The Valdosta Daily Times
The Thirty Club hosted a political forum Monday night for the Valdosta City Council and school board candidates.
Valdosta attorney Roy W. Copeland moderated the event; the panel consisted of local media representatives Angie Penn and Lee Henderson. Copeland kicked the event off by saying, “Let the games begin,” then he introduced all of the attending candidates.
Valdosta City Council District Two candidates: Sandra J. Tooley, John Hogan, and Calvin Graham, Sr.
Valdosta City Council District Four candidates: Alvin Payton, Jr. (incumbent) and Junior S. Jackson.
Valdosta City Council District Six candidates: Robert Yost (incumbent), Richard S. Miller, and Joseph Wheeler.
Valdosta School Board District One candidates: Lizzie Shumphard and Edgar Cornelius Tooley.
Valdosta School Board District Two candidate: James L. Nelson.
In her opening statement, Sandra Tooley said that she is a builder, and she wants to join the council to build Valdosta.
Hogan opened by stating he wants to improve Valdosta's infrastructure, mainly the roads. He has seen many drainage issues that causes road erosion.
Graham said he has seen Valdosta grow, but wants to see it grow more.
Payton opened the forum for the candidates in District Four by stating he is a product of Valdosta city schools, and he is an advocate of education and growth. He wants to see his grandchildren grow up in Valdosta.
Jackson said he is a 22-year-old candidate, who has resided in Valdosta for four years. He sees many empty historic buildings around the city and wants to market these to attract new businesses.
Incumbent Robert Yost opened the forum for District Six. He said he has served for 12 years because a long time ago he decided to serve people. He encouraged residents to take advantage of early voting and to support SPLOST VII.
Miller said he is 62 years old, and was born and raised in Valdosta. He has watched the city grow, and his architecture career will allow him to help the council with the many zoning issues.
Opening with a strong stance against SPLOST VII, Wheeler promised to lessen the size of government, and to create a large service-based economy in Valdosta.
Valdosta School board candidate Shumphard said she has helped many students get their GED from Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, and she wants to continue to help students better themselves.
Edgar Tooley said he is a product of the Valdosta School system, and he grew up on the southside of town. Edgar Tooley notices the struggles of students, and he wants to level the playing field.
Nelson said he is running to lower the 47 percent drop-out rate among black students, because black students in Valdosta performed poorly on the CRCT test, and because Valdosta Middle and Valdosta High schools are on academic probation for the next three years. He wants to do something about that problem.
Panel member Henderson asked, “If elected or reelected, will you work with the county representatives?”
Payton said that a working relationship with the county is one of his strengths. He has already worked with the county to solve many issues including Mt. Zion Road and the LOST negotiations. “I am willing to give, to compromise, and to listen.”
Jackson, Payton's opponent, took the stage and said, “If I am elected, I will build strong relationships. I will share information with my constituents and I will work with the county.”
Yost said he has worked to develop a relationship with the county, and the other unincorporated cities, but he will represent District Six and serve its best interest. He also promised to work with the various authorities and commissions around the county.
Miller said that he is a former representative from the City of Remerton, and he already has a great relationship with the county. He promised to be open minded and compromise. “We're all in it together,” Miller said.
Wheeler said, “The city and the county need to be separate.” Wheeler has noticed that when the two coincide, they tend to create monopolies, such as the Park and Recreation Department cuts the grass. Wheeler wants these jobs to be privatized to increase employment for Valdosta.
Hogan said, “We have to work together, that way we can accomplish a lot.” Hogan pointed out that a lack of compromise will always cause problems, but in the end the residents need to be informed, and he promised to be the voice of the people.
Sandra Tooley promised to work with everyone, but first she will gather all of the information, analyze said information, then decide what is best for the city.
Graham promised to bring his leadership experience to the table; he has worked in the local and federal governments.
Next, Penn asked the school board candidates, “How would you improve the drop-out rate?”
Nelson said, “It starts with the parents.” He attends the education meetings provided to parents, and notices too many empty spaces in the room. Nelson has advised the current board to attend churches in an effort to get more parents involved in their children's school work because “When parents get involved, the children do better.".
Edgar Tooley said the best way to reduce the drop-out rate is to work with the state to change the drop-out age from 16 to 18. “It is odd when a student can drop out of high school before they can even vote,” Tooley said.
Shumphard said the drop-out rate is major problem, but she sees many students attaining their GED from Wiregrass.
Henderson asked the city council candidates if they supported SPLOST VII. All of the candidates except Jackson answered at this forum, but Jackson has stated before that he supports SPLOST VII.
For the candidates who did answer, all of them support SPLOST VII, except Wheeler.
Panel member Penn asked the school board candidates, “How would you prevent crimes, such as the Kendrick Johnson situation, in our schools?”
Edgar Tooley approached the podium first because KJ was his little cousin. He recommended that teachers be trained better to spot problems amongst students.
Shumphard recommended a stronger law-enforcement presence in our schools.
Nelson said, “The KJ case has touched all of us differently. I have studied the case, and all I can say is that when kids are better educated, the crime rates drop.”
SPLOST Chairman Suzan Prince spoke in favor of the SPLOST VII referendum. Prince has lived in Valdosta for 10 years, but since she moved here she has been active in the community. "SPLOST has been around since 1987, and this one cent sales tax has helped this community grow tremendously, and if passed it will roll over, and continue to grow Valdosta," Prince said.
She pointed out that SPLOST VII funds will also pay to fix the wastewater treatment issues, and it will construct sidewalks in the community.
Finally, Copeland thanked the Thirty Club for hosting the event, the audience for attending, and for Valdosta Fire Chief J.D. Rice for his service to the community.