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Standing room only at Long County forum
long forum
Ray Howard, past president of the Long County Chamber of Commerce, moderates the Long County political forum. - photo by Photo by Cailtin Kenney

Long County candidates for several offices and their supporters came out Tuesday evening to the Round Table restaurant in northeastern Long County to speak about why voters should choose them in the upcoming May 24 primary.

The venue was standing room only as candidates came up one by one to speak for three minutes each. Below are some of the qualifications and initiatives candidates talked about.

Board of Commissioners

District 1

Brian Bray (R)

Bray said his main objective is to get jobs and recreation areas.

"Getting stuff for the kids out here in the Sandhills area. There is nothing for kids to do out there whatsoever," he said.

Bray also questioned why Long County had not been able to get a shopping center like the upcoming Oglethorpe Square in Hinesville.

"Why can’t we get businesses like that into our county, into the Sandhills, into the Gum Branch area?" he asked. "Let’s do something. Let’s get our economy going."

Bray also wanted to promote accountability in the county, including its employees.

David Richardson (D)

Richardson is a lifelong resident of Long County, a business owner, and a military retiree.

"I’m running to try to see growth come," he said, especially in the northern part of the county.

"And I’m not going to promise you a paved road, I’m not going to promise you a Wal-Mart, but" he promised that residents will know about every tax dollar that is spent.

Gerald Blocker (D, incumbent)

Blocker owns a construction business, where he works from "daylight to dark."

"Money drives the train," Blocker said. "And Long County ain’t got so much money in the budget." He added that even though the commissioners would like to do "all kinds of things," they had to stay within the budget.

Blocker went on to say that it takes all five commissioners to be "on board to make things happen."

District 2

Charles Brady (D)

Brady moved to Long County seven years ago and currently supervises security at the Liberty County Justice Center.

"I’m running for county commissioner in District 2 because I feel like I can make a difference in not only District 2, but in the whole county," he said.

"Some of the problems that we need to address is revenue, roads and recreation," Brady added.

Brady said he wanted to look at improving infrastructure to bring in business and industry, and in turn, "take some of the burden off of taxpayers."

Mike Riddle (R)

Riddle is a freelancer with the Glennville Sentinel and the Coastal Courier, for whom he is currently covering sports and not Long County news. He said he is running for commissioner because he cares about the whole county and not just his district.

"Since I have been over here in Long County, what I have done is, I have tried to help the community in all areas, whether that was the Board of Education, whether that was the city of Ludowici, whether that was Long County commissioners," Riddle said.

"I think every member of every one of those boards can tell you that I’ve been an active person, encouraging them and helping them behind the scenes," he added. "A lot of times I couldn’t put what I was doing in the paper because I was covering it. And it was like it’s unethical for me to cover what I’m doing. So you didn’t know about the little things that were going on."

Riddle said the county needs to sell itself better.

"All the problems that we talk about in Long County, whether it’s roads or whether it’s drainage, whether it’s the sheriff’s department needing cars … all of it stems from lack of revenue," he said.

He also said that he has been working with the city of Ludowici for more than two years to bring a McDonald’s and that if officials had not approached the company, there would not have even been a conversation about the restaurant chain coming to the county.

Wallace Shaw (D)

Shaw is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. He had previously served eight years on the Board of Commissioners.

Shaw said he feels that one of the most important issues affecting District 2 is the growth of Fort Stewart.

If elected, he would like to get a county administrator, a strong grant writer and fund road maintenance.

Robert Long (D, Incumbent)

Long is completing his first term as commissioner.

If re-elected, he would like to "hire a county administrator," get help "bringing in some businesses" and "find some way to help the jobs in our county."

Long said he agrees the county has "some awful roads" and if re-elected, he would like to see if they can "overhaul our roads from one end of the county to the other."

"It’s going to take us all working together to try to go one way, and that is to get our county to where no one would be ashamed of our county … but be proud of our county," he said.

District 3

Walton Pelton (D)

Pelton has lived in the county for more than 20 years and said he has been involved in the community for a long time.

"In this time, I’ve sat on several boards here … and I founded and started the diabetes awareness day," which has continued to today.

"I’m proud to say that together with the diabetes day, the last couple of years we’ve raised right at $20,000 for diabetes," he added.

If elected, Pelton said he would like to "continue to work on the infrastructure that we have," by not necessarily changing it but improving on what the county currently has.

Willie Thompson, the incumbent who faces Pelton on the Democratic primary ballot, did not speak at the forum.

District 5

Randall Klingensmith (R)

Klingensmith was in the Army when he moved to the county in 2008.

"And then in 2009, I got wounded," he said. "And the community around here turned out to support me. And my wife and I decided to retire here and make it home because you made us feel at home."

Klingensmith said he can use his experience as a contract specialist at Gulfstream to help the county with grants and make sure the county is not being taken advantage of by contracts.

He also said he wants to bring in outside business and "show them what we got."

Bobby Walker (D)

Walker, a former commissioner, said he wanted to renegotiate the E911 contract with McIntosh County.

If elected, he said he would make sure there was financial integrity in the county.

Walker said Long County needs a county administrator and that the county will need to pay what it takes because, "You’re not going to get one for $45,000 that’s going to come in here and have the skills that it should take to actually run this county."

Dwight Gordon (D, incumbent)

Gordon said the county needs to bring in more business because it only has a $7 million budget, of which $2.5 million is spent on public safety.

"I get asked by a lot of people why don’t we pave this road, why don’t we do this. But we have to prioritize as commissioners," he said. Gordon added that he would pave all the roads if he could, but the commissioners are restricted by the budget.

Gordon said the county has reached out to grocery stores, but it is hard to bring them in because they are so close to ones in Wayne Counties.

"We need your help. The commissioners do the best they can, it doesn’t matter who’s in there, our budget is still going to be the same," he said. He also promised that the commissioners will use county funds responsibly.

Board of Education

District 4

Janet Watford (incumbent)

Watford is a graduate of the Long County School System, became a math teacher, and said she was the last elected superintendent in the county.

When she was elected to the board three years ago, "We started off running, we came in, we looked around, we observed, we saw what we had and decided that we would start a strategic plan in this system," Watford said.

The board was able to receive input from community members, teachers and administrators for the plan, Watford said. She added that the best thing the board did for students was switching to the block schedule.

Linda Deloach, who is challenging Watford for the District 4 seat, did not speak at the forum.

District 5

Bubba Howard

Howard described himself as a longtime resident who has attended Long County schools and has family members who are teachers in the district.

"A lot of people have asked me what exactly does it that you want to change in the school," Howard said. "Well, I really don’t see — what do you change if you have one of the best school systems in the South? I mean I don’t see it."

Howard said the county has some of the best teachers and administration. "And I vouch for every one of them," he said. "And I’ll back every one of them."

He said he wanted to see more vocation programs at the schools because the majority of the graduates from the public schools are not going to go to college.

"It’s just a sad fact but it’s true," Howard said. "I would love to see our vocation department just bloom. I mean, let’s give these kids something they can start out with" and have a "pathway."

Julie Dawson (Incumbent)

Dawson said she has a "vested interest in the school system" because she has three children in school.

"I would love to continue to serve the citizens of the 5th District and ask for your support," she said. "Over the past three years, I have strived to do what is right for the children of Long County and place student achievement, as anyone can tell you, at the top of my list."

Dawson said she is a supporter of the athletic and fine arts programs, and other extracurricular activities because "when you give children something else to do, it keeps them off the streets."

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