- Valdosta City Council, District 4

Meeting with the four candidates for Valdosta City Council District 4, a telling moment came when incumbent Councilman J.R. Sessions noted that nearly half of those currently serving on the council have less experience combined in government than he has, with 15 years experience as a city councilman. Sessions first served as the at-large councilman and for the past term, representing District 4.

Challengers Alvin Payton Jr., David Dempsey and Tony Davis bring intelligence, goals, passion and commitment to their campaigns for the District 4 seat. Each seems to have talents and skills that would make him a strong councilman.

Our endorsement, however, goes to J.R. Sessions in his re-election bid.

We have noticed that his experience has proven to be a boon to a young City Council. In the past year, whenever less-experienced councilmen have mistakenly replaced procedure with passion, Sessions has wisely reined them in.

Also, on a City Council often divided in two factions, Sessions has remained his own man. He votes his judgment, or what he perceives best for his district and the city, rather than consistently siding with one faction or the other.

While this newspaper has not always agreed with Sessions' choices -- his alternative plan for island annexation, for example -- we respect his ability to be an independent force on a often divided council and the experience that gives weight to that independence. Sessions also realizes that as a councilman, he is a representative of not only his district but for the entire City of Valdosta, and he has a solid grasp on the issues facing a growing community.

For these reasons, we endorse J.R. Sessions for another term on the Valdosta City Council.

- Valdosta City Council, District 6

The Valdosta Daily Times Editorial Board asked Valdosta City Council candidates if they considered a councilman a representative solely of his district or a representative for the entire city. Our meeting with incumbent District 6 Councilman Robert Yost and challenger Brian Flemming underscored the difference between the two definitions of what a councilman should be.

Flemming said a councilman should represent the people of his district and vote their wishes. A councilman should not vote what he personally thinks is best, Flemming noted, but rather should reflect the concerns of his district's constituents, regardless of the repercussions of allowing a handful to direct decisions affecting the community as a whole.

Yost stated that he believes a councilman is a representative of his district but must ultimately be a representative for the City of Valdosta. Sometimes, the wants of the district are outweighed by the needs of the entire city, Yost says, and a councilman must make tough decisions, regardless of their popularity, for the common good.

Both Yost and Flemming are strong candidates. Flemming brings administrative experience, good ideas and an obvious commitment to his campaign for City Council.

Our endorsement, however, goes to Robert Yost's re-election bid.

We agree with his definition of what a councilman must be at this crucial juncture in Valdosta's history and future. City Council needs a councilman willing to put the needs of the many over the desires of a few. Or, as Yost puts it, "doing what's right instead of what's political."

Yost has made some controversial decisions which have not been popular with some residents in his district. He supported the widening of Gornto Road, which was unpopular with many in his district but is proving beneficial to the traffic flow through the district and for the entire city. He is very knowledgeable about drainage issues affecting the neighborhoods in his district, about traffic issues impacting residential areas, and about zoning issues that have negatively impacted his constituents. Yost is passionate and committed to ensuring that the needs of his district are met.

We believe a vote for Robert Yost will allow the strengthening of Valdosta -- all of Valdosta.

- Valdosta School Board, District 4

Incumbent Joe Crane, Sr. has been a fixture on the school board for 31 years, winning the respect of the community. Although the Times greatly admires Crane and believes the community owes a debt of gratitude for his many, many years of service, the Times endorsement goes to challenger Mike Pitts.

Pitts was a breath of fresh air in a group of school board candidates as a whole. He came to our meeting very well prepared to answer tough questions concerning school funding issues, drop out rates, SPLOST initiatives and consolidation.

Pitts was also the only candidate, when asked about future SPLOST projects, that expressed concern over the possibility of moving more schools from the interior of the city to its very edges, negating the tradition of neighborhood schools and diminishing the accessibility to parents. SL Mason and West Gordon were mentioned by every candidate as in need of replacement, but only Pitts was willing to say he thought the community and students would be best served by keeping the schools in or close to their current location.

