Five candidates offered many opinions but few concrete ideas and even side-stepped some questions Tuesday at the Shuman Recreation Center during a forum leading up to the July 31 primary.
About 130 people attended the 2012 Candidate Political Forum, sponsored by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and the Liberty County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
T-SPLOST, Sunday alcohol sales, generating local revenue and creating youth incentives were among the most rousing topics.
Board of commissioners chairman candidates Maxie R. Jones IV and Donald Lovette participated, along with BoC District 5 incumbent Pat Bowen and challenger Ted Eby. Board of education District 2 candidate Carolyn Smith Carter participated. Incumbent Charlie J. Frasier was not present.
The event program featured a note from Frasier that said he could not attend due to a previous commitment. Frasier did not return the Courier’s calls Thursday.
NAACP members Jodee Adams and Eric Thomas served as panelists and volleyed their own questions before turning to audience submissions. Topics include:
Each commission candidate was asked how they will vote on T-SPLOST, the referendum that would levy a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects if enacted.
Bowen and Lovette both support the tax, while Eby and Jones oppose it.
[Editor's note: Bowen called Friday to clarify his position on the tax. “I know if the T-SPLOST passes, it will create jobs, but it’s a tax; any way you look at it, it’s a tax, and I just don’t think we need another tax at this time,” Bowen said Friday. “I said this is the right way to do it; you let the people decide whether they want this penny or not, don’t leave it up to Atlanta, let the people decide.”]
Sunday alcohol sales
Bowen and Eby were aligned against the idea of Sunday alcohol sales, which recently were adopted in Chatham County and each municipality within it except for Garden City.
A state law that took effect last year granted local governments the authority to create a voter referendum asking the public whether they would support Sunday alcohol sales.
When asked last summer, Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said the commission had no intention of taking up the matter unless residents pushed for it.
“Well, I’m a born-again Christian, and God delivered me from alcohol, and I don’t believe that we should have places selling alcohol on Sunday. That’s the Sabbath, and that’s the day of rest … ,” Eby said. “If we’re going to come out and have good things take place in our county, see changes in our county, it’s going to take the Lord to do so.”
Bowen’s answer was more curt: “No.”
Future of Jordye Bacon Elementary
Perhaps one of the hottest questions asked of Carter, who retired as assistant principal of Jordye Bacon Elementary, addressed the BoE’s discussion on dissolving the school.
“When I read the newspaper, … the first thing I, I went to the principal and he was not aware that I guess there was a discussion; he said that nobody had really come to him,” Carter said. “So, first of all, transparency, regardless of what the board decides.”
Carter said the effects on staffing and students were her first concerns.
“I guess I’m more humanistic. I’m thinking about students, and I’m thinking about staff. Bricks and mortar are fine but, to me, that discussion should have been in the forefront … ,” Carter said. “What about staffing? What about students? Are they all going to be able to go to one school or are they going to farm them out?”
Local revenue and job opportunities
The crowd stirred during discussion of local revenue.
Questions spanned the gamut from how candidates would bring more revenue to the county to how candidates would expand opportunities for youth to give them incentive to come home — and bring their money with them.
“One of the problems I see with the county is they’re giving a lot of work to people that are out of our county …,” Eby said. “I believe that we need to hire people that live in our county that pay taxes here. … You know, it isn’t right for people to come in and take our work and then go to other counties and take our taxes.”
Eby, who owns Ace Construction, said he does not agree with the fact that many of the companies that win contracts for capital projects are not local.
“Mr. Eby touched on the basis about contractors coming in here, … any of these state contracts that the state has anything to do with, you can’t just give a contract just because they’re a local contractor,” Bowen said. “We do have an ordinance in place that if it’s a local contract, we give them a break.”
Bowen vaguely alluded to, but did not fully explain, the scoring process whereby companies are assessed on a numerical scale for factors such as price and experience. A local ordinance awards points for local contractors that outsiders would not receive, which factors into the company’s overall score. Under that style of procurement, the contract often goes to the highest-scoring company. Some other instances require the county to select the lowest bidder.
Bowen said the county advertises opportunities locally and has asked local workers to bid on projects but that not a single local contractor has done so on road work.
“If you don’t have people bidding on it, what else can you do?” Bowen said.
How would the candidates create incentive for young people to return to the area?
“Jobs, jobs — young people need good, high-paying jobs …,” Lovette said. He said that opportunities such as the Savannah Technical College Liberty Campus and Liberty College and Career Academy are available to help students qualify for jobs.
“As far as the youth is concerned, … there are things that we would do to help encourage the youth to be more active and want to participate more,” Jones said. He said after-school programming, after-school jobs and work experience would increase youth involvement, and he also would strive to create a youth commission to engage students civically.
Both sets of commission candidates responded with some confusion when asked whether they support the disadvantaged business enterprise.
“Explain disadvantaged — I mean handicapped or ... ?” Bowen said. “The county, we give a break to, whether it’s a minority or women or local contractors … There’s some contracts you just can’t give to local businesses, and we try to give local contractors a break.”
“Yes, I am,” Eby said. “We need to give everybody a fair shake, and we need to give people that have disabilities or whatever their problem is, people need a second chance. I am for local contract because I am a contractor myself.”
“I’m not exactly clear on the question, the disadvantaged part,” Jones said.
Thomas offered a brief explanation of the topic, providing the example that under the initiative, about 20 percent of business contracts would be awarded to minority-owned businesses.
“Well, if I understand the question right, why 20 percent? That’s a really low number; it’s pretty much evenly divided. … We are both well-represented in this area,” Jones said. “I feel that as far as minority contracts and giving away contracts by the county, minority groups, women, blacks, others, yeah, we should give some special consideration because it seems everything leans one way within the county.”
To clarify confusion, Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, came to the stage.
“I don’t think anyone understood what the question was; the disadvantaged business enterprise, DBE, is in place in many counties in Georgia …; the goals that are set, 20 percent is not the number …,” Williams said. “The commission gets together, and all it says is that there will be a level playing field, and we will work hard to bring people who have traditionally not been involved in business into the fold to get better representation.”
Establishing an ideal percentage of minority participation is not a part of the program unless the governing body chooses to do so, Williams said.
“I guess the short answer is, yes, I support it,” Lovette said. “And I was thinking, with the building of the new justice center, there was a minority preference in that contract, and we already have a local preference … the commission is already well on our way to supporting that initiative.”