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Candidates stake out positions at NAACP forum

Early voting for the May 21 general and partisan primaries begins April 29, and dozens of voters heard from many of the candidates at the Liberty County NAACP’s forum Saturday night at the Performing Arts Center.

All four candidates running in Democrat primary were on hand, as were both candidates in the chief magistrate and tax commissioner race.


Incumbent Will Bowman, elected to office in 2020, said one of the achievements of which he is proudest is getting the Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office to be state certified.

“I started from behind the cue ball,” he said. “But I have worked my tail off to get us to be state certified so we can get grants. We have received almost $3.2 million in federal grants because we were state certified.”

Bowman also said his office is saving the county money by leasing its vehicles, rather than purchasing them.

“Now we don’t have deputies driving vehicles with 200,000 miles on them,” he said.

Former Liberty County sheriff ’s deputy and Hinesville City Council member Keith Jenkins said his top priority will be finding ways to keep people out of jail, rather than finding ways to lock them up.

“One of the biggest things I campaign on is not how many people we can put in jail but how many people we can keep out of jail,” he said. “Some people say you’re weak on crime. But I’m not. We have a responsibility to teach people not to want to go to jail.”

Kevin Hofkin, a local businessman, said the sheriff ’s office needs to be more proactive in law enforcement. He also said he would restructure the upper management of the sheriff ’s office, if elected.

“The sheriff ’s office is the biggest expense the county has,” he said. “We need to restructure how the office is run and we need more deputies on the road.”

Gary Richardson, also running in the Democrat primary for the sheriff ’s seat, said of his 33 years in law enforcement, his most rewarding came as a resource officer at Liberty County High School. He pointed out he worked under three different sheriffs and two different Hinesville police chiefs.

“We have to start training our officers better,” he said. “The better we train the officer, the better they are able to handle situations. Let’s build a partnership between the people and the police. There are a lot of things that can be done.”

Bowman said there was no training schedule for deputies when he took over, but there is one now. Deputies and LCSO staff seeking more training are encouraged to go.

“I make sure they get educated,” Bowman said.

Jenkins said programs need to be put in place for the incarcerated so they won’t commit crimes in the future and return to the jail population.

“When you leave, how do you come out? You come out the same way or worse,” he said. “We should try to look for ways to get these folks some tutors so that when they leave jail they have something to look forward to. That’s how we are going to rehabilitate folks.”

Bowman, however, noted that prison and jail are two different things.

“One thing we can do is work with the young men in our jails,” Hofkin said, adding the need for a re-entry program back into society.

Candidates also were asked how they would have their office handle calls on those in a mental health crisis.

“It has become mandatory officers have to take classes on it,” Richardson said. “We have to help them. Training, training, training will help make it better. The biggest thing about the mental health crisis is training to make them understand.”

Jenkins, who said he was an instructor in post-traumatic stress disorder, also emphasized the need for better training among law enforcement in dealing with mental health calls.

“It is very important for us to continue to educate our folks,” he said.

Said Hofkin, “Training is everything.”

Hofkin also called for teaming with Fort Stewart officials to see what programs are available for soldiers transitioning out of the service.

Hofkin also cited the importance of community policing.

“You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves,” he said, “by getting out and meeting every resident in Liberty County and when there is an issue, address it and move on.”

Jenkins also said law enforcement has to show young people not to be afraid of them and that parents shouldn’t point to officers and tell children that if they misbehave they’ll go get the officer.

“You’ve got to know your community,” Jenkins said. “Because if you don’t know your community, you don’t understand how to move forward how to make it a better community. We need to get the parents to buy in and get that parent involved if there is a problem there.”

Richardson said there were five deputies on the road when he started with the sheriff ’s office and now that number only stands at six.

“It should have been increasing years ago,” he said.

Richardson also pointed to continued training and education for deputies.

“We need to be professional, and the more training and more education the more professional someone can be,” he said.

Bowman said his goal is to get more officers on the road and more resource officers in the schools. At times, there are as few as six deputies on patrol in the county. He also pointed to starting the CHAMPS program in the local elementary schools, a Georgia Sheriffs Association effort that stands for Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety.