He also had several interesting ideas on consolidation, having studied the successes of school districts in other states, and offered a fresh viewpoint on adequately preparing new teachers for the classroom environments in which they are placed.

Pitts earned the Times endorsement by educating himself thoroughly on all issues. With someone this dedicated to researching the issues, we feel confident he will be a strong advocate for educators and students alike.

- Valdosta School Board, District 5

Between the two men vying for Valdosta City School Board's District 5 seat, one candidate has six years' experience in office and the other does not. However, one would not guess from talking to first-time candidate Trey Sherwood that he lacks political experience. A well-rounded individual who brings a number of ideas to the table, Sherwood is The Valdosta Daily Times editorial board's pick for the District 5 seat.

Sherwood expressed a willingness to open the lines of communication between the school and parents. He also wants to work with the Lowndes County School System to ensure all children in the community receive a quality education. Sherwood fears industries will bypass Valdosta unless greater strides are made in improving public education.

As a former Wildcat, Sherwood respects and seeks to preserve the system's rich athletic tradition. Pragmatically, he reasons that football and other extracurricular activities are what keep some students in school and working toward a diploma.

Asked about the most pressing issue facing city schools, Sherwood named consolidation as the first. A study should be conducted to determine if consolidation is feasible and whether the community wants it, Sherwood argued. The candidate also cited the need for increasing parental involvement in the schools.

In choosing Sherwood, the editorial board also recognizes the fine service Dr. Neil Meyers gave the school during his term on the board. We feel, however, that Sherwood is a dynamic new voice who brings a fresh perspective to the school system.

- Valdosta School Board, District 6

The word that comes to mind when describing Valdosta City School Board District 6 incumbent Board Member Bill Love is "prepared."

Love is known for maintaining a constant presence in the schools. At board meetings, it is obvious that he has studied issues beforehand and is ready to take action. It is that preparedness on Love's part that impressed The Valdosta Daily Times editorial board and earned its endorsement.

The most pressing issue facing the city school system is academics, Love said. He wants to build on Reading Recovery to ensure that students keep up with their grade level and are prepared for the job market when they graduate. Love also pinpointed specific needs within the school system's facilities that need addressing.

Love's opponent, Charlie Wetherington, deserves credit for being up front in his push for school consolidation. He should be part of any group that studies the issues. Consolidation isn't, however, an end in itself, and the editorial board believes that Love's knowledge of the school system gives him a better perspective for making decisions on the matter.

The city school system needs a board member who walks the school halls and sees where the system's strengths and weaknesses are. Love has proven he is that type of person and earned our endorsement.

- Valdosta School Board, At-Large

The Valdosta City School System is seeking to fill the remaining 4 years of Jeff Sikes' unexpired term on the board. Sikes has been a diligent advocate of the city school system and leaves a void on the board which will be difficult to fill.

Four candidates are vying for the position: Jeana Beeland, Joyce Evans, Melvin Wakeley, and David Waller Sr. Of the four, only Evans and Waller have prior political experience. Waller served on the school board previously for 21 years, 10 as chairman, and Evans served two terms on the Lowndes County Commission.

While all four candidates are committed to the race, and David Waller certainly deserves our respect for serving the school system admirably for many years, the Times believes it is time for an infusion of new thoughts and ideals, which Jeana Beeland embodies.

Beeland chose her words carefully in answering questions, particularly concerning consolidation. She demonstrated to the editorial board a quiet passion and commitment to ensuring a quality education for all students in the system. Her ideas to combat the high dropout rate and low graduation rate in the system were well thought out, including a plan to engage both student and parent in the Pre-Kindergarten phase of their education, rather than waiting until the later grades, and to bring more volunteers into the classrooms to serve as mentors and take the place of parents who cannot or will not take an interest in their child's education.

For her interest in early intervention and her thoughts on a voluntary, well thought out approach to the possibility of consolidation, Beeland earned the Times endorsement.

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