Disputes between the Oconee County Board of Commissioners and the Oconee County Board of Education played a prominent role in the candidate forum held by the Oconee County Republican Party last week.
Moderator Tim Bryant from Cox Radio’s WGAU asked about the relationship between the two governing bodies of candidates in the June 9 Republican primary for spots on the two Boards.
He also asked Sheriff candidates James Hale and Jimmy Williamson how they felt about having deputies in the roadways at the entrances to the county’s schools.
Answers differed, with little agreement on how to solve the problem.
The Forum on Monday evening was organized for the Republican Party primary.
Democrats have qualified for the Board of Commission Chair and for two School Board Posts, but the Democrats have no primary opposition.
The three candidates in the nonpartisan Probate Court Judge race did participate in the Republican Candidate Forum.
Early voting for the June 9 primary and nonpartisan judicial election starts at 8 a.m. tomorrow (Monday) at the Board of Elections and Registration Office across from the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The Candidate Forum on Monday took place in the new City Hall at North High Shoals.
Bryant asked the questions, some of which, he said, came from the local party members, some were submitted to him from the public, and some he made up himself.
Candidates were not given a chance to introduce themselves, but rather they were asked to respond immediately to a question from Bryant.
Candidates did have a chance to make a timed closing comment.
The forum began with the Board of Commissioners Chair candidates and was followed by the candidates for Board of Commissioners Posts 1 and 4.
Board of Education Chair Tom Odom and Board of Education Post 4 Member Tim Burgess have no primary opposition, so they were not part of the forum. Odom also has no Democratic opposition in November.
The open Post 5 on the Board of Education, created with the retirement of Board Member Wayne Bagley, has drawn two Republican qualifiers, Michael Ransom and Adam Spence.
Both were present at the forum on Monday, but Spence had to leave for family reasons before questioning. Bryant asked Ransom questions following the presentations by the Board of Commissioners candidates
Next came the Sheriff candidates and then the Probate Court Judge candidates.
Video Voter Guide
Sarah Bell, a member of the Oconee County Republican Party, was invited to attend and video record the Monday night candidate forum.
The session actually began with Kandiss Taylor, a candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat in November, but confusion over the timing of the start of the session resulted in Bell missing much of Taylor’s presentation.
I have edited the video that Bell produced, removing the few comments of Taylor that Bell captured. I also removed the introductory comments of Bryant and the time devoted to transition between the candidates.
The end product is the series of video clips below. Anyone wishing to watch the entire video, starting with the Commission Chair candidates, can go to the final embedded video below or, for the full video of the forum including Taylor, to the Facebook page of the Oconee County Republican Party.
I also have inserted below candidate background information based on information the candidates provided when they filed for office. I had put that information on Box.net previously, and it remains there for download.
The result is a type of Republican Primary Candidate Voter Guide for the June 9 election.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly restricted candidate campaigning, making the Forum organized by Oconee County Republican Party Chair Steven Strickland a rare chance to see and listen to the candidates address a number of issues.
Board Of Commissioners Chair
Carol Bennett and Johnny Prichett are challenging incumbent John Daniell in the Republican Primary for the position of Chair of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.
Bennett, 1054 Market Street, lists her occupation as educator on her qualifying form. She is 57 years old and has lived in Georgia for the last two years and in Oconee County for the last two years.
Daniell, 1922 Elder Road, lists his occupation as Board of Commissioners Chair. He is 52 years old and has lived in Georgia for the last 43 years and in Oconee County for the last 25 years.
Pritchett, 1120 Railroad Street, lists his occupation as fire code specialist. He is retired and is the Mayor of Bishop.
Pritchett is 70 years old and has lived his entire life in Georgia and Oconee County.
Bryant’s first question of the three candidates was about the relationship between the Oconee County Board of Commissioners and the Oconee County Board of Education.
Bryant also asked about the proposal by the Oconee County Gun Coalition that the Board of Commissioners declare the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary, about a U.S. 441 Bypass of Bishop, about the county’s Park and Recreation Master Plan, and about the need for an aquatics facility for the county.
The candidates also responded to a question about the economic impact of COVID-19 on the county and about plans for the library and county administrative building.
Board of Commissioners Post 1
John Laster is challenging incumbent Mark Thomas for the Republican nomination for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners.
Laster, 1251 Ashland Drive, lists his occupation as attorney on the qualifying form. He is 50 years old, has lived in Georgia for the last 19 years, and has lived in Oconee County for the last 15 years.
Thomas, 3749 Greensboro Highway, lists his occupation as contractor and restaurant owner. He owns Hot Thomas’ Barbeque.
Thomas is 60 years old and has lived in Georgia all his life and in Oconee County for the last 56 years. Thomas is finishing his first term as Post 1 Commissioner.
Bryant asked about fire services in the county and the need for a paid fire department, about plans for the library and county administrative building, about handling the COVID-19 “crisis,” about the county’s reputation for being business friendly, and about the need for broadband service in the county.
Bryant asked if there is a lack of transparency in county government.
Board of Commissioners Post 4
Maria Caudill, 1300 Rossiter Terrace, is challenging incumbent Mark Saxon for the Republican nomination for Post 4 on the Board of Commissioners.
Caudill lists her occupation as administrative manager. She also is chair of the Oconee County Planning Commission.
Caudill is 68 years old and has lived in Georgia for the last 36 years and in Oconee County for the last 22 years.
