09/19/08 — Local candidates answer questions at LWV forum

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Local candidates answer questions at LWV forum

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 19, 2008 1:41 PM

One by one Thursday night at the League of Women Voters' meet-and-greet, candidates for Wayne County Board of Education and county commission shared their reasons for being called to service.

Candidate Forum

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

Candidates for the school board and county commissioner seats participated in a forum Thursday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Wayne County Public Library. Each candidate who participated was given up to five minutes to state their qualifications for their candidacy.

Some got that chance earlier than others.

Barely into the speeches at the Wayne County Public Library, moderator Ann Sullivan halted proceedings to ask candidates, seated in front of a large closet, to assist with setting up additional chairs.

An estimated audience of 125 turned out to Gertrude Weil Auditorium, with 15 candidates on the dais.

"We are excited about the turnout and I believe this has been a good thing for the citizens of Wayne County," said Hilda Rouse, league president. "Now we have heard each candidate speak and give their views why they are running. Let's trust that each one will keep their promise if he or she is elected."

"When we had our meeting about setting up I said wouldn't it be wonderful if we had to stop this thing and drag some more chairs out of the closet and we did," Mrs. Sullivan said.

She said the 90-minute event was probably the best attended forum the group had held.

"I think we did a little bit better job getting the word out this time," she said afterwards. "Besides, everybody is excited about politics right now so I'm glad they decided to take an interest in it."

No one issue stood out among the commission candidates, who spent their allotted three-to-five minutes touching on taxes, public education, workforce development and improved relations between commissioners and school board.

Mostly, though, it was a time to represent who they were and what qualifications they have to offer.

At-large candidate Hal Keck and District 6 candidate Joe Daughtery voiced support for rail services and an inland port in Wayne County where cargo from the state's ports could be brought for shipping. Both are Republicans.

Two Democrats, at-large candidate Sandy McCullen and District 1 candidate Charles Bruton, spoke of the need for clean water.

Republican Willie Ray Starling, District 5, and Frank Pearsall, District 6, said the county's tax rate is too high.

All of the candidates turned out, except for District 2 Commissioner J.D. Evans who is unopposed and District I Commissioner Andy Anderson. District 6 Commissioner Jack Best sat in the audience and did not participate.

Dr. McCullen, an associate superintendent in the school system, said education will be a top priority, with others including economic development and health care, farmland preservation and public safety programs for senior citizens.

Pearsall suggested the need to have commissioners and school board members getting along. He added that taxes in the county are currently "extremely high" and many in his district are opposed to forced annexation, something he would work to fight against.

Incumbent John Bell discussed his own background, defending the challenge of being a commissioner.

"It is easy to point fingers but you need to know how county government works to state a position," he said.

Disputing assertions that the county tax rate is excessive, he said it is in line with surrounding counties and is one of the lowest rates.

District 4 candidates Steve Keen, Republican, and Denny Tart, Democrat, brought up economic growth and workforce development.

"Economic growth is the heartbeat of Wayne County," Keen said. "Commissioners must create a positive economic atmosphere where existing businesses and industry can afford to stay and grow and new businesses are attracted to Wayne County."

The county also needs to ensure that it looking after employees, Tart said, "or are we just a training county?"

All five school board candidates attended, including Shirley Sims of District 2, who is running unopposed; current board Chairwoman Thelma Smith of District 3, and her opponent Charles Wright; and two at-large candidates vying for exiting member Pete Gurley's seat, Ven Faulk and Eddie Radford.

Radford, a retired principal, said he was running on experience. He praised the school system in Wayne County but said he also has some concerns -- facilities, safe schools, the need for a better attendance policy and technology.

Faulk's experience running a business would be applicable, he said, "because we need to run the school system like a business."

He said he favors the facilities plan, adding that he would like to see more parental involvement and "bringing school pride back in the school system."

Ms. Sims said she intends to keep working to do what is best for every child in Wayne County.

"We're serious about what we do for the students here in Wayne County. But there's only so much we can do because we have a gun over our heads, We can't just get money because we want to," she said. "Whatever is number one should drive the budget. I don't know what number one is, but it's not public schools."

Wright said since moving to Wayne County with his wife and four sons in 1990, he has witnessed a decline in the central attendance area -- in student numbers, the high school's graduation rate and a decrease in course offerings.

In recent years, he said, he started his "one-man crusade" which led to his running for school board.

"I will try to steer the school board in a different direction," he said.

Mrs. Smith was last to speak and her words almost proved to be providential.

"I'm a candidate for the Wayne County Board of Education and I don't plan to go anywhere," she started.

Sharing her "passion for community service," she applauded the school system for giving students a good education, then proceeded to explain how controversial issues like dropout and graduation rates are derived.

Unfortunately, her time ran out before her explanation was complete and officials interrupted.

"Just two more minutes," she pleaded, continuing her remarks before Ms. Rouse and Mrs. Sullivan intervened and ended the session.