“I don’t want them to be afraid of us,” he said.

Tax commissioner

Voters will choose a new tax commissioner in the May primary, following the passing of longtime office holder Virgil Jones. With no Republican opposition on the November general election ballot, the primary between former county chief financial officer Kim McGlothlin and former tax commissioner staffer Jamie Sharp will decide the position.

“I love this place,” Sharp said. “Liberty County is my No. 1 priority. I learned that relationships are key. Some of the relationships I built made me a better person, made me a better man. Working with Mr. Jones showed me what a Black man can be. The example he left inspired a young Black man to get into politics. I thought I’d be playing football on Sundays.”

McGlothlin noted she worked hand-in-hand with Jones in his first few years as tax commissioner as he settled into the position.

She also said she wants the office to help taxpayers and property owners understand what exemptions they might be qualified for and how to use those.

“I worked with the people. I worked for the people,” she said. “I ran my office with complete transparency. I built public trust through fiscal accountability. I worked with the people to help you understand not just how your tax bill is calculated and where that money goes. I believe education and information for citizens and taxpayers is key.”

McGlothlin said it isn’t up to the tax commissioner to set the millage rate — that task is wholly the responsibility of the county commissioners.

“I wish I could say I could lower your taxes,” she said. “But I could educate you on the process. Until you can get a hold of those expenses and rein them in or get new revenues, all I can do is educate you.”

Sharp said his decision to enter the race for tax commissioner was not an easy one.

“I peaked at my position,” he said. “In the middle of me leaving, tragedy happens. That’s when I realized it was bigger than me. When I spent time with those co-workers, and the people of Liberty County, it was a no-brainer. My inspiration came from Mr. Jones. I never saw me wearing a suit.”

McGlothlin also was not considering a run until it become evident Jones was not going to run again.

“I knew I could help,” she said. “I knew I could help the people, the citizens, the taxpayers, the property owners and the employees. I knew I had the experience and the knowledge and the compassion to step in and work for people and work with people.”

Candidates were asked what could be done to exempt those 65 or older from paying board of education taxes. McGlothlin said that is something that has to be done through legislation.

She also said one of her first goals, if elected, would be to make sure tax commissioner office staff are cross trained. She did the same thing in the county’s finance department and it also helped some of her personnel with moving up the county ladder.

“I believe cross training is imperative,” McGlothlin said.

Sharp said he wants to make sure everybody has the right amount of training.

“We’re going to make sure we work together,” he said. “We need to make sure we are taking care of our older Liberty County residents.”

Chief Magistrate

Michael J. McGirt was sworn into office recently, and former Midway City Council member Malcolm Williams will challenge him in the upcoming Democrat primary.

The seat had been held for nearly 35 years by Melinda Anderson, who retired last year.

“I am truly blessed to stand here and serve the community in which I was born and raised,” Mc-Girt said. “I will continue to provide an office and a courtroom that is fair and impartial to all who enter.”

Often called the “people’s court” because of the kind of cases it hears, Magistrate Court is the venue where such issues as civil claims up to $15,000, foreclosures on personal property, violations of county ordinances, bond hearings, abandoned motor vehicles and mobile homes and dispossessories.

McGirt said his goal is to provide a “courtroom that is fair and impartial.”

“When that does happen, I can assure when you are before me it will be a fair hearing,” he added. “Every case will be heard and given the attention to detail it deserves. There will be no case that will be prejudged. We will help when we can, by law. We will point you to the other resources that can help you.”

The court also issues warrants, and Williams said his job, looking at Sheriff Bowman, “is to put you and your officers out of business.”

“My platform is to get to them before they get to jail,” Williams said.” I have been working in our community most of my life.”

Williams said he wants to turn around the situation in the judicial system.

“Liberty County is growing by leaps and bounds. And the young people are getting younger and younger,” he said.

McGirt said his number one goal is to educate the community on what’s available at magistrate court.

“The courtroom belongs to the community,” he said. “I am just the good steward. We work well with law enforcement in search warrants, subpoenas, civil warrants.”