Saxon, 1812 Clotfelter Road, lists his occupation as retired. Saxon is 57 years old, has lived in Georgia his entire life, and has lived in Oconee County for the last 51 years.
Saxon is seeking his second four-year term as Post 4 Commissioner.
Bryant asked Caudill and Saxon two questions about the relationship between the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education, and two questions about the U.S. 441 and Bishop Bypass.
The two candidates also were asked how to deal with budget problems resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, about the upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, about zoning, about the Master Plan for Parks and Recreation, and about an aquatics center for the county.
The final question was about the need for a paid fire department.
Board Of Education Post 3
With Bagley stepping down from Post 5 on the Board of Education, the two Republicans have qualified for the June 9 primary.
Ransom, 1821 McRee Gin Road, lists his occupation as consulting forester.
He is 38 years old and has lived in Georgia for three years and in Oconee County for three years.
Spence, 1081 Lois Lane, lists his occupation as a police sergeant. He is with the Jefferson Police Department.
Spence is 38 years old, has lived in Georgia his entire life, and has lived in Oconee County for the last 13 years.
Bryant asked Ransom why he wanted to be on the Board of Education, if he felt the good reputation of the Oconee County School System was deserved, about facility needs of the school system, and, “if money were no option, what you would do in terms of enhancing education?”
Ransom was asked if changes in education might be made as a result of lessons learned during the shut-down of school because of COVID-19, and, finally, “what he makes of” the relationship between the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners.”
Hale and Williamson are seeking the Republican nomination for Sheriff in the June 9 primary.
No one has filed as a Democrat for the office, so the Republican primary will determine who is the Sheriff once current Sheriff Scott Berry retires in December.
Hale, 5370 Colham Ferry Road, lists his occupation as deputy sheriff. He is in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.
Hale is 44 years old and has lived his entire life in Georgia and Oconee County.
Williamson, 1091 Settlers Ridge Road, lists his occupation as law enforcement. He is the retired police chief at the University of Georgia.
Williamson is 53 years old and has lived in Georgia for the last 42 years and in Oconee County for the last 22 years.
Bryant started his questions of Hale and Williams by asking about assigning deputies to school entrances, which has been a point of dispute between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners.
Both candidates were asked to define a sheriff, about campaigning in the current climate where social interaction has been constrained, and what they think citizens want from the Sheriff’s Office.
Bryant did ask the two candidates to outline their professional backgrounds and experiences, the relationship between police and the public, and about police training.
The Oconee County Sheriff is responsible for the jail, and Bryant asked about that operation. He also wanted to know how the two candidates would respond to budget pressures.
Probate Court Judge
Three candidates have filed to replace retiring Probate Court Judge David Anglin in the nonpartisan election held on June 9.
If one of the three candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the outcome will be determined in that election. If no one gets more than 50 percent, the race will go to a runoff on July 21.
Michael Hunsinger, 1100 Felton Drive, lists his occupation as Deputy Police Chief on his qualifying papers. He holds that position in Athens-Clarke County.
Hunsinger is 55 years old, has lived in Georgia his entire life, and has been in Oconee County for the last 16 years.
George Roberts, 1090 Calls Creek Circle, lists his occupation as Deputy Sheriff. He is in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.
Roberts is 54 years old, has lived Georgia 54 years, and has lived in Oconee County for the last 17 years.
Jimmy Williams, 1010 Barnett Drive, lists his occupation as law enforcement. Williams is captain in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.
Williams is 54 years old, has lived his whole life in Georgia, and has lived the last 17 years in Oconee County.
Bryant began his questioning by asking each of the candidates why he wants to be Probate Court Judge. He followed by asking the candidates to give a vision of what they would do if elected.
All of the candidates have law enforcement background, and Bryant asked how important that experience is for the Probate Court Judge.
Bryant speculated that there will be a big case backlog because courts have been closed due COVID-19. He asked the candidates how they will deal with it. He also asked how they will deal with budget shortfalls.
Bryant also asked about dealing with the Board of Commissioners.
Eric Gisler, 1071 Collins Creek Road, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary on June 9 for the Board of Commissioners Chair.
In his qualifying papers, he lists his occupation as product manager. He works in software in the banking industry and is the co-chair of the Oconee County Democratic Party.
Gisler is 44 years old and has lived in Georgia for the lasts 17 years and in Oconee County for the last eight years.
Laura Williams Ormes, 1070 Rocky Branch Lane, is unopposed in the Democratic primary for Post 4 on the Board of Education. She lists her occupation as former analyst.
Ormes is 41 years old, has lived in Georgia for the last two-and-a-half years and in Oconee County for that same amount of time.
Ormes will meet up with incumbent Post 4 Board of Education Member Burgess in November.
Burgess lives at 1030 Buckeye Pointe, lists his occupation as retired from the University of Georgia. Burgess was senior vice president for Finance and Administration when he retired.
Burgess is 64 years old, has lived in Georgia all his life, and has lived in Oconee County for the last 21 years.
Joan Rothman-Parker, 1100 Arborwood Ridge, is unopposed in the Democratic primary for Post 5 on the Board of Education.
Rothman-Parker lists her occupation as former demand side specialist.
She is 55 years old, has lived in Georgia for 19 years and in Oconee County for 12 years.
Rothman-Parker will meet in November with the winner of the Republican primary on June 9.
Thanks very much to Lee Becker and everyone involved in preparing, filming, presenting, and hosting this forum. The primary election vote should not be about who has the most signs posted in yards throughout the county. Watch these videos, folks!
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