Community members learned more about magistrate court and heard from state Senate District 19 candidates during a political forum Tuesday evening at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
Incumbent Chief Magistrate Melinda Anderson and challenger Kenneth Wells, a real-estate agent and federal contractor, spoke before gathered community members at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
Anderson and Wells are both running on the Democratic ballot. With no Republicans running, the May 24 primary will decide the winner.
Magistrate court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases, Anderson said, and people can file actions up to $15,000. Attorney are not required in magistrate court. She described the court as "user-friendly" and said it is often called "the people’s court."
Moderator Craig Stafford asked Anderson if she would make any changes to the local magistrate court.
Anderson said, "Not really," though she did say there are a few minor issues. She did not go into further detail.
She mentioned that the Georgia Magistrate Council created an instructional video for citizens on what to expect and bring as evidence to court.
Wells described himself as a "problem solver."
"My background is in real estate and construction. On a day-to-day basis we will take raw materials and apply workers and tasks to deliver a finished product," Wells said.
He compared it to magistrate court. "It (magistrate court) takes complaints and applies it to staff, the legal system, to deliver an answer, to solve a problem. I did that for 15 years, and I think I’m really
good at it."
When asked what changes he would make to the office, Wells said, "To be honest, I think I’m lucky in this, I’ve never been to magistrate court. So I’m looking forward to see what’s out there."
Anderson talked about Wells’ campaign slogan.
"I’ve seen Mr. Wells’ slogan, ‘For all the people,’ and I really don’t know that the means because I’m not aware of anyone whose been turned away or not helped," Anderson said. "You can’t be for all the people. You can’t be for anyone because justice is supposed to be blind. The decision of the court is based on the best evidence and law, regardless of who the people involved are. I am for fair, unbiased decisions."
The moderators did not ask Wells for a response to Anderson’s criticism of his campaign slogan.
Anderson talked about the difficult issues a magistrate judge faces, saying it is not an easy job. She called the job "sobering" and "sometimes heart-wrenching."
"Removing a family from their home because they can’t pay the rent or mortgage is not easy. It’s not easy to watch a victim of domestic violence, all beaten up, afraid to press charges against the offender," Anderson said. "I’ve gone home and cried over things that I’ve had to do. But it’s a very important job that not only requires knowledge of the law, but compassion and patience. And nothing takes the place of experience when dealing with the day-to-day situations we face."
State Senate race
Two out of the three Republican State Senate District 19 candidates, Delvis Dutton and Blake Tillery, attended the forum. Candidate Kevin Parker was not in attendance.
There are no Democratic candidates for the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the May 24 primary, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff July 26.
District 19 takes in Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Telfair, Toombs, Truetlen, Wayne, Wheeler and portions of Tattnall and Liberty counties.
Dutton is a Glennville native. He graduated from Pinewood Christian Academy and attended Georgia Southern University. He started a well-drilling company in 2001, General Pump and Well, which serves some areas in Liberty County.
In 2010, Dutton was elected state representative for District 157. During his first term, districts were re-drawn, resulting in him representing Wayne County instead of part of Liberty for the remainder of his term.
"I have actually worked with Rep. (Al) Williams (D-Midway) on co-sponsoring legislation for the local legislation, even when I was not the actual sitting representative for Liberty County," Dutton said. "I always had a wonderful working relationship, and I look forward to serving with him across into the Senate, making sure that you have a voice."
Dutton’s wife is a teacher in Long County, and he feels that together, they have a "good feeling on the pulse of this area."
Tillery is chairman of the Toombs County Board of Commissioners. He serves on the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission and was named as a Georgia Trend magazine 40 Under 40 honoree in 2013.
He said Liberty County has unique needs, that most of District 19 includes rural areas, but Liberty County is different. He said Liberty has concerns over crime, illegal drugs and the growth of the Savannah and Brunswick ports affecting the county. Tillery said the issues Liberty County faces will also be concerns for Tattnall, Long and Wayne counties.
"The issues that I’m running on are really simple," he said. "I believe that if we keep taxes low and provide the necessary infrastructure, that jobs can locate here and that people, when they are employed, are less likely to commit crime. They’re more likely to be educated, and they’re more likely to be productive citizens for our community."
Mary Alexander, the chief human resource officer for the Liberty County School System, showed a video on the Educational Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax. It highlights projects completed through funding from the current ESPLOST, which expires in June 2017. Alexander said that in four years, ESPLOST has collected more than $27 million.
The video can be viewed at www.liberty.k12.ga.us/esplost.