McGirt said status does not matter in his courtroom, which is “governed properly with compassion and accountability” and done so “no matter the race, color, creed, background, sexual orientation” of the people before him.

Williams said 90% of the people don’t know what happens in Magistrate Court.

“You need to find out what the position is and what is my background to educate the community and educate our young people so they won’t have a chance to be standing in front of you,” he said. “I want to make the scales even for everybody.”

County Commission, District 4

Maxie Jones IV and Kevin Remillard would not face each other potentially until November. Jones, the incumbent, has no opposition in his primary, but Remillard and Timmy Blount are running against each other in the Republican primary next month.

Though they are on opposite sides, Jones and Remillard agreed roads are a major issue in the 4th District.

“Some of our issues and challenges in the 4th District are unique to the district,” Jones said. “Our district has the second most amount of dirt roads in the county. If I’ve gotten one phone call, I’ve gotten 50 from people wanting their dirt roads addressed. I’ve done the best I can with the funds we have. I would like to continue this journey we’re on and finished the work we’ve started.”

Remillard said water is the main problem and said continued scraping and maintaining of dirt roads is a repetitive cost. Roads washing out and ditches full of water are safety issues, he added.

“We experience torrential rainfalls, so what do we do when those roads wash out?” he asked.

Remillard also said there needs to be a focus on small businesses and keeping money and income within the community.

“We’ve heard a lot about progress and there has been progress, and it is important to know what our assets are and how we can utilize those,” he said.

While Fort Stewart remains a tremendous asset, much of the income gets siphoned by big box outlets and then gets sent out of the community, Remillard charged.

“I want us to be not a miniature Savannah but our own culture,” he said.

Jones said getting materials to pave roads is becoming more difficult and more expensive. Paving a mile of road used to cost about $1 million.

“It costs $2 million to completely and professionally pave a dirt road,” he said. “Then we don’t have anything for any of the other dirt roads.”

While the county has expanded its fire services, Remillard said he would like to see more deputies on the road.

“We see a lot more crime than we do fires,” he said.

County Commission, District 6

McKesson Stafford, who is challenging incumbent Eddie Walden for the seat, said drainage and infrastructure have to be addressed.

“Somewhere, it got missed,” he said.

He also backed the idea of an entertainment venue or center for families.

“We want to make sure we just don’t talk about it,” he said. “We’ve got to work together.”

Stafford and Walden are facing off in the May Democrat primary and there is no Republican challenger, meaning that seat will be decided next month.

County Commission, Chairman

Donald Lovette has a primary challenge from Chassidy Oliveira to keep his seat and the winner of the May Democrat primary also faces Republican Michael Navarro in November.

The county, Lovette said, is growing “by leaps and bounds,” but the commission is trying to balance that growth with the county’s more rural nature.

“Liberty County is a great place to live,” he said. “There is more commercial growth than we have had in a long, long time. There are more subdivisions now. There is progress is on every side of the county. I’ve been honored to help in the progress.”

As the county has grown, there are more recreation programs — including more of the very popular pickeball courts — and a comprehensive fire services plan, Lovette pointed out.

“There were times you would call 911 for a fire and no one would respond. Now we have fire protection,” he said.

Lovette said more sales tax revenue also helps the county pave more roads and bring in water and sewer services to attract more businesses and amenities.

“We have to create the environment for them to want to come,” he said.

When it comes to providing water — Liberty County is in a yellow zone, as deemed by the state Environmental Protection Division, meaning its groundwater withdrawals are restricted — that means agreements with green zone counties such as McIntosh and Long. The lack of water led to the county turning down an industrial prospect, he said.

“We’re working with neighboring counties so they can provide water service. We need water and sewage,” he said.

Lovette touted the continued progress and future progress but also said the county is looking at ways to protect the growth from encroaching on others.

“We are going to maintain some of our rural nature,” he said. “They like that coastal laid-back style of living.”

U.S. House, 1st District

Also at the forum was Democrat candidate for the U.S. House 1st District seat Patty Hewitt, a Richmond Hill resident. The seat is currently held by Republican Buddy Carter.

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