Valdosta Daily Times

October 16, 2013

Hard blows landed at political forum

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — American Association of University Women hosted a political forum for area elections which will take place on Nov. 5.

Dr. Luke Fowler, a Valdosta State University political science professor, served as event moderator.

The instructions were simple. Each candidate had two minutes for an opening statement, six minutes for each question, and a one-minute closing statement. This was enough time for all of the candidates to debate, and for some to land a few blows.

The first two candidates to take the stage were potential representatives of the City of Valdosta District 2, John Hogan and Calvin Graham Sr. Sandra J. Tooley was not present because of personal reasons.

In his opening statement, Hogan promised to represent all of District 2 because he sees and pays attention to the issues that the district faces on a day-to-day basis. Hogan also owns a small business that allows him to listen to the community.

Graham's opening statement touted his military and leadership experience. Recognizing the past growth in District 2, Graham said there is room for growth. Graham promised to serve District 2 as proudly as he served in the Armed Forces, where he received a purple heart.

Fowler asked the candidates, “If elected, do you expect any problems with the council?”

Graham said, “No. I have a strong voice, and that came from the Army. Also the ability to work in a team came from the Army.”

Hogan promised to look at things that have not been previously addressed.

Candidates from the City of Valdosta District 4, Incumbent Council member Alvin Payton Jr. and challenger Junior S. Jackson were the next to take the stage.

In his opening statement, Payton pointed to his education, business, family, and leadership experiences. Payton said, “I have experience to lead and I have a good working relationship with the county.”

Jackson's opening statement highlighted his accomplishments as a young man of 22 years of age. Jackson is on the board of Keep Lowndes/Valdosta Beautiful; he has a family, a home, and now wants to help the community.

“What are two major issues that face the community?” Fowler asked.

Jackson said two issues are retaining graduates from VSU because they will help Valdosta grow, and bringing businesses to the community.

Payton said the two main issues were relocating the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant and attracting new industry to the area.

Candidates from the City of Valdosta District 6, Incumbent Council member Robert Yost, Richard Miller, and Joseph Wheeler debated many issues facing the community.

Yost said that he has been on the council for the past 12 years, and highlighted that his district has a lot of traffic.

Miller is a graduate from local schools, and has been a business owner for many years. His architecture background gives him the experience to bring a new perspective to the many zoning issues facing council.

Wheeler said he believes in two term limits, and wants to put the city on a pay as you go type system. He promises to cut the city's budget to build Valdosta's infrastructure. Wheeler also said he opposes SPLOST VII.

“What is your position on the WWTP, and how will the city pay for it?” Fowler asked.

Wheeler answered, “we should pay for the project with budget cuts.”

Yost said that the plant has to be moved, it is court ordered, and the project is expected to be completed in two years. Yost jokingly said, “Mr. Wheeler talks about cutting the budget, but he works for the city.” Yost asked Wheeler, “What's your next job when we cut yours?” Clarifying his point, Yost said, “Every decision we make as a council impacts people, and we have to be aware of that.”

Miller said that the relocation is mandated by the federal government, so it has to be done. Miller pointed out that the funds will come from somewhere, either another sales tax, or by raising property taxes. “We need to pass SPLOST to pay for this project,” Miller concluded.

Lizzie Shumpard was the only candidate present at the forum running for Valdosta School Board District 1. Shumpard is running because she loves her community.

“What are the two main issues on the Board of Education?” Fowler asked.

Shumpard said the two main issues are the pre-K program, and the multitude of students who speak foreign languages implying that the system lets those students down. Stressing the importance of an early education, Shumpard said, if children miss out on pre-K then they will statistically fall behind in their studies.

Incumbent school board member Vanassa L. Flucas and James L. Nelson represented the candidates from Valdosta School Board District 2, and they were the final candidates to speak at the forum.

In her opening statement, Flucas said she has served on the school board for the past three years, and she is a proven leader.

Nelson opened by putting on his cap and gown in remembrance of Valdosta's high drop-out rate among black students. He promises to examine the Title I funds to ensure they are distributed correctly.

“What is your stance on the common core curriculum?” Fowler asked.

Flucas replied, “The common core curriculum will help students compete on a global level. It has its problems, but it will make us more competitive.”

Nelson agreed with Flucas' statement, but added that the problem is a demographic problem because the students in the middle will tend to become one of the 47 percent who drop out of school.

Finally, the AAUW thanked the candidates, and the audience for participating, and coming to the event.