Six Liberty County political hopefuls took part in Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s political forum Tuesday evening at the Shuman Recreation Center.
The candidates included two vying for the board of education’s District 5 seat, Marcus Scott VI and Lillie "Readie" Kelly. Also seeking voters’ support was Jack Waters, who is running against incumbent Marion Stevens Sr. for the District 1 county commission seat.
Mike Arnold is running against incumbent Connie Thrift for the District 3 commission seat.
Although they were not part of the candidates’ forum, candidates for the 1st District U.S. House of Representatives seat included Democrats Amy Tavio and Brian Reese, and Republican Dr. Earl T. Martin. Local incumbent politicians also attended the event, including state Rep. Al Williams and District 2 County Commissioner Justin Frasier, who is running unopposed.
The event was moderated by Tyrone Adams with chamber CEO Leah Poole controlling the time allotted to each candidate to respond to questions. Before the event kicked off, Poole thanked the Liberty County branch of the NAACP and the Liberty County Recreation Department for supporting the forum, then she talked about the chamber’s support for November’s referendum on a new special purpose local option sales tax.
She called SPLOST a locally controlled financing tool that provides funding for capital projects and roads with a local 1 percent sales tax. She said SPLOST funds cannot be used for government operating expenses or maintenance projects. She added that projects typically funded by SPLOST include roads, streets, bridges, drainage, police cars, fire trucks, ambulances and garbage trucks.
Not surprisingly, the first prepared questions posed to the commission candidates asked whether they support SPLOST VI and if it passes, what projects would they support funding. Each of the candidates said they supported the sales tax, but the incumbents spoke from experience about how it has benefited the county in the past.
“It takes the burden off the taxpayer, for example, like the justice center,” Stevens said. “It was built without taking money out of the general funds. Roads have not been built by taking money from the general funds in over 18 years at a price of about $500,000 a mile. ... It’s a sales tax. We need to support it so we can make sure our property taxes won’t go up.”
Thrift reminded the audience that Liberty County is growing. She mentioned Walmart and other large business where people outside the county shop. She said that when out-of-towners spend their money here, SPLOST and the sales taxes on their purchases help Liberty County build new buildings and roads. Arnold and Waters both agreed on the importance of renewing SPLOST but said how the funds have been spent needs to be reconsidered.
The candidates also were asked whether they support the gun-rights law recently signed by Gov. Nathan Deal that allows local governments to approve concealed-carry permits for guns to be taken into bars and churches. Thrift and Stevens said emphatically they disagree with the new law. Arnold and Waters said they think allowing guns to be carried into bars is a bad idea because guns and alcohol are a bad combination. However, they support the idea of members of churches, synagogues and mosques being able to defend themselves, their families and fellow church members if someone enters the church intending to do harm.
Board of education candidates answered questions regarding the use of technology in the classroom and efforts to help students who don’t have a computer at home. According to Scott, who said he spoke from his six years of experience as a teacher and five years as an administrator, technology is important and should be used at all grade levels. He said he supports allowing children to have cellphones in the classroom. He didn’t really explain what he would do to help students who don’t have a computer at home, except hope that teachers don’t assign homework that would require computer use outside the classroom.
“Our high schools are using iPads right now; however, we want to pass those down to the middle schools and elementary schools and buy new ones for the high schools,” Kelly said. “I think every student and every teacher should have an iPad.”
Kelly said she retired after teaching for 27 years and now serves as a substitute teacher. She said she is opposed to allowing cellphones in the classroom, which would allow students to text their friends and family members to get answers during tests. As for those students who don’t have a computer at home, she pointed out that each school has a computer lab where students can do their homework after school.