It was standing room only as more than 100 people packed into Union United Methodist Church meeting room to ask questions to some candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot at the South Rockdale Civic Association candidate forum on Tuesday evening.
Candidates (in contested races) that participated were:
House District 95, Democrat Pam Dickerson and Republican Rodney Upton
House District 94, Republican Steven Conner
Senate District 43, Republican Diana Williams
Senate District 17, Democrat Jim Nichols
Board of Education Post 1 candidates Jim McBrayer, Jimmy Norfleet, Sandra Sanford, Theresa Schroder-Langley, Darrell Stephens
Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Post 2 Democrat Courtney Dillard and Republican JaNice Van Ness
Below is the transcript from the BOC Post 2 candidates portion. (BOE and Ga. Assembly candidates portion to follow)
Candidates were given a time for introduction and summation, and took turns picking at random a question out of 11 addressed to them, unless the question specified it be addressed to all candidates.
Introduction (1 minute)
Courtney Dillard: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank the South Rockdale Civic Association for having us here once again. This is my third time here in the last six months.
I wanted to say a few things about where we’re entering now. My campaign slogan is Rockdale going forward. We have organized our campaign around three main ideas. They are economic development, youth development, social development. What I’d like to do is build a framework around what economic development really means. It’s hard to find a true definition around economic development. It means the increase in the standard of living of the community population like Rockdale County, with sustained growth from a simple low income economy to a modern high income economy. We want to make sure we understand the framework of this concept called economic development. If we don’t understand that, everything we talk about regarding economic development has no substance. I come from Topeka, Kansas, I’m 47 years old, I’ve been married for a little over 23 years, my wife is the chief surgeon in Rockdale County. I’ve been in business since the age of 19. My father was a businessman. I’ve been in the health and beauty industry. I’m a real estate developer but primarily I’m a landlord. I’ve had property since 1994 between Newton County and Rockdale County and that goes to the basis of how I see the economy going forward with regards to economic development, which is the focus right now. Thank you.
JaNice Van Ness: Good evening. I am your Rockdale County Commissioner. I have served you for the last four years and listened to your concerns. I have worked proactively to better our community through proper planning and zoning measures. I’ve worked in conjunction with our other elected officials at the city of Conyers, the school board, other organizations to improve what we have here in Rockdale County. I am a native of Rockdale County and I’m pleased to say I have enjoyed my experience in Rockdale County. That’s why I choose to still live here and raise my family with my husband Ken. There are a lot of great things about Rockdale County, and sometimes the newspapers don’t always reflect that, but many of us in this room know why we still live in Rockdale County – for the positive things that are here. There’s not a perfect community. But I’d rather be on the inside trying to build a better future for where we live and raise our families than be sitting on the sidelines. That’s why I want to continue serving you in this role as county commissioner. I would like to say there’s many things I’ve worked on for the last four years and many goals I have for the next four. Just to name a couple, I am fiscally conservative, I’ve voted against tax increases, I believe in improving the quality of life for all Rockdale County residents. I believe in strengthening our economic development through business retention and expansion as well as recruitment of new industry. I believe in public safety as a priority. A safe community will keep us here. I’ve supported that through increased funding. I believe in community involvement and getting our citizens involved in what we do and trying to make a difference and getting different opinions in how to do that. And I also believe in the future we’re going to have to look for more revenue enhancement opportunities. And I look forward to telling you that as we debate.
Question: How do you view the use of the Rockdale County master plan that contains the input of citizens for proposed county development?
CD: That’s a good question, actually. The comprehensive plan is part of what I see Rockdale County… kind of keeping it in yesterday, so to speak. The comprehensive plan, we had one that was developed in 2003, and it was updated in 2008. The city of Conyers, likewise, developed a comprehensive plan and updated it in 2008. Both of these were working at the same time, spending the same citizens’ dollars, but trying to achieve the same thing in two different rooms. As far as I’m concerned, the comprehensive plan is one of the most important things we have.
The comprehensive plan involves employment, it involves water, it involves the infrastructure. All these things are very important, but I think we are kind of losing our way with regards to that. There’s one important element that’s missing. It’s called the neighborhood charrette. What happens is when the citizens did not have the opportunity to take part in the element, which is the charrette process, in voicing their views of what they want to happen in their segment of the community, in their neighborhoods, and it’s not a part of the comprehensive plan strategy, then you have a comprehensive plan that is not befitting of the community. The comprehensive plan also goes to support federal funding that we get for our community. HUD, CDBG funding, and a number of other sources including stimulus money. We haven’t been getting a lot of federal money around here lately, I know there’s been an infusion of money with education, but we have to focus on the dynamic of what the comprehensive plan is for. We have to make sure we get the citizens involve din that process, and right now they’re not.
