Lowndes County Political Forum, AAUW, 15 Sep 2009

By Kenny R. Bush and John S. Quarterman, with videos by Gretchen Quarterman.

On Sept 15, residents of Lowndes County gathered inside VSU’s Whitehead Auditorium for a political forum concerning the upcoming 2009 General Municipal Elections. It was the competing Mayberrys, Hahira and Dasher, in the shadow of the big city of Valdosta with its council and school board. The 100 or so people who watched learned about the candidates. You can too, by watching the videos of each speaker provided by LAKE on YouTube. Perhaps VSU can also be encouraged to release online the videos it took, which are probably of higher quality.

Update: VSU TV rebroadcast schedule for this forum.

Perhaps VSU can also be encouraged to release online the videos it took, which are probably of higher quality.

The event was sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and moderated by Jim Peterson, chair of the Political Science Department at VSU. Before the forum began, the audience was provided note cards and encouraged to write questions for forum participants. A three person committee then decided which four questions that would be asked on stage for each set of candidates.

Valdosta City Council District 2

The forum began with the five candidates competing to be the newest councilman of Valdosta’s 2nd district. Willie T. Head, the incumbent, is not running, but five other people other are: David G. DeMersseman, David L. Dempsey, Rodney R. Flucas, Deidra A. White, and Dr. L. W. Williams.

(All the other LAKE videos of this AAUW forum are also available online.)

The first question of the night concerned annexing land neighboring Valdosta and if candidates believed it to be a good idea or not.

Williams commented that he did not see any benefits in annexing nearby property. White admitted that she was not very familiar with the topic, but promised that, if elected, she would look into it further and make an informed decision on the issue. Flucas said that annexing land around Valdosta is beneficial to its economic growth, while also “bridging gaps” in the area.

Dempsey felt that people should not be annexed into the city if they didn’t want to. Former tax commissioner DeMersseman, on the other hand, said that annexing is a great idea because of the tax benefits that come adding more tax payers to the population.

The next question asked what the candidates would do to bring a transit system to Valdosta.

DeMersseman believed that a transit system owned by a private enterprise would be both affordable and work well in “his” district. Dempsey pointed out that the city once had enough money in the budget for a new transit system, but it was cut back. He went on to say that the city will need grants to afford a functional transit system, much like how the transit system in Chapel Hill got started.

Flucas said that a budget assessment was needed to find the appropriate funds for a new transit system. As the owner of several small businesses in downtown, White commented that a lot of her employees either walk or ride their bike to work. She believes that a bus system would be beneficial to the people of Valdosta, but said that she is in favor of putting in the system at the “right time.”

Williams said adding more bus stops to better serve all districts in the community should be a priority.

Three of the VLD District 2 candidates had literature at the front table: Dempsey’s was two single-sided 8.5×11″ pages, White’s was an 8.5×5.5″ double-sided card, and Flucas’s was a business card. Dempsey davidldempsey.com and White www.deidrawhite.com included web addresses. Dempsey’s had the most information and Flucas was the simplest. White’s combined information and simplicity. We didn’t see literature for any other candidates for any position.

Valdosta City Council District 4

The incumbent Alvin Payton Jr. is running unopposed, and thus did not have to speak, since by the rules of the forum such candidates could make a statement offstage.

Valdosta City Council District 6

The next group on stage was incumbent Charles Robert Yost and challenger John E. Johnson Sr. for District 6.

Their first question was on how to address the recent crime wave in the city.

Yost revealed that a new stimulus plan would cover the hiring of seven to ten new police officers in the city. He also encouraged residents to take part in a neighborhood watch, saying that they are the key to cutting down crime.

Johnson agreed with Yost on the topic of hiring more police officers, but put emphasis on implementing more programs to keep young people supervised and out of trouble.

The two candidates were also asked how the city and county governments could work together for the good of all Lowndes County residents,

(All the other LAKE videos of this AAUW forum are also available online.)

Johnson said that the key was to talk and to level the playing field. Yost said he thought relations had improved with the new county chairman, although he also joked about annexing the entire county.

(All the other LAKE videos of this AAUW forum are also available online.)

The next question asked whether the school systems should work more closely together.

Johnson said sharing a bus system between city and county schools could save money in the budget.

“We need one school system in this city and county,” said Yost. “But sadly that isn’t the case.”

Yost did add that he believes that Valdosta has a great school board.

Next up were the two candidates for Hahira’s 1st district, Incumbent Terry C. Benjamin and challenger Wilmon J. Stanley.

The first question addressed what they would do about widening highway old North U.S. Highway 41. A recent county and GDOT effort to widen that road between Valdosta and Hahira met with stiff resistance from more than 400 people, organized as car41no.

Benjamin stated that something will be done about highway 41, but that the previous plan was canceled because it would adversely affect too many people. Stanley said that highway 41 should be improved, but not at the cost of taking homes. Neither candidate provided any reasons for widening the road.

