With the election season nearing a close, candidates for the positions of coroner, county commission chairman, Georgia State Senate seat 17 and the 4th Congressional District attended a forum hosted by the South Rockdale Civic Association Tuesday night to make their final pleas for votes from a thin crowd of voters.
The forum began with commentary from the only race in which both candidates were in attendance - the friendly race for coroner. Both candidates are currently employed in the coroner's office as deputy coroners and are seeking election to replace retiring coroner Dr. Steve Boyle.
When asked what he would do to improve the coroner's office if elected, Democratic candidate George Levett Jr. said he wants to make the office more visible.
"I think this county needs us to be more visible just as medical examiners and coroners in other counties are more visible," Levett said, adding he would like to increase education on healthy lifestyles to decrease the death numbers. "It is vital we have our own facility. If we had a major disaster Rockdale County, would have to depend on other counties to house our deceased."
Coggins said she believes the coroner's office has operated efficiently and professionally under Dr. Boyle, who is retiring this year after 16 years as coroner.
"We work for the law by the law and we do it very well," Coggins said of the coroner's office. "I would like to see eventually the coroner's office not be shared by the water department and one day to have own morgue. We use the hospital's now and they can only hold four people. I would also work toward salaries raises for the deputies."
When asked about their differences, Levett said he believes his experience as a funeral director combined with his ability to recognize causes of death make him most qualified for the position of coroner. Coggins said her extensive professional experience in the medical field - from her job as a deputy coroner for 14 years to positions as an EMT/paramedic to her current position as emergency room unit secretary - make her the most qualified.
Fourth Congressional District
Congressional District 4 Republican candidate Chris Vaughn was the next to take questions during the forum, taking the stage alone since incumbent Congressman Hank Johnson (D) was not in attendance
Vaughn fielded questions on topics including healthcare reform, which he said he feels need to be "tweaked and retooled." He also told the crowd he is strongly in favor of the citizens' rights to bear arms, he said he will not move to Washington if elected and said he will be remain accessible with open conversation among his constituents.
"I believe this seat has become very out of touch with the 4th District and very out of touch with the concerns (of the 4th district constituents.)," Vaughn said while pointing to Representative Johnson's empty seat on the stage. "I promise to give everyone my commitment to serve the people."
Senate District 17
Georgia State Senate District 17 Democratic candidate Nelva Lee also took the stage alone at the forum as incumbent Sen. Rick Jefferes (R-Locust Grove) had another obligation. Lee told the crowd if elected she would revitalize the small business sector and improve the education system, which she believes should be controlled on a local level. She also said she opposes the charter school amendment that will be on the November 6 ballot.
"My experience as a business owner is going to bring a fresh perspective to the capital," Lee said in giving her reasons for seeking election. "We need to figure out what our needs are versus our wants. We have to make those tough decisions. I believe we have to have people of courage in elected office. I have been called for this position. I honestly believe my integrity and zeal will allow me to make a difference in this community."
Board of Commissioners Chairman
Republican Rockdale County Commission Chairman candidate Jason Hill was the last candidate to speak during the forum as Incumbent Chairman Richard Oden was not in attendance. Hill took the opportunity to elaborate on two statements made by Oden during the recent League of Women Voter's Forum with the first being Oden's promise that he would "see a continued relationship with sheriff and other constitutional officers". The second issue Hill challenged was Oden's claim that the neighborhood stabilization program had created 300 jobs.
"As I said in the forum before, the chairman would not let the sheriff get on the (commissioners') agenda to talk about adding deputies to this community, and public safety is the most important thing to the people of this community I have found in talking (to the people)," Hill said Tuesday night. "If we don't have a safe community where businesses and people feel safe, we don't have much of a community at all. And it is one of two things - either he was making a political issue out of it and he was playing politics with what is most important to you, or he was making a financial decision, and if there is a financial decision to be make, that's fine but he is trying to do it without you hearing all the facts and without having someone else come and present it to him because he knew he would take heat because of it. And I don't think either one of those decisions is the responsible decision. If you knew me when I was on the board before, I will face tough decisions and I will make them and I will explain to you why I made them if I disagree with you. I think that is the way your elected officials should act."
As for the Oden's claim that the Neighborhood Stabilization Program created 300 jobs, Hill said "The main problem with this program is, as of January, two-third of the $3 million was paid to companies that do not exist in Rockdale County." As the operator of his family's local lumber supply company, Hill said he hasn't heard of any local contractors hired to do work under the program.
"If it is creating jobs, it is a Rockdale County program and I don't think we should be creating jobs in Virginia, Atlanta or DeKalb," Hill said. "It is a pattern of what he (Oden) has done since he has been in office and it's not hire companies in Rockdale County, it's hire companies that are not. If I am elected, we will fight tooth and nail to hire people within this county to do work for you."
Hill said if elected he will also work to reduce wasteful spending and run a fiscally responsible government while encouraging a team atmosphere among county departments to move the county forward.
"We are working really hard on this campaign and I have a good chance to win," Hill said in closing. "If you believe in this county and are ready for change, I need your vote because this race is not over until November 6. These elections are going to be very close and the differences between the people in these elections are not close."