Candidates face off at forum

Published 10:37 pm Monday, September 13, 2010

Chilton County residents Monday evening had the opportunity to see and hear all seven candidates—in the same room at the same time—for local offices in the November election.

About 150 people attended an election forum held at the Jemison Municipal Complex and hosted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension, the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce and the Chilton Leadership Class of 2010.

Present were candidates for sheriff of Chilton County, state House of Representatives District 42 and county superintendent of education.

Candidates for the House seat—incumbent Jimmy Martin, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Kurt Wallace—were first to spend 2 minutes telling why they should be elected and then taking a series of questions the candidates had been allowed to review beforehand.

The platforms presented by Martin and Wallace, mayor of Maplesville, differed more than perhaps any two other candidates at the forum, which lasted from about 6:30-8 p.m.

Martin touted his 12 years in office and committee membership, while Wallace said he’s the man for the job “because I haven’t been there a long time.”

“I think what we need in Montgomery is a fresh set of eyes and ears,” Wallace said.

But the candidates agreed that employment and economic growth are two of the most significant issues facing the state.

“Truly, that is the reason that I’ve been down there working,” Martin said.

Candidates took turns answering questions drawn randomly; each also had 1 minute to respond to the opponent’s answer.

Sheriff Kevin Davis said his department’s greatest need is “more boots on the ground,” but the reality of that wish is debatable considering the county commission’s tight financial position.

Davis, who was elected as a Democrat but will run in November on the Republican ticket, clashed with the commission at times during his first term but said he and commissioners now enjoy a better understanding of each other’s positions.

Wilson talked about the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the commission in hopes of being allowed to hire new people.

“I believe if you have a good relationship with the county commission, they’ll have a good relationship with you,” said Wilson, a Democrat.

Like Martin, a fellow incumbent, Davis stressed his experience in office, saying the job is “70 percent managing money, and I have that experience.”

Meanwhile, with Superintendent of Education Keith Moore deciding not to seek re-election, the discussion among the three candidates for Moore’s office focused on changes that might improve education in the county.

Jemison Principal Louise Pitts talked about her desire to make all Board of Education business accessible on its website, bringing up Shelby County’s system as a model. Shelby County posts on its site meeting schedules, meeting minutes and financial and employment information from each school, she said.

“We have the capability and we have the personnel in place to put that on the Internet,” said Pitts, who is running as an independent.

Dave Hayden, Republican nominee and teacher at Clanton Middle School, said there are ways the board could save money.

“I think we could do a better job of planning with construction,” Hayden said and also mentioned hiring practices. “We should be mindful of the jobs we create,” he said.

All three candidates mentioned student safety as a priority even before being asked a question about how to deal with bullying.

Jason Griffin, assistant principal at CMS, said communication is crucial to preventing potential problems before they escalate.

“You’ve got to have teachers and administrators willing to talk about it,” said Griffin, a Democrat, about personal experiences at his school. “We deal with it, and that’s what we do.”

The forum was moderated by Auburn University’s Jim Seroka.