Small crowd hears many answers at NAACP forum

Tue, 07/08/2008 - 3:26pm
By: Ben Nelms

Most all the candidates in multiple races faced the public at a political forum Monday night at Sam’s Auditorium in Fayetteville sponsored by the Fayette County Branch of NAACP. The 21 candidates were joined by approximately 50 members of the public.

First up at the forum were the county commission candidates, all of which attended. Candidates were asked their opinion of the need for mass transit for Fayette County residents.

Essentially, none of the candidates supported MARTA bus lines. Post 2 incumbent Herb Frady said mass transit would take a lot of time and effort to accomplish and could begin with park and ride lots as a first step. Frady said he would rather see rapid rail lines, as envisioned for west Fayette, expecting such a transit method would serve residents well in the future.

Post 2 challenger Bob Fuhrman said he was opposed to mass transit, saying he favored measures such as fuel efficient vehicles and better highways.

Post 1 challenger Greg Dunn said he is not in favor of mass transit at this point. He said previous surveys of Fayette residents indicated they did not want MARTA. Dunn said the day for mass transit will come. Mass transit could feature a rapid rail commuter line along the CSX railroad right-of-way in west Fayette, though that would require federal funding, he said.

Post 1 incumbent Robert Horgan responded saying a start to the future could include car-pooling.

Post 3 incumbent Peter Pfeifer said mass transit could occur if market forces were in place, adding that he would not support publicly funded projects.

Post 3 challenger Stuart Kourajian said statistics show that approximately 50 percent of county residents travel outside the county, adding that we need to find out why they are leaving.

And Post 3 challenger Lee Hearn said he would support car pools but would not support funding MARTA with Fayette tax dollars.

Other questions posed to commission candidates asked their views on district voting and whether the current structure had a negative impact on issues such as an overall quality of life.

None of the candidates supported district voting and all maintained that the current structure did not compromise the quality of life standards Fayette residents enjoy.

Another question put to commission candidates related to their knowledge of the status of an investigation into the activities of former Sheriff’s Office Lt. Col. Bruce Jordan. Only Pfeifer and Dunn offered any response indicating awareness of the current status.

Pfeifer said the matter had been turned over to a special prosecutor and had “fallen off the end of the earth.”

Dunn said Jordan had been fired by Sheriff Randall Johnson and the issue referred to a special prosecutor from Muscogee County two years ago. Dunn said the prosecutor had never come to Fayette County and had not started the case, though he no knowledge why that might be.

In the school board race, questions were posed to the five candidates attending the forum. Post 1 candidate David Houston was not invited and did not attend, nor did Post 3 candidate Mark Aasen.

One of the questions dealt with what was referred to as declining CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test) scores and what policies the board might change or implement to correct the decline.

Post 2 incumbent Terri Smith said there was no downward trend. She said school systems across the state experience dips and fluctuations as CRCT and other testing methodologies are modified. Such was the recent case with Fayette schools, she said.

Post 2 challenger Mary Kay Bacallao said the superintendent indicated that the numbers had seen a decline. She favored looking at what would cause the numbers to go up with classroom instructors teaching higher-level thinking.

Post 3 incumbent Marion Key explained the recent state-level changes in the CRCT tests, especially in social studies, that contributed to the much publicized decreased test scores.

Post 3 challenger Carol Jensen-Linton said local scores had dipped a little, noting that that such declines are cyclical. She said school administration should work with the state school board to ensure continued high quality learning for Fayette students.

Post 1 incumbent Janet Smola noted Fayette’s ongoing high ranking across the state and compared to school systems nationally. That high ranking will continue even as plans are implemented to raise test scores throughout Georgia, she said.

Another question posed to school board candidates addressed Fayette’s 26-30 percent minority population, including some schools in north Fayette with more than 80 percent African-American students. The perception is that some teachers are intolerant and resistant to change, the question stated. Candidates were asked if diversity training was needed and if the school system needed an increase in minority teachers.

Smola said school system teachers come from many ethnicities, adding that the system is engaged with the NAACP and has added diversity training. Jensen-Linton said students are judged by their performance, adding that the school system could reach out further to African-American colleges for teacher recruitment.

Key said the school board and school system care for all students. She said blacks are recruited and diversity training is offered. Our intent, she said, is to recruit the best people for all students, regardless of their color.

Smith said she was concerned with the perception that white teachers were mistreating black students. If that is occurring it needs to be addressed by school leadership because such mistreatment is unacceptable. Smith said the school system is behind on minority recruitment and is working on meeting those goals.

Bacallao in her response brought a hush and an appreciation from some in the audience. Bacallao said she taught at an all-black school for two years.

“I loved them. I don’t think I could have done a better job as a teacher if I was black,” she said, with the humility in her voice unmistakable. “I care about all kids. I’m hurt to think as a white teacher I wouldn’t understand.”

Three of four Georgia House of Representatives candidates participated Monday night. District 66 incumbent Virgil Fludd and challenger Connie Biemiller were joined by Dist. 73 challenger Rick Williams. Incumbent Dist. 73 Rep. John Yates did not attend.

Asked if they would support an investigation on why mainly African-Americans were targeted for sub-prime housing loans, Williams said he would support it, adding the need to clean up the criminal element in the loan industry. In his response, Fludd said Georgia was one of the nation’s worst states for consumer protection.

“We need to investigate. We already know where the problem is,” Fludd said.

Biemiller, too, said she would support an investigation.

“I think we’ll find that the lobbyists have taken over,” she said, referencing the work of lobbyists in concert with corporate influences.

Asked their opinion on the current energy and food crisis and energy speculators, Williams said Congress is the appropriate governmental entity to respond, though he said loopholes at the state level could be closed and that the General Assembly could lower state taxes on fuel.

Biemiller said Georgia politicians have yet to decide a crisis already exists. She suggested that a state commission might need to be formed to address the situation in Georgia rather than waiting on Congress.

In his response, Fludd suggested tax incentives to relieve the economic pressure, adding that he was disappointed that county commission candidates had rejected mass transit in Fayette County as a means of reducing energy consumption.

Senate Dist. 34 candidate Stephanie Campbell and incumbent Valencia Seay did not attend the forum.

Also taking abbreviated questions were probate judge candidates Ann Jackson, Steve Kiser and Jim Whitlock and tax commissioner candidates Linda Wells and incumbent George Wingo.

The lone candidate for Public Service Commission attending the forum was Jim Powell. The 4th District candidate stressed the commission’s need to be responsive to the economic realities faced by Georgia families that must be provided with low and affordable utility rates. Powell also promoted the use of renewable energy sources and a serious review of the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency.

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