The Walker County Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum Tuesday evening, June 19, at the Walker County Civic Center in Rock Spring. Nearly all of the 34 candidates for 14 separate races spanning Walker and Dade counties were in attendance, each speaking briefly on his or her qualifications for office as well as answering a question prepared by the Chamber.
The crowd of more than 200 public attendees packed the civic center auditorium for about two hours as the candidates each took a few minutes to speak, some opting to take an extra 30 seconds of rebuttal time as well to finish their statements or speak to what an opponent had said.
Incumbents, of which there are eleven in contested races, spoke on their experience in office, some for a decade or more, and asked that voters remember their service and dedication come election day July 31.
Below is reproduced the question asked of each candidate by the Chamber, followed by an excerpt of each candidate’s answer. Candidates are listed in each race in the randomly selected order in which they spoke at the forum.
Click here to read the first article (part one).
State court judge
What type of experience is needed to be a state court judge?
Bruce Roberts (incumbent): “I believe that first and foremost a judge needs courtroom experience, and I have that. I have 21 years of real court experience with the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit and especially here in Walker County. A judge needs to be familiar with the rules of evidence and the courtroom procedures so that you can conduct court.”
Billy Mullinax: “I think you’ve got to be, number one, a good listener. You’ve got to have the experience, the wisdom, maturity and the judicial temperament needed for that job. Because of being married, having a family and being an attorney in the county for over 32 years, and dealing with life’s problems and troubles that come along, which we all encounter when traveling down life’s road, I’ve been there. I understand that. And because of that, I’ve learned to be a good listener...I can be a fair judge and I can inform a judgment that will be fair and equitable to the citizens of this county and consistent with the laws of this state.”
Chief magistrate judge
What is the most important qualification a magistrate judge should possess and what is the greatest accomplishment you will strive to achieve while in office?
Sheila Thompson (incumbent): “I think the most important quality that a magistrate judge should possess is the ability to remain neutral and impartial in the matters that come before the court. I believe that it is incumbent upon the judges to administer the court to afford the citizens all the constitutional protections afforded them by law, while balancing the needs of law enforcement and combating crime. It’s a fine line, and often a very difficult one to walk. The chief magistrate must be someone very familiar with not only the law as written but also the case law, interpreting the statutes of the law as applied fairly, impartially and uniformly. There is no room for favoritism or bias toward defendants, law enforcement or prosecution. And to continue to do this would be my greatest accomplishment while in office.”
Bruce Coker: “The most important qualification to me is the possession of vital skills needed to intervene in a conflict, the knowledge of applicable laws, and the ability to practice fairness in all situations, regardless of who you’re dealing with. I submit to you that I have those qualifications because I have been on the battlefield. I know what everything’s like out there where the rubber meets the road. I’m the only candidate in this race who’s been on the battlefield. I’m the only one out there who has seen real life situations and is able to practice fairness in those situations...The greatest achievement I hope to accomplish is at the end of my career, I would have earned the reputation of being fair and honest, always using Georgia law as my reference and guide.”
Michael Yates: “I believe as chief magistrate, they should have common sense. They should have a tentative ear and be service-minded, and they should be a good manager with moral and ethical values. When you add all these characteristics together, I believe the most important qualification for magistrate is a person with integrity. If elected, I will strive to educate all the children and citizens of Walker County, so maybe they won’t have a first appearance in the magistrate court.”
Walker County probate court judge
What experiences have you had with guardianships, wills and issuance of weapons carry permits?
Christy Anderson (incumbent): “In 2004, it was turned over to me...Hardly anyone understands [guardianships]. They are so tricky, they are so strict; you have so much to do. Therefore I had to look over the petitions when they were filed, make sure they were filed correctly. I had to do the annual returns, the status reports, make sure everybody spent the money they were supposed to and if they didn’t we had to call the bonding company. That was my ordeal with guardianships. Since 2001, we have had 665 guardianships. That’s of incapacitated adults and minor guardianships...We’ve had 2,549 estates. That’s that many people who have passed away in Walker County since 2001 that we’ve had to establish an estate for. And then our weapons carry permits. I thought everybody in Walker County had one of those by now. But, when I went back and checked, we have issued 7,400 of those since 2001.”
John Carpenter: “The question of guardianship, I’ve got hands-on experience. During my 20-plus years, three and a half of those were at the Walker County jail, where I served as lieutenant and responsible for the day-to-day operations. Several of the inmates I’ve had to assist in acquiring guardianships for their children...On several cases I’ve answered calls where the guardians have abused the person that they were caretakers of. I’ve had to call DFCS. I’ve had to have adult protective services come out and take possession of those people...As far as wills go...I’ve had to answer calls where people have been fighting at the funeral homes. I’ve had to go to the cemeteries, people fighting over property. It’s sad, it’s very very sad.”
Doug Grammer: “As far as the experiences working with guardianships, wills and weapons carry permits, unless you’re an attorney, work in the sheriff’s department, probate judge’s office or have a personal tragedy, you’re not likely to encounter that. Experience is important, but people also judge you on your values that you hold. You can get experience by doing it. If you let me, I will do a good job...As far as playing by the rules, I will uphold all the laws and do the job well. That means I won’t be making up any rules as we go. If the law requires an affidavit will suffice, I won’t require a personal experience. I’ll try to make it easy on the people who come before me, and try to help them out as best as I can.”
Walker County tax commissioner
What provisions have you made or will you make to collect back taxes?
Carolyn Walker (incumbent): “With the current collection percentage being at 98 percent on property taxes and 92 percent across the board, the improvements now being implemented are increased staff follow-up with monitoring of payment agreements with increased collection activity on those becoming delinquent. Continuous follow-up and fairness to everyone, that’s my goal in collecting the taxes.”
