Republican forum at Fayetteville library

Fri, 07/11/2008 - 3:11pm
By: Ben Nelms

It was practically an exercise in civility, except for a question about open warrants. Candidates for sheriff, district attorney and probate judge attended the Fayette County Republican Party forum Thursday night at the Fayetteville Library, responding to questions posed before a standing-room only crowd.

Candidates for district attorney included incumbent Scott Ballard and challenger Rudjard Hayes. Sheriff’s candidates included Barry Babb, Dave Simmons, Wayne Hannah and Thomas Mindar. And candidates for probate judge included Jim Whitlock, Ann Jackson and Steve Kiser.

Responses to questions by the sheriff’s and district attorney’s candidates were relatively low-key considering the way the rhetoric in those races has been ratcheted-up in recent weeks.

The first question to district attorney candidates Scott Ballard and Rudjard Hayes asked how many open warrants were currently present in the district attorney’s office and if prosecutorial errors were the reason for appeals.

Ballard said he did not know the number of open warrants. As for appeals that result from an indictment, Ballard said indictments are brought according to guidelines set forth in state statute, adding that the beef would be with the legislature since the district attorney’s office is compelled to abide by state law when presenting the original indictments.

In perhaps the most diametrically opposed response to any question posed Thursday night, Hayes essentially answered both questions simultaneously by saying emphatically that the district attorney’s office currently has more than 1,100 open warrants. And in an equally rare event for the setting, his response was met with a muffled, but definitive, comment from someone in the audience apparently disagreeing with his statement.

District attorney candidates were asked what they saw as the number-one crime in Fayette and what they would want from the next sheriff. Hayes said the largest number of crimes were currently burglaries and thefts, noting that the types of crimes in a given community will often be cyclical depending of a variety of factors. And Hayes said he looked for a proactive sheriff who would be aggressive on law breakers.

In his response, Ballard said 65-70 percent of crimes are linked to drugs in one way or another, making drug sales or use the number-one crime. Ballard said getting a handle on drugs would almost eliminate crime in Fayette County. Ballard, too, said he wanted a sheriff that would be an aggressive crime fighter and one that would work together with the district attorney’s office.

 Candidates for sheriff took the greatest number of questions from the moderators. One of the questions combined a recent comment by Sheriff Randall Johnson saying that the new sheriff did not need to be a senior citizen with another asking how the candidates would solve the county’s problems with burglaries.

Dave Simmons was first up, saying that he did not consider himself a senior citizen, adding that he is in the prime of life. Simmons on the burglary issue said he would implement any restructuring needed to face the crime challenge, including forming a task force with the county’s police departments.

Thomas Mindar, as the youngest candidate, said he does not see age as an issue, a comment that drew chuckles from some in the audience. On the issue of crime, Mindar said the sheriff’s office needed a north Fayette precinct and that he had found a facility to house the office for a charge of $1 per month. Mindar said having eight units on the road does not work, proposing to double the number of deputies with two officers in vehicle.

Noting that he, too, was not a senior, Wayne Hannah said that on the matter of crime, he would undertake a total manpower assessment and assign deputies where they were most needed. Hannah said the more deputies on the road the better, citing increased visibility as a deterrent to crime.

Barry Babb began his response saying that he is ready to go for two more decades, then switching to his response on the burglary question to say he would re-allocate resources to put more officers on the street and increase productivity. Babb also proposed a north precinct and a crime suppression unit designed to specialize in any type criminal activity that might arise.

Another two-part question for sheriff’s candidates asked about the seriousness of a gang problem and whether Sheriff Johnson was correct that crimes in Fayette County were not so bad. Mindar made reference to the recent report of the “Kosovo gang” from Peachtree City saying, “the perception before was that there were no gangs, but now it is a problem.” Mindar added that he disagrees with Johnson that crime is not so bad.

Hannah took a different view, saying there are no indications of organized gangs in the county, including in schools. Hannah added that criminal activity is being addressed when it occurs. On the question of whether he agreed with Johnson about the level of crime in the county, Hannah offered no response.

Referencing gang activity, Babb spoke about a gang shooting in 1994 in Clayton County and the recent break-in at Autrey’s Armory in Fayetteville. He said that kind of activity is something he is prepared to deal with. And in response to whether he agreed with Johnson, Babb said he did not, noting that he did not always agree with his wife either.

Simmons on the same questions said he had noticed gang activity forming during the past two years and that such activity had occurred as far back as 1999 and even 1994.

“Whether gangs or wannabes, gangs exist all across this country and in every major metro area in Georgia,” Simmons said.

Sheriff’s candidates were also asked what they saw as Fayette’s number-one crime issue and how they would want from the district attorney’s office. Babb said the answer is property crimes of all types, including copper thefts and burglaries.

Hannah said the number-one crimes were burglaries and thefts. Those are crimes partially reflected the state of the current economy, adding that many of those crimes were directly tied to drug use, he said.

Mindar’s response to the number-one crime was contained in one word: drugs.

Simmons view on the number-one crime in Fayette are burglaries, both residential and commercial, with copper thefts accounting for a significant portion of those crimes.

Each of the candidates said they wanted a district attorney that was an aggressive prosecutor.

Candidates for probate judge Thursday night fielded fewer, but nonetheless significant, questions. One of those questions went to the matter of whether some temporary guardianships are being sought to allow out-of-county children to attend Fayette schools. Jackson said she was aware of the problem, adding that while sufficient documentation is required, she would require strong proof of residency and proof that the child actually resides with the person claiming to be the guardian.

In his response, Kiser also said he would strictly enforce proof of residency, adding that the vast majority of those wanting temporary guardianship involve children with special needs.

Whitlock said he believed there has been a problem with the issue in Fayette. He said temporary guardianship is not something that should be rubber-stamped. A judge can sometimes use