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SPIGOLON: Civil discussion in the strangest of times
Oxford voting in runoff
A voter makes her selections in the Aug. 11 runoff election at the Oxford City Hall voting location. - photo by Tom Spigolon

In this strangest of election years both locally and nationally, it almost makes sense that a young, politically active individual and his friends would organize the first event featuring candidates for Newton County’s highest-profile political offices.

Any of a number of nonpartisan groups — civic or business groups come to mind — typically organize political forums that attract candidates from both parties in an election year. 

But, instead, 22-year-old Timothy Birt and a loose organization of politically and socially conscious friends put the season’s first major political event together at an area motel and broadcast it on Facebook.

The nine-hour-plus event featured Republican and Democratic nominees in each of three countywide races that figure to be hotly contested this year: district attorney, sheriff and coroner.

It also included discussions with a Newton County School Board member from each political party; and the chairman and four of the five members of the Newton County Board of Commissioners.

The forum may have seemed dry at times. There was no shouting or histrionics. Those who participated simply sat and held a microphone while answering a series of questions one-on-one with Birt, who wore a mask to protect from COVID-19.

But Birt’s questions brought out answers that were at times enlightening about the motivations behind some current elected officials’ actions and candidates’ reasons for running for office.

If there were any common themes found among the discussions with sitting elected officials, it was that their original intent in seeking office was to help their fellow Newton Countians in one way or another.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he wanted to help people with issues affecting their homes, among other issues. School board Chairwoman Shakila Henderson-Baker wanted to help students deal with the social and emotional pressures of school. 

It also showed that some of our political leaders take their cues from a higher power.

For example, County Chairman Marcello Banes, an ordained minister, said he first became interested in running for office while attending a Bible study. 

County Commissioner Nancy Schulz Schulz, an area businesswoman, said she felt a strong calling to run for a county commission seat while in church.

Like Banes, school board member Trey Bailey is also a minister. He is a Newton County native, leads a church and said he felt it was part of his calling as a spiritual leader and father to be part of such a leadership position in the school system.

Birt asked open-ended questions about how the public officials first got involved in their jobs. 

But he also sprinkled in questions about issues he and others were interested in, such as the future of Covington’s Confederate statue and possible restrictions on releases of histories of minor criminal offenses which could harm chances of gaining employment.

Birt was the lead organizer and most visible part of two events on the Covington Square in June in reaction to the shootings of unarmed Black men earlier this year.

His questions, though, allowed everyone — regardless of political party or stand on issues — to give their opinions on issues in the community without a judgmental pall being thrown over the proceedings.

It seems to me this is how you discuss issues in a civil society — even if you don’t agree with the one leading the discussion.

Tom Spigolon is the news editor of The Covington News. His email is