Keith Fults: “The county already has a company which is doing the collections, which Dade and Catoosa counties also do. My concern is with the collections of delinquent manufactured home taxes. In 2011, Walker County has approximately $1.3 million in back taxes in manufactured homes, and some hasn’t been collected in up to seven years. I understand, since it’s come to light, somebody has been hired to come in and start collecting these, and that’s a good thing, but this is something that should have been done continuously over the past few years...We’ve had people to do this before, and it’s just fallen to the wayside, and my question is: will it continue to fall to the wayside after this election process?”
Walker County clerk of superior court
What is the importance of keeping the books in the clerk’s office and what would you do to improve the operations of this office in order to be more efficient and helpful as you respond to the public’s needs?
Kellie Maples: “The importance of the books being kept in the clerk’s office is for backup and convenience for public access. Books and other records being kept off-site can be time-consuming and inconvenient...I will work to accommodate and assure that the deed books are not only available in the office but on computer, available through the clerk’s authority back to 1980. I’ll make sure that all divisions – record, criminal and civil – will be open to the public from eight to five daily instead of opening at 9 a.m. I will be a full-time clerk to answer first and foremost to the public, ensuring that the public’s interest and convenience come first. I will make sure that all employees are cross-trained to perform all duties expected for this office, so that someone is there to answer your questions at all times. I will use whatever resources are available to me to ensure that this office is convenient, user-friendly, accessible to the public, and to ensure that the attorneys and all who depend on this office to do their job have the fullest cooperation. I am open to any and all suggestions from the public and the people who use this office to do their job on how to improve the services for them.”
Carter Brown (incumbent): “I’ve saved Walker County taxpayers $300,000 in my first term. I have improved services across the entire office. We have upgraded technology across the entire office...I have a vision for the future of the clerk’s office. I see where we’ve been, and I see where we’re going. I have a working plan to get us there. To answer the question about the books, on January 10, 2011, I decided to go bookless in real estate. I did that for three reasons. Number one, the electronic version of the deed that is kept in the clerk’s office is now the official version. This is a function of state law. Second, an electronic document, as opposed to a paper document, an electronic document can’t be altered, it can’t be lost, it can’t be stolen, it can’t be burned. Third, it is low to zero cost to receive, record, store and retrieve that document...We were spending $10,000 a year to re-print, unnecessarily, all the deeds that were recorded per year and put them in the books.
Walker County coroner
What is the importance of the office of the county coroner and what is the greatest accomplishment you will strive to achieve while in office?
Dewayne Wilson (incumbent): “Being the elected official that no one wants to see, hear from or get a phone call from is extremely difficult to deal with individuals in a time of loss. My staff...We have all in the last 12 years tried to be as compassionate and helpful during those times because families are totally lost when they lose a loved one. And we try to facilitate anything we can to help them in that process. Also trying to help them get a death certificate in a timely fashion. The problem we’ve had over the years with the state cutbacks is now their autopsies have to be sent to Atlanta, to the GBI in Atlanta. And that’s timely because it takes anywhere from weeks to months now to get those results back and get those done. So the importance of my office is to treat everybody with compassion and try to help them in a time of loss to get those things done. What is my greatest accomplishment and what will I try to achieve to do in the time to come? Folks, our overdose rate on prescription drugs is just crazy. We’ve got to address that and get the education out here not only to the younger people but the older people too that are on prescription medication, letting them know that they’re time-released. I had five over the weekend, and we shouldn’t be having those at all...The problem that we’re having with death certificates now is a lot of our patients are going to Tennessee. When they go to Tennessee, we’re unable to sign those death certificates.”
Don Richie: “As far as the importance of the job, I had four members of my family who passed away within one year. And the importance of it is to be compassionate to the family, to the loved ones, and to provide the family and friends with assurance that each loss is handled with dignity, respect and the utmost compassion. Documents that relate to death are very important...if you don’t have the death certificate, you don’t go anywhere and you don’t get anything done...and it’s not fair to a family to have to be delayed when they’re trying to settle an estate. And I’ll do my best to get a death certificate and any other documents out in a timely manner.”
Walker County school board, post 1
Where would you make cuts in order to continue to serve more children with fewer dollars?
Dennis Willerson: “As far as cuts are concerned, when you think about what we’ve already done as far as cutting buses, 47 teachers, we’ve got teachers taking eight furlough days next year...We’ve cut library funding...I don’t see any place else where we can cut. I think what we probably need to do is look at those areas where expenditures and some of the other offices and things like that.”
Karen Stoker: “We need to learn to stretch the life of physical objects such as tables and chairs and desks, and during lean times like we’re having right now these types of purchases can wait. I would look at the energy consumption such as heating, cooling and lighting. We all know that from time to time we need that reminder to conserve; I think that would be one way for us to add some dollars to the budget...We need to look at non-instructional certified positions before cutting teaching jobs...Are there any positions that we don’t earn as a school system that we’re funding solely with local dollars? Are there any salaries to non-instructional certified personnel that are over the allotted monies given to the school system by the state? Are we trying to operate our schools outside our means?”
Walker County school board, post 4
What is the true role of the Board of Education?
Dale Wilson: “The fundamental role of a school board is to establish policy. To make sure that our students are staying focused and that they can reach the highest achievement possible. We are to be a sounding board for the public and we are to hold the superintendent accountable for everything that he does. We can also be a trustee for public funds, local, state and federal.”
Ronald Cabero: not in attendance
Walker County surveyor
What is the most important qualification the County Surveyor should possess and please demonstrate why you feel you have this qualification?
Charles Wardlaw (incumbent): did not participate
Randy Compton: not in attendance