Candidates speak out at Cham­ber fo­rum

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick kmyrick@polk­stan­dard­jour­nal.net

Lo­cal and state candidates on the 2018 bal­lot got the chance to voice their opin­ions, tell vot­ers about them­selves and field ques­tions on a va­ri­ety of top­ics, rang­ing from the fu­ture of fire pro­tec­tion in Polk County to how best ed­u­ca­tors should as­sess the progress of stu­dents statewide.

As the fi­nal days of the 2018 midterms come closer to an end, it came down to dif­fer­ing vi­sions over the di­rec­tion Polk County wants to take in the fu­ture for a trio of lo­cal candidates, and a statewide vi­sion for a pair of ed­u­ca­tors who have op­pos­ing ideas of what di­rec­tion schools should take in ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren.

District 2 Polk County Com­mis­sioner Jen­nifer Hus­ley – who is run­ning for a sec­ond term as in­cum­bent – was joined by a trio of District 3 candidates and in­cum­bent Repub­li­can State School Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Woods and his chal­lenger Demo­crat So­nia Fran­cisRolle. Though Com­mis­sion of Agri­cul­ture can­di­date Fred Swann had agreed to come, he was ab­sent from the night’s fo­rum.

Since Hulsey’s chal­lenger Ricky Clark wasn’t present ei­ther, she was given five min­utes to make a short ad­dress to the au­di­ence about what she felt were her ac­com­plish­ments since she was elected in 2014, and what she hoped to con­tinue on­ward in achiev­ing in the years to come if she wins an­other term in of­fice.

Among those ar­eas where she’s al­ready in­volved in the fu­ture for Polk County is the ex­pan­sion of broad­band. She cited re­cent ses­sions with other lead­ers within the North­west Ge­or­gia Re­gional Com­mis­sion about ways they can seek to in­crease con­nec­tiv­ity and re­li­able ser­vice across ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, and that in the forth­com­ing months she ex­pects that input from lo­cal res­i­dents will be crit­i­cal in de­ter­min­ing the next steps for­ward, specif­i­cally through sur­veys and in­di­vid­ual com­ment.

“It’s time that we have bet­ter in­ter­net ac­cess,” Hulsey said.

Hulsey pointed to pos­i­tives in her re­marks that have come about since her time be­gan in of­fice, like the com­ple­tion of the County’s Pub­lic Works fa­cil­ity, 911 op­er­a­tions cen­ter, and on­go­ing work to­ward ren­o­va­tions be­ing com­pleted on Polk County’s court­houses.

She also cov­ered other ini­tia­tives she’s sought to or­ga­nize with the help of the com­mu­nity, like the Polk Drug Pre­ven­tion Al­liance with the goal of curb­ing drug abuse and dis­tri­bu­tion lo­cally, and Take Back Polk, a mid­dle school men­tor­ing pro­gram she or­ga­nized in 2017 and is now in its sec­ond year.

“The drug prob­lem we have here is a dark cloud that we need to ad­dress,” Hulsey said of the ef­forts on the Polk Drug Pre­ven­tion Al­liance. “I feel strongly about this, and our drug deal­ers need to know – we’re putting them on no­tice – we want you off our streets.”

She added in her ad­dress that the county is work­ing on con­cerns over the land­fill and the role of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and com­mis­sion­ers on its op­er­a­tions un­der the Waste In­dus­tries con­tract. The com­pany just an­nounced on Oct. 18 the com­pany is be­ing sold off to a Cana­dian com­pany, GFL En­vi­ron­men­tal, for an undis­closed sum.

“The bot­tom line is this: ac­count­abil­ity is very im­por­tant. I want an­swers just like you do,” Hulsey said.

Af­ter Hulsey was given five min­utes to ad­dress the au­di­ence, it was time for the real ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion to be­gin for a trio of District 3 com­mis­sion candidates who are seek­ing to take over the term left on the seat.

Jer­i­lyn Purdy, Ray Carter and Larry Reynolds were all given a few min­utes each to in­tro­duce them­selves to those who came out to hear the views of candidates and ask them about what they thought of the fu­ture of Polk County.

Purdy, a res­i­dent of Polk County for nearly three decades with her hus­band of 35 years, is the of­fice man­ager for the Chick-fil-A of Rock­mart and a 2017 grad­u­ate of the LEAD Polk pro­gram.

“My past ex­pe­ri­ence is nowhere near what Mr. Carter or Mr. Reynolds have, but I’ve been deeply in­volved in Polk County for a long time,” she said.