Question: Your background to run a $100 million business. Describe your background.
JV: I have been in the private sector serving in the business field for over 20 years. I’ve consistently worked in the field of education, and I’ve had previous experience serving on the federal level as a legislative intern and assistant. I feel like a lot of the experience I’ve had has put me in position for my role as a Rockdale County commissioner. I have a lot of experience both in the financial aspect of things as well as in leadership. Common business practices. I’ve worked with a number of people in a number of organizations, both personally and professionally. A lot of what we do does focus on working collaboratively with other people. A lot of the financial experience I have has helped in my role as the county commissioner, especially when we’re going through the budgeting process. That’s been my biggest concerns, when we go through the budget process, we keep a close eye on those numbers, and have department heads that continue to be responsible for those numbers they present to us. We also have strongly focused down to minute details now, as far as outside agencies that we work with. I think the experience I have in working with other people in customer service, as well as the background of leadership skills that I have, human resources experience, I think all that collaboratively has really served me well in that role.
Question: (This is a question that addresses both candidates) Do you have any felonies on your personal record?
CD: Absolutely not. No.
JV: Not only do I not have any felonies on my record, but I also do not have any misdemeanors, and I have never spent a day in jail.
Question: Parents have the tendency to lose their patience at times, which can create a harsh living atmosphere. What is your position on child abuse?
JV: Because I work in the field of education, I think that’s something near and dear to my heart – the safety and welfare of children. I think certainly in Rockdale we have a lot of wonderful families and support systems – especially through Rockdale Count Public Schools – in place to make sure we don’t have any of the children that fall through the crack. No matter how great of an environment you have or community you have, and the leadership that you have, there are always going to be those families that really struggle, especially in this economy. I know we have a great domestic task force, through Judge Nancy Bills office, we have Project ReNeWal, which does a lot of support services in the community for battered women and children, and now we have the Phoenix Pass project as well. I do feel like child abuse is a very serious offense and children should be protected at all times. I think people should be punished severely for any infringement on a family, such as child abuse of any measure. I think as a whole, our community continue to support through programming the public school system has done as well as do outreach programs to better the communities and families. I think another strong partner in that relationship is the Department of Family and Children’s Services, to which the Board of Commissioners does appoint a member of that committee.
Question: If you served in Rockdale County, would you choose to pay to transfer your child to a public school in another county?
Question: Do you support safeguards to SPLOST to prevent illegals benefiting?
JV: That question doesn’t make sense. SPLOST deals with capital projects. (voices from audience explaining) Oh, maybe that’s what the person meant. There’s actually already measures in place for government agencies. When you do any type of contractual process, you are not to use anybody who is an illegal alien who doesn’t have green cards and visas.
Question: Do you feel your background is good for the public office you are seeking?
CD: Absolutely. I have been serving in communities across America since I was 19 years old. I’ve always served in honesty and integrity. I’ve worked on a number of community organizations, coaching basketball, dealing with homeowner’s association, making sure the community continues to advance. But primarily my background in real estate is chief for the position I’m running for. Understanding real estate development, I was the first African-American to buy a major asset on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. It was a $20 million operation, as well as my ability to manage a $1 million household and to pay debts off. I think that with regards to my background for the position, my ability to manage money, my ability to make sure the debt is alleviated, my ability to look at line items as a developer, to make sure that everything is on point, and if there’s any contradictions in any department in any line item, to make sure there’s proper auditing and make sure each budget comes in on time and under budget. We need to constantly make sure that is at the top tier of the relationship. A lot of the things I have in my background will go a long way to make sure the community continues to develop in a way that allows the community to go forward, from a commercial standpoint, from an industrial standpoint, and from a realistic standpoint.
Question: (This is addressed to both candidates) If you have a background check, what would that check reveal about you?
JV: A background check would clearly say I am able to be employed anywhere across the US. It would also say I have no criminal history, I’ve served no time in jail, I’ve never had a felony or misdemeanor.
CD: My background would reveal that I am a young man that lived a life, and not a perfect life. But I was a little radical when I was younger. I was in the nightclub business, in Atlanta back in the ‘90s. That was a part of some of the stuff that I developed. There were different incidences that went on in some of my nightclubs. There were incidents where the police were called. I haven’t had a life where I spent 20 or 25 years in the corporate world. However I’ve been a businessman, and sometimes there’s confrontations with customers and confrontations with individuals in the community. I would say I have not lived a perfect life, but I have lived a life that would qualify me to serve the community in the best way possible.
