chief Warrant Officer. He was a Chief of Labor Relations for the Georgia Department of Defense, officer in charge of family programs, was trained in mediation and arbitration, and was a administrative hearing judge for the National Guard in Washington, DC. He said his number one priority will be taking care of families and looking at other areas in the Probate Judge office to make it better. He said he was taught ethics in the military and it boils down to doing what’s right when no one else is looking. Dawson said he has taken a lot of legal classes and training and a judge has to look at the total situation and make decisions based on that and the law. He said he will actively be involved with law enforcement and DFCS because taking care of families is the most important thing to do.
Marc Ellington is a lifelong resident of Upson County. He has succeeded in business because of work ethics instilled in him as a child and is a business owner. He said his number one priority will be taking care of the people of Upson County while being polite, courteous, and treating people as they want to be treated. Ellington said each official has to abide by the code of conduct. He said he is not required to be a lawyer and can go to the county attorney for legal advice if needed, but he does have the ability to make sound judgments. He said he has always been a big supporter of law enforcement in Upson County and will work closely with DFCS to improve relationships to help protect children and the elderly.
Danielle McRae has dedicated herself to the office of Probate Court for almost eight years, four in Meriwether County and almost four in Upson. She has completed a six-year course in the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education, and graduated from Southern Crescent with a major in criminal justice. Her number one priority is the people of Upson County and she will be firm but fair. She said judges have a code of ethics they must follow and are limited on what they can do as judges. McRae said she has countless hours of training focused on learning the law and staying abreast of changes. She said she already works closely with law enforcement and DFCS and cannot run the court without working with them.
Joey Thiel has served Upson County for 22 years in public safety with the Emergency Management Agency, the Thomaston Fire Department, and the Upson Regional Ambulance Service. He has spent a lifetime honing his skills in leadership and making sound decisions. He said his number one priority will be to audit the office, evaluate the budget, and look at the training being done. He said ethics and morals don’t come out of a book, it comes by the way you live your life, and he believes in Jesus Christ and try to walk the walk. Thiel said his responsibilities with the fire department and EMS have taken him into court for various cases and he stays on top of legal issues and changes. He said it is not a matter of working with law enforcement and DFCS, but how well the judge will work with them and he already has experience doing that.
Upson County Commission Chairman
Incumbent Maurice Raines and challengers Rusty Blackston and Anthony South are running for the Upson County Commission Chair. Raines is running as a Democrat and Blackston and South are running as Republicans.
Rusty Blackston is a lifelong resident of Upson County and has been business as a farmer for 30 years. He served on the Upson County Board of Commissioners for three and 10 months. He said since he has been on the board he has earned the nickname of “The Ax” when it comes to cutting the budget to meeting revenue shortfalls, and he will continue to do so and will squeeze more money out of the state and Washington, DC. Blackston said he is in favor of giving local contractors consideration in bidding, but that the Board’s responsibility is to get the best deal for citizens. He said he has been a part of and supported the Volunteer Fire Departments, but would rather see a fulltime paid fire department and has a plan to do so.
Maurice Raines is a native of Upson County and was elected Chairman four years ago. He said they have brought the Board to the people through community meetings and opened the doors to the people. He said they are working on the budget in response to a shortfall in revenue and noted the tax digest is not shrinking as much as anticipated and that they are having a rollback of taxes. Raines said each county has its own process for setting bids to eliminate unqualified contractors and that they honor local contractors when they bid, but no local contractors bid on the grant work in Lincoln Park. He said he supports the Volunteer Fire Departments, and while a paid department looks good, it would cost $2 million to start and that he is content with what they have now.
Anthony South is a lifelong resident of the county. He is a local businessman and a former County Commissioner. He said he would run the county more efficiently to make up for revenue shortfalls and would cut back on unnecessary employee hirings such as a planning and zoning director when there is little building going on. South said he supports giving local contractors work and questioned the out of county contractors hired for grant work in Lincoln Park. He said the county is not in a position to form a fire department and why should it if citizens are getting good service out of the Volunteer Fire Departments.
Upson County Sheriff
Sam Baity, Nason L. Blackwell, Glenn Collins, Dan Kilgore, Jeffery Little, and Davy Storey are running for Upson County Sheriff. Nason Blackwell and Jeffery Little are running as Democrats, and Sam Baity, Glenn Collins, Dan Kilgore, and Davy Storey are running as Republicans.
Sam Baity was raised in Atlanta, but has lived for 22 years in Upson County. He is an Army veteran and worked for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) in a variety of roles. He said reducing crime in Upson County is a complex questions with no short answers, but he will reprioritize the work of the Sheriff’s Office to put and keep more people in jail to lower the crime rate. He said while everyone is apprehensive about being around law enforcement, but that youth in East Thomaston are problematic, and inter-agency programs need to be developed to reach out to young people. Baity said his plan for the Sheriff’s Office is to increase accountability and to put more deputies out on the road and be sure they are doing what they are needed to do.
Nason L. Blackwell is a native of Upson County, and is a former deputy and now a police officer with Thomaston. He said he is running to make changes and lower the crime rate in the county by working with youth to prevent future crime. He said youth should not fear law enforcement as officers are here as community servants and enforcing the law, and that he will increase working with youth in the community and school system. Blackwell said his plan for the Sheriff’s Office is to increase the correct type of training for deputies across the board and then hold his deputies accountable, and that they will do their work or won’t have jobs.
Glenn Collins is a lifelong resident of Upson County. He served in the Army as a Military Police Officer and 32 years in the Georgia State Patrol. He said the most successful way to reduce crime is to put more deputies back out on patrol and added that he will patrol as well. He said illegal drugs are a major cause of crime among youth and that he will put more programs in the schools and have better communication. Collins said his plan for the Sheriff’s Office is to make sure they provide the best protection. As a former Commissioner and Commission Chairman, he has seen the budgets turned into by the Sheriff’s Office and will base his budget on his department’s needs, not wants.
Dan Kilgore has spent 31 years in law enforcement and the last 21 years as Chief Deputy in Upson County and has management experience in every division of the Sheriff’s Office. He said he will have his deputies working hard to fight crime and will work closely with the narcotics unit. He said he hopes the youth respect but don’t fear law enforcement, and noting that 17 percent of the county’s population is in the public school system, will work closely with the school system to provide more programs for youth. Kilgore said his plan for the Sheriff’s Office is for effective daily management to make sure the office stays on task and the work is done professionally, thoroughly and properly.
Jeffery Little is a lifelong resident of Upson County and has been in law enforcement for 19 and a half years, a year and half with the Sheriff’s Office and 18 years with the Thomaston Police Department. He said to reduce crime the Sheriff’s Office needs more deputies on the road and more out in the community to deter crime. He said the juvenile justice system today is different from what it used to be and kids don’t fear law enforcement anymore because they aren’t punished. Little said his plan for the Sheriff’s Office is to assess the department, go over its budget and fix what needs to be fixed.
Davy Storey is a native of the county and has been with the Thomaston Police Department since 1995. He said to deter crime more deputies are needed on the road and they need to concentrate on drug activity. He said deputies need go into the schools to educate the youth and need to start at an earlier age than high school so that youth know the officers and won’t fear them. Storey said his plan for the Sheriff’s Office is to move people around and put more experienced deputies on the road, which would save taxpayers’ money by not having to hire more deputies.