The Covington News sat down with Democratic incumbent Sheriff Ezell Brown and Republican challenger Capt. Philip Bradford for in-depth conversations about their candidacies. See the full videos below.
The last local forum of the year put a new spin on Newton's election season as candidates asked each other some pointed questions and the debate between the two candidates for sheriff took on the impassioned, back-and-forth nature viewers are used to seeing on the biggest national stages.
The Covington News and Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2012 Candidates Forum Wednesday evening at the Newton College and Career Academy and gave local candidates a chance to not only answer questions on the issues but also question their opponent.
While the two sheriff's candidates, Democratic incumbent Sheriff Ezell Brown and Republican challenger police Capt. Philip Bradford, took the opportunity to trade verbal jabs, a few other candidates did not attend providing their opponents the chance to given an uncontested pitch to the voters.
Democratic chairman candidate Marcus Jordan, Republican District 2 school board candidate Ricky Corley and Republican District 17 state Sen. Rick Jeffares did not attend. Corley and Jeffares gave advanced notice, while Jordan's wife attended and said Jordan was sorry he could not make it.
The longest and most intense questioning of the evening came in the race for the county's top law enforcement officer, and it wasn't always the moderators asking the questions.
Republican Capt. Philip Bradford lobbed several criticisms at the sheriff, accusing him of mismanagement and misleading the public, but Sheriff Ezell Brown provided answers and fired back at Bradford saying the captain was "shooting in the dark, hoping that he would hit something," a line Brown would repeat throughout the night.
The News asked Brown Thursday for information related to both men's claims. Brown said he would be happy to provide the information and The News will write stories in the future as applicable.
School resource officers
One of the most hotly debated issues was that of crime in schools and whether the sheriff's office school resource officers, or SROs, were properly trained.
Bradford has claimed that the majority of SROs, 12 of 15, have not been through the proper 40-hour training course provided by state agencies. He said nine of the 15 deputies have only jail training.
However, Brown said the documents Bradford was referring to clearly weren't telling the whole story as he said his SROs have a higher level of training than the state requires and noted that they regularly take 20-hour classes based on an in-house curriculum established by Lt. Paul Gunter.
"The curriculum is far better than POST's 40 hours. I require my school resource officers at the end of each school term, they have a 20-hour class they have to attend," Brown said. "And for you to stand up here on stage and say that they are not qualified, they are not certified, I take offence to it, and I certainly hope that every school resource officer takes offense to it too."
"I don't think the SROs should take offense to it, because it falls on the leadership that they don't have the training. It's not their fault," Bradford said. "So you're saying that your agency is above POST standards? Every law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia reports their training to post council... Does your agency override that agency?"
"The only thing I'm saying is this: POST requires 40 hours and I ask for more than 40 hours," Brown said.
POST in an acronym for the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which is the regulatory, training and certification agency for law enforcement officials.
Bradford requested that Brown give him the lesson plan, which Brown did, though questioning then moved on to other issues.
The sheriff's candidates also discussed transparency, the budget and the role that public safety plays in economic development.
To see and hear the remainder of the sheriff's discussion and the answers and questions from other candidates, check out our video above.
Questions asked by candidates included one about why a candidate had not voted for the last 10 years and a question about liens placed on houses purchased by the county through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.