Post 1 Commission candidates faced tough questions on topics such as public access to Channel 23, Rockdale’s E911 dispatch center, and nepotism at the South Rockdale Civic Association Tuesday night.
Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt Sr., the incumbent and Democratic candidate, and challenger Republican Tom Harrison both answered questions the panel and from the audience that packed the room at Union United Methodist Church.
Regarding Channel 23, the county’s governmental access Channel, and the requests for airing candidate forums before the July primary that were turned down, Nesbitt said “I’m in favor of a fair and clear voice for anyone in this community to be broadcast on Channel 23.” However, he added “We have to be fair and equal with everyone in the community. If we’re not going to allow group A to host a program, then we have to allow group B.” The requests had been turned down due to lack of a procedure and resource constraints, according to county spokesperson Tonya Parker, in a decision made by the current administration.
Harrison said, “I think it’s funny that this administration is the first administration in Comcast 23 history that has restricted political forums.” He acknowledged the Commission Chairman had the final say, but pointed out the two part-time commissioners outnumbered the chairman.
He also said he would push to have Channel 23 on AT&T’s U-verse as well as Comcast.
“Not everyone has Comcast. I will push to get 23 on U-verse and any other application, as far as television output, to get Channel 23 in as many homes in Rockdale County as possible, and make it visible and a true public service.”
On the E911 center and salaries and equipment of firefighters and deputies, Nesbitt said he thought pay should be increased not just for first responders but for all county employees.
Harrison said his first goal was to get the budget under control. Since the majority of the calls handled by the E911 center was for the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, he felt control of the E911 center should go to the RCSO.
Terry Mahaffey, the father of Brian Mahaffey, the RCSO deputy shot and killed in the line of duty in 2010, asked Nesbitt, “I want to know why you haven’t been to visit me and my wife on a personal basis.”
“No sir, I have not been to your address, to your home… I too have a law enforcement background, 15 years of service.... My heart goes out to you and your family. I’m not so big of a man I can’t say to you I apologize if I disrespected you by not physically showing up. But I want you to know tonight you have all of my support and my prayers… my prayers are with you and your family and they go deeper than my presence.”
Both candidates said they did not think nepotism was a problem in the county now. Harrison said it was more of a matter of leadership and diligently choosing good leadership at the director level. Nesbitt said as long as the practices and supervision was fair
Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, who was in the audience, asked about the education requirement for the finance director and whether that would be in place by 2013.
Harrison said he thought it was wrong to allow the education requirement to slide. “I think it should have been pushed. If you have a set of rules for employees, it comes down to are you going to follow it or are you going to do something different.”
Nesbitt said the process should be fair and equal across the board. But he added he felt the current finance director was qualified since she was currently enrolled in school and competent. “You can never discount experience… We have to have educated, qualified and competent people. But I’m never going to discount hands on experience. Many of you out here don’t have college degrees but you have some good years of experience and you know how to get the job done. Just because of your experience you should never be discounted.”
The candidates were asked if they could work with whoever would be elected as Chairman.
Nesbitt responded, “I’m in a perfect position to work with whomever the chips may fall (to). If it’s Jason Hill, I have a good relationship and a good rapport with Jason Hill. I have no problem, absolutely working with Mr. Hill. If it’s Mr. Oden, I’m going to continue to press forward.”
Harrison, said he would bring a conservative approach no matter who was elected Chairman. “This county is a crossroads. The direction that we take, whether we take it with Chariman Oden or Chairman Hill, my desire is to serve this county. My desire is to bring better government to this county. Whichever chairman is the position, if I’m in the Post 1 position, I will do my dead-level best to bring a conservative and type of government this county deserves.”
The Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters will hold a candidates forum on Oct. 4, 6:30 p.m., at the Rockdale Auditorium, 903 Main Street. For more information, contact Allene Eatman at 678-413-9520.