Question: If the tax digest continues to result in falling revenues for the county, what will you propose to cut?
CD: That’s one of those questions where we would have to sit down with the tax commissioner, sit down with the Chief Executive Officer of the county, as well as leadership in Conyers to really find out what’s going on in the community. I don’t like to see people in leadership make decisions just from the desk and a piece of paper. You have to get out in the community and really look to find out what’s going on in the community to be able to make a decision whether you should cut something or not. There have been situations where things have been cut from the domestic violence organization and things that have been added to certain parts of the budget of the county that I wouldn’t agree with, like the arts department, but altogether I think we have to be mindful of everything that’s going on in the community. I would oppose making a decision in the blind sitting behind the desk, but really begin to study the tax digest and see why there’s two million square feet of vacant office and retail space. And begin to talk to developers like CB Richard Ellis and Richard Bowers and individuals like this to see how we can begin to promote Rockdale County, to begin to find out if there’s developers or shopping centers or retail clients out there looking for this type of community but because we’re not really marketing our community, they don’t know about us. The only way we’re going to deal with the tax digest is to be able to encourage new businesses to come in and sustain the businesses that are here.
Question: (Addressed to both candidates) When you entered the race and as you have moved through the race, did your party endorse your candidacy for this office?
JV: I would say the Republican Party did endorse my campaign, and I’ve had a tremendous amount of support not only from the Republican Party, but from members of the Libertarian Party and members of the Democratic Party. My goal as your Rockdale County commissioner is to serve every single resident in Rockdale County. I don’t care, when you call me about your water bill, I don’t care if you’re in the Republican Party or Democratic Party, I don’t care if you’re white or black. I care that your bill is not correct and that you want it fixed. So I will work hard to make sure that I serve every resident in this county to the best of my ability. I’m accessible by email, by phone and in person. I often meet with residents and talk to them by phone and by email. And I have been overwhelmed by the support we have for this campaign and the goals we have in the future.
CD: Likewise, I’ve gotten the support early on from the Democratic Party, of course. The Democratic Party chairman is in the room. They support me. There’s various Republican citizens that have placed their support in several ways in our campaign. The Libertarian party is a new party I’m getting to know a little more. Through spending time communicating with them, I think there’s a lot of those individuals that support our campaign, our candidacy. The Democratic Party has supported my campaign since they won. In fact, we had a meeting on Saturday, and they have continued to even more aggressively support my campaign.
Question: What do you consider to be the most significant differences in attitude and policy between the Democrat and Republican Parties?
CD: The Democratic Party, they’re for the people. The Democratic Party does not get involved in various smear campaigns… (Moderator: No comments from the audience). The Democratic Party has been true to the people of the citizens of the communities that they serve. They’re very clear and very steadfast about the things they believe in. They want to make sure the citizens from the lower spectrum of the community to the citizens from the higher end of the spectrum will continue to receive services and the type of things that will allow the community to continue to go forward, like educating students, educating individuals that are unemployed, making sure there’s proper core skills training for the citizens in our county. A lot of the things we see that are continuing to move our communities forward are coming from the Democratic Party. I don’t have anything against the Republican Party. I just think the Democratic Party personally is more involved with moving the community forward. That’s just my personal opinion.
Closing summation (1 minute each):
CD: Again, I’d like to thank the citizens of the South Rockdale Civic Association. I’m really interested in this community going forward. My wife and I have been here for 18 years. We have seen progress in this community, and we have seen the community at a stand still. The reason I’m running for this position is because I truly believe based upon my skill set, based upon my expertise in working with redevelopment agencies, community development corporations, and citizens around this country, I believe it’s a ripe time to have my type of expertise on the Board of Commissioners. (Moderator to audience member who is talking: Ma’am) We must make sure that all of the citizens in Rockdale County are represented. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for having me here. My name is Courtney Dillard and I am a candidate for Rockdale County Commissioner Post 2.
JV: As your senior commissioner on the Board of Commissioners, there are three commissioners currently in place and we serve all the residents of Rockdale County, I have the most experience and knowledge on the board now. I’ll continue to develop my skills and work to serve all the residents of Rockdale County. I’m ethical, I’m dedicated, and I’m an upstanding member of this community. I’ve been through many different training programs and classes. I’ve been through Leadership Rockdale, I’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve worked with the Economic Development Authority. I want to make sure everybody knows I will drive decision making in Rockdale County. I won’t sit by. I will make sure I’m on the front end of conversations and I will serve you to the best of my ability.