Troup County NAACP hosted a candidate forum Monday night for Troup County seats – County Commission chairman, County Commission district 5 and Board of Education district 7.
Chairman candidates Frank Kirby, Republican, and Jerome Alford, Democrat; district 5 commission candidates Nathan Gaskin and incumbent Richard English, both Democrats; and non-partisan BOE district 7 candidates Alfred McNair, incumbent, and Eric Davenport answered prepared questions on topics regarding economic justice, education, health and public safety. Chairman candidate Patrick Crews was not in attendance, but said this morning he regrets not being able to attend due to previous commitments.
Orchestrated by Mike Smith, Troup County NAACP’s political action committee chair, allowed the candidates to begin by responding to a question regarding the recent disagreements and controversies within the County Commission and BOE.
“We have to have a board that works together because it gets into the public opinion of the board,” said English, who currently serves in the district 5 seat. “In order to have a successful board we have to be able to work together.”
Gaskin said commissioners are a representation of their districts and should act for the people they serve.
“They represent each district that represents thousands of people, so they have a duty and responsibility to hash out whatever differences they can to best represent their district and not just be part of a goal just to get along,” said Gaskin. “It’s equally as important to be civil as well. You have to speak up and voice your opinion to make sure your representing those thousands of people who elected you.”
Kirby said it will take a strong leader to bring the group together to solve the problems and to compromise in order to take the county forward.
Alford said personal issues should not be worked out in public.
“They shouldn’t bring personal issues before the public,” he said. “Handle indifferences before you get there, so when you you go the public, you stand united.”
Davenport declined commenting on the topic. McNair mentioned that the BOE has a code of ethics to follow.
Smith then allowed candidates to discuss their goals in their prospective seats.
Gaskin said there are things that can be changed over night, referencing how more marketing of West Point Lake would boost the economy and reduce the budget. English rebutted that nothing can be done with West Point Lake without U.S. Army Corps of Engineer cooperation and approval, though several agencies, including the Chamber of Commerce, have been promoting the lake.
Organization skills is what Alford said he brings to the table.
“You can’t operate with just me, or district 5, 2, 3, 4,” he said. “If you can not organize the whole commission to work for the better of the community, how do you know what people want in a community you don’t live in? Every segment has something to offer for anyone.”
Kirby said his knowledge of Troup County government from working as chief deputy in the Troup County Sheriff’s Office for 37 years is what makes him stand out. West Point Lake and the school system are his areas of focus, he said. With support from the U.S. senator, not the Corps of Engineers, more can be done with the lake, Kirby said, and bettering the school system will make for a better community.
“If you teach and educate them right, they’ll turn around and be good people,” he said.
McNair said during his time with the BOE he has helped in the improvement of academic progress, the promotion of a safe learning environment and the promotion of parental and community involvement.
Davenport said his focus is on getting the BOE and community to work together.
“It takes a community to raise a child and that’s not happening today,” he said. “What worked in the yester-years is not necessarily working today. If we get together as a team, the community and board members, we can have good results.”
Smith posed a question regarding fairness in regards to criminal rights, equal women’s rights, affirmative action, economic fairness and transportation, a topic he said is very important to NAACP.
Gaskin said district 5 has been discriminated against for being the “eye sore” of Troup County and is the area that real-estate agents are told to avoid. Simple things such as maintaining and building more sidewalks could help enhance the area, and would encourage more people to walk, instead of riding buses.
English said public transportation is very expensive and that the county has been doing a good job with its current senior transit system, Troup Transit.
Alford said that he is not proud of the district 5 area, and supports real-estate agents not wanting to bring potential residents to that area. He referenced that people hanging on the corner with saggy pants are common in the area and make it an area not to be proud of. The audience applauded.
“We need to fix it,” said Alford, mentioning that it is a community effort. “If you see it, you need to address it.”
Kirby said beautifying Hamilton and Whitesville roads has always been a focus of his because some fear the area, and it alters perceptions of visitors. Special-purpose, local-option sales tax – SPLOST – dollars should be directed more towards recreation centers and helping youth than projects like bicycle trails, which he said less people are likely to use. He also mentioned that Troup Transit should offer more buses for others in need of transportation.
Smith asked BOE candidates to address topics of school closings and class sizes.
McNair said there are no plans for any school closings and that it takes twice as much money to educate students in small neighborhood schools than in larger schools, especially due to the low funding for school systems in Georgia. A slight increase in class sizes and the recent reduction in personnel will help to manage budget, he said.
Teachers should be able to manage their classrooms in order to have success, Davenport said, adding that kids need a safe environment.
Public safety concerns were addressed by the candidates.
Gaskin said the county needs a more proactive law enforcement unit after mentioning that murders from several years ago have yet to be solved.
English said Troup County’s criminal caseloads are the largest in the Coweta Judical Circuit, and he has attempted to evaluate why.
“A DA (district attorney) told me ‘The only thing I can say is that we have better law enforcement,’” said English. “Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.”
In regards to police misconduct and brutality, Alford promised the audience that if elected as chairman, he would talk to the sheriff himself if anyone feels that they have been mistreated by law enforcement.
Kirby said Troup County law enforcement is fortunate to have video cameras, which helps make ensure officers are doing the right thing, thus reducing police brutality. He also commented that citizens should not be charged for police and fire departments visits to their homes.
Early voting began Monday for the May 20 primary elections.
Those who want to vote early may go to the Troup County Government Center, 100 Ridley Ave. in LaGrange, during regular business hours starting 8 a.m. Early voting also will be available on May 10, a Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting ends at 5 p.m. on May 16.
• Another candidate forum, hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the West Georgia Technical College’s Callaway Conference Center on Fort Drive.