A brief confrontation occurred between the two candidates when Stanley said that council members should follow his example and visit residents at their homes to hear their concerns. He went on to say that he believed the people of Hahira were not being heard. Benjamin responded by saying that he had never heard Stanley bring up any issues he mentioned during any council meeting. He also included that the city recently fixed a longstanding sewer problem.

The candidates amicably characterized Hahira as a Mayberry that didn’t have a crime wave because everyone knows everyone, people watch out for each other, and locals were likely to call the police on anyone they didn’t recognize. Neither candidate recommended more police. Benjamin said the city was working up a Citizens on Patrol (COPS) program to get people even more involved.

Hahira City Council District 4

Next was supposed to be Hahira’s District 4 candidates, however, only challenger Thomas A. Simpson appeared on stage. Because incumbent Rose M. Adams or Marion C. Nelson did not show, the forum moved on.

City of Lake Park

Nobody showed up for any of the Lake Park positions. Or did they? Perhaps they were at the “make a statement” area. This is a misfeature of the forum format. If a given position had more than one candidate and nobody spoke, the audience had no way of knowing who showed up or didn’t.

Lake Park Mayor

Incumbent mayor Walter K. Sandlin is running unopposed.

Lake Park City Council Positions (4 each)

All four incumbents are running unopposed and so did not have to speak: Albert R. Carter, Paul R. Mulkey, Eric Schindler, and Jeffery L. Spradley.

Dasher Mayor

Incumbent Kenneth E. Allen is running unopposed.

Dasher City Council Post 1

Incumbent Julian Q. Copeland Jr. is running unopposed.

Dasher City Council Post 2

Running for Post 2 in Dasher were Vivian R. Armstrong and incumbent Ronnie Lieupo. The two were asked about what they would do for a possible transit system in Dasher.

Both candidates felt that Dasher had no need for a transit system, because they have no industry. Instead, Armstrong commented that she would like to see an ordinance for residents who want to drive around in their golf carts, like Hahira has. They characterized Dasher as the other Mayberry that looked up to Hahira, referring to “the school” and “the church”.

VLD BoE: At Large District

Next to take the stage was incumbent Jeana F. Beeland and Thomas W. Smoot, candidates for Valdosta’s Board of Education At-Large District.

The candidates were asked what they thought about the recent decision by the Valdosta School Board superintendent Dr. Bill Cason not to air President Barack Obama’s speech on education during school hours Several hundred people attended the Valdosta School Board meeting the day before; most of them were not present at this forum.

Beeland said that she would have shown the speech to students and that schools should be more flexible when it comes to matters concerning the president. Smoot said that from “what was advertised earlier, it looked likely to be the right decision” and that “the president changed his speech from what he advertised”. On a question about school consolidation (Valdosta with Lowndes County), Smoot said he liked it economically, but not educationally. Beeland said there had been discussion on that subject “for a very long time” and that it was important for a school board member to “maintain our focus on educating children.”

VLD BoE: Super Ward East District 7

Super Ward East District 7 candidates Debra H. Bell, Christopher Brandon, and Christopher Burgman were also asked about their thoughts on the president’s speech.

Both Burgman and Bell said that the president should be heard when he is addressing the students of the nation. Burgman went on to say that the current councilman made a rushed decision by not even consulting with other board members before not allowing the speech to be seen.

Brandon said that students should have been given the choice whether or not to watch the speech.

Another question the group addressed was on how they would reduce dropout rates. Burgman said that parents need to become more active in their children’s academics to prevent them from dropping out, and even recommended emphasizing scholastics over athletics. Both Brandon and Bell agreed with Burgman. Brandon added that schools should promote more after school programs to keep students active in school.

VLD BoE: Super Ward West District 8

The last group to go on stage was the candidates for Super Ward West District 8. Incumbent Ricky Rowe is not running.

Once again, candidates were asked their opinion about preventing President Obama’s speech in school. Both Kelly C. Wilson and Dr. Chassitty L. Loving believe that the president should be heard.

The candidates were then asked if they thought that activities like sports, music, and theatre were too exaggerated over academics. Wilson said that athletics, music, and drama made students well-rounded and, if anything, motivated them to do better in class. Loving agreed that, while it is important to be well-rounded, academics should come first.

VLD BoE: District 4 (to fill the unexpired term of Mike Pitts)

Candidates Micah I. Hollimon and Dean R. Rexroth were not on stage.

VLD BoE: District 2 (to fill the unexpired term of Joseph Brown)

The only candidate, Vanassa L. Flucas, was not on stage.

Lowndes County Referendum, Vote YES or NO

Nobody spoke about this referendum on expanding the Lowndes County Commission from its current 3 members with a nonvoting chair by adding two overlapping districts for 5 members and a nonvoting chair. However, Dennis W. Marks distributed a one-sheet argument to “Vote NO on Expansion Referendum.”


Video link changed to playlist.