Her lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence ex­tends into the cur­rent Lieu­tenant Gover­nor for the area for the Ki­wa­nis Club, board mem­ber­ship for the Rock­mart Farm­ers Mar­ket, and serv­ing as well on the board for the Ge­or­gia Ini­tia­tive for Com­mu­nity Hous­ing.

Carter and Reynolds are also both long­time res­i­dents of the Rock­mart area. Carter, who works for IBM in IT man­age­ment and also a for­mer Rock­mart City Coun­cil mem­ber, said that he and his fam­ily have been long­time res­i­dents of Polk County. Though Carter was born in Cedar­town, he’s lived in Rock­mart for more than two decades.

Reynolds, a for­mer Polk County Com­mis­sioner him­self, a vet­eran and Ford Mo­tor Com­pany em­ployee for 31 years, added his own love of Polk County and his home­town of Rock­mart dur­ing his open­ing ad­dress as well. He said that “most of my fam­ily is still in Polk County” and that his ac­tiv­i­ties to help lo­cally in­clude his mem­ber­ship in the Rock­mart Lion’s Club, and on a larger scale with the Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can Party’s state com­mit­tee.

The trio all had sim­i­lar and dif­fer­ing thoughts on the di­rec­tion the county should take de­pend­ing on the topic. Here’s a run­down of their ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion pro­vided by the au­di­ence:

SPLOST

All three of the candidates sup­port ex­tend­ing the Spe­cial Pur­pose, Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax for an­other six year term. Reynolds kept his an­swer short, say­ing only that “I ab­so­lutely do” and pro­vid­ing no ex­pla­na­tion as to why.

Purdy felt that SPLOST is nec­es­sary for a county that “wants to grow. It needs money.”

She ul­ti­mately felt the im­por­tance of the fi­nan­cial help pro­vided by SPLOST was espe­cially needed for im­prov­ing Polk County in­fra­struc­ture.

Carter gave the long­est re­sponse in sup­port of SPLOST, and said that vot­ers should con­sider it since it along with the Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax are “essen­tial tools to off­set the ever-in­creas­ing cost of govern­ment.”

“Ev­ery­one ben­e­fits from it,” Carter added. “And it al­le­vi­ates the sin­gle bur­den from prop­erty own­ers.”

County Fire Ser­vice

The de­bate over what to do about mak­ing sure that when peo­ple go to bed at night they are safe and se­cure in know­ing their house won’t be left in ashes by the morn­ing due to un­fore­seen haz­ards re­mains real.

What the fu­ture of Polk County’s Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment looks like is a real ques­tion that any cur­rent or new com­mis­sioner will have to face in the forth­com­ing term in of­fice.

All of the candidates agreed that im­prove­ments are needed within the fire depart­ment. How to get there is a dif­fer­ent ques­tion.

Purdy, who said her grand­fa­ther was the first fire chief for Pauld­ing County and a res­i­dent on Vinson Moun­tain, said that she well un­der­stands the prob­lems on both sides of the is­sue.

“I do un­der­stand what vol­un­teer firefighters do and go through,” she said.

But she does ul­ti­mately sup­port in­creas­ing fire pro­tec­tion for Polk County res­i­dents through some sort of mixed-depart­ment strat­egy.

So does Reynolds. He said that in his long time in Polk County, that he sees growth com­ing and there­fore the need for a coun­ty­wide fire ser­vice that is paid.

“At the same time, I’m to­tally in sup­port of vol­un­teer firefighters,” he said. “We’re not there yet for a paid sys­tem.”

So what he sees as a po­ten­tial model to move for­ward is how Polk’s neigh­bors to the south in Har­al­son County han­dled mov­ing from a strictly vol­un­teer to a mix of paid and vol­un­teer firefighters.

“If Har­al­son can do it, we can do it and still keep the vol­un­teers,” Reynolds said.

Carter said in his re­sponse that the need for con­sol­i­da­tion of fire ser­vices coun­ty­wide is grow­ing greater than ever, espe­cially since mu­tual aid and au­to­matic aid agree­ments made with the City of Rock­mart in the past with the idea that Polk County would pur­sue in­creas­ing fire ser­vices.

“If we don’t pur­sue it, then there’s go­ing to come a time when they pull out of that agree­ment,” Carter said.

He also made the ar­gu­ment that all home­own­ers can agree is good: lower in­sur­ance rates.

“Hav­ing bet­ter fire ser­vices will re­duce home in­sur­ance costs for ev­ery­one,” Carters said.

The Grady Road Land­fill

Purdy might have ex­pressed the feel­ings lo­cally about where to start with the Grady Road Land­fill best of all dur­ing last week’s Can­di­date Fo­rum. “Oh, the land­fill...”

She said in her re­sponse to what to do about the fa­cil­ity off High­way 278 have been framed around just go­ing through the con­tract made with past op­er­a­tors who were since bought out by Waste In­dus­tries, who it­self is now un­der new own­er­ship but will re­tain its name.

She has her own ques­tions about the land­fill, and said that she has sought out to take a tour of the fa­cil­ity and get her own ques­tions an­swered. How­ever she placed no blame on the board as it stands now for their han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion thus far.

“This cur­rent com­mis­sion is not re­spon­si­ble for the land­fill,” Purdy said. “This cur­rent com­mis­sion in­her­ited this land­fill. Is it a pos­i­tive? Is it a neg­a­tive? Is Waste In­dus­tries and the County do­ing ev­ery­thing ac­cord­ing to con­tract?”

She said she hoped to get these ques­tions and more an­swered and to avoid the mis­con­cep­tions go­ing around about the fa­cil­ity.

“I think that the law­suit from that standpoint is go­ing to help us find out,” Purdy said of her ques­tions.

“The Land­fill is a tough sit­u­a­tion, and none of us can find good,” Carter added with his own thoughts.

He ad­mit­ted that no lo­ca­tion is ever go­ing to be per­fect for a land­fill – espe­cially not one right next to the pri­mary con­nect­ing high­way be­tween Cedar­town and Rock­mart – but that the fa­cil­ity is there, and it isn’t go­ing away.

Carter sought a more prag­matic ap­proach with his an­swer. Rather than try­ing to shut down the fa­cil­ity that does gen­er­ate rev­enue for the county an­nu­ally, he in­stead be­lieves what should be done is tack­ling it from a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and try to limit what can and can’t be buried within the fa­cil­ity grounds.

“A lot of com­mu­ni­ties have en­acted laws to re­strict cer­tain ma­te­ri­als from within their bound­aries,” Carter said. “They also re­strict ma­te­ri­als that can be dumped.”

He said so long as Waste In­dus­tries and the county were in compliance with the con­tract and both par­ties are mov­ing for­ward within le­gal means avail­able, re­strict­ing what waste can come in can be a pos­i­tive means to con­trol the land­fill.

Reynolds did point to the sale of Waste In­dus­tries in his an­swer, and that the county is go­ing to have a long up­hill bat­tle against a com­pany worth more than $3 bil­lion (he did not pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on where he got the fig­ure for the sale.) He did add that so long as both par­ties were op­er­at­ing within the con­tract, he did not im­me­di­ately see a res­o­lu­tion for how to deal with cur­rent and fu­ture com­plaints, like pre­vi­ously re­ported smell and wa­ter runoff is­sues.

Fu­ture Ag Cen­ter

The trio of candidates were also in sup­port of mov­ing for­ward with a po­ten­tial agri­cul­ture cen­ter pro­posed pre­vi­ously to the com­mis­sion.

All three pointed out that there’s not quite enough in­for­ma­tion pub­lic thus far about the pro­posed Ag cen­ter to make de­ter­mi­na­tions about spe­cific sup­port just yet, but they like the idea.

“I will sup­port it, but I need to know a lot more about it first,” Reynolds said.

Purdy said one of her ques­tions about the fu­ture cen­ter would be where ini­tial fund­ing for con­struc­tion of the fa­cil­ity would come from, and then who would be re­spon­si­ble for staff and main­te­nance once it was com­pleted.

Carter added that once ques­tions are an­swered, he’d like to see it too.

“It would be a great ben­e­fit for us to bring it here,” he said.

Al­ways about jobs

A good job is get­ting eas­ier to find in Polk County as the un­em­ploy­ment rate con­tin­ues to dip, and with it at an ini­tial 3.4 per­cent for the month of Septem­ber it’ll soon be just as im­por­tant for peo­ple to fig­ure out how to keep res­i­dents from go­ing out of town to find even bet­ter pay­ing work.

So what’s the so­lu­tion from the candidates?

Carter said he un­der­stood it was a prob­lem that prob­a­bly isn’t go­ing to be fixed overnight. In his po­si­tion cur­rently as a De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity of Polk County mem­ber, he sees first hand the work go­ing into at­tract in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial busi­ness part­ners into the com­mu­nity to “en­sure that we’re pro­vid­ing a job job” in Polk County.

He said the county may never fix the dy­namic, but that work is un­der­way to try.

Reynolds pointed to­ward the role of com­mis­sion­ers over­all, which is not to pro­vide jobs for peo­ple but to pro­mote the environment to make in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial busi­nesses want to in­vest in Polk County.

He did say how­ever that he felt there was com­pe­ti­tion among the city and county de­vel­op­ment au­thor­i­ties that needed to be worked out be­fore mov­ing ahead.

Purdy on the other hand saw the sil­ver bul­let for bet­ter jobs lo­cally be­ing all about ed­u­ca­tion. She said the real an­swer is what the Polk County Col­lege and Ca­reer Academy is do­ing al­ready in their train­ing of a fu­ture work­force at both high schools with a va­ri­ety of po­ten­tial em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to take out of high school.

She did say part of the prob­lem is pay dis­par­ity. Purdy said her hus­band trav­els to Lock­heed Martin’s plant in Ma­ri­etta for work daily in­stead of seek­ing em­ploy­ment in Polk County due to the larger amount he makes driv­ing ver­sus what he’d make here.

“There are good pay­ing jobs at places like Meg­gitt and Jef­fer­son South­ern, and in­dus­tries that pay well,” she said. “Any­one who wants a job has a job in Polk County, so that’s on them. That’s the three per­cent who are still un­em­ployed.”

School su­per­in­ten­dent candidates

Along with lo­cal candidates, state school su­per­in­ten­dent candidates got a chance to share their feel­ings on sev­eral top­ics as well.

Those in­cluded but weren’t lim­ited to how the state pro­vides funds to the class­room, how the re­quire­ments for test­ing are chang­ing, and much more.

Woods, the GOP in­cum­bent on the ticket for 2018, said that he seeks flex­i­bil­ity to change the shift­ing re­quire­ments for Ge­or­gia stu­dents by us­ing funds in a dif­fer­ent way. He pointed to­ward how just this year the state al­lo­cated $1 mil­lion to­ward school safety fund­ing in the af­ter­math of high pro­file mass shoot­ings ear­lier in 2018.

On the other hand, Rolle said that by removing the re­quire­ments on Ti­tle 1 fund­ing at the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, it takes away fund­ing for class­rooms that would oth­er­wise go to­ward lit­er­acy pro­grams and giv­ing teach­ers flex­i­bil­ity to use funds in a way they find pos­i­tive in their own class­rooms.

Rolle also said that in her ex­pe­ri­ence pre­vi­ously in the class­room, she found that teacher eval­u­a­tions and as­sess­ments are used by ad­min­is­tra­tors as a tool to bully ed­u­ca­tors rather than as a true ac­count­ing for how they are teach­ing on an an­nual ba­sis.

She pro­posed that if ad­min­is­tra­tors are go­ing to use eval­u­a­tions to neg­a­tively re­view teach­ers, they should in turn also re­ceive a neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tion as well since they are ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for whether stu­dents are learn­ing or not within the school walls.

Woods did agree the cur­rent eval­u­a­tion sys­tem and fo­cus on test­ing re­sults is ar­chaic, and that he wants to work with the gen­eral as­sem­bly on the state level to change the cri­te­ria to make it “fair and eq­ui­table for teach­ers as well.”

Both took dif­fer­ent views on test­ing. Woods said schools are do­ing too much and the cur­rent sys­tem isn’t work­ing, while Rolle said that test­ing is im­por­tant and needs to stay in place, but that changes do need to take place. She ar­gued the state depart­ment is tak­ing away tests that make sure stu­dents are learn­ing in sub­jects at grade level.

Each also be­lieved that it is up to lo­cal dis­tricts to de­cide on arm­ing teach­ers or hir­ing se­cu­rity per­son­nel, that changes are needed for the school’s fund­ing for­mula and that tech­nol­ogy use in the class­room is not an im­me­di­ate sil­ver bul­let to all ed­u­ca­tion prob­lems.

Ques­tion not here?

A lot of ques­tions were posed to candidates dur­ing last week’s fo­rum, but not all were ad­dressed.

Those who be­lieve they had a ques­tion put to the can­di­date that didn’t get a re­sponse and wasn’t sim­i­lar to an­other ques­tion can look on­line at polk­ge­or­gia.com for e-mailed re­sponses back from those par­tic­i­pants who wished to take part.

E-mail re­sponses were not im­me­di­ately avail­able at press time over the week­end. Check on­line this week at polk­stan­dard­jour­nal.com for more on how to find those re­sponses.

/ Kevin Myrick

Candidates Ray Carter, Jer­i­lyn Purdy and Larry Reynolds dis­cussed a va­ri­ety of top­ics they were ques­tioned on by the au­di­ence at the lat­est Polk County Cham­ber of Com­merce Can­di­date Fo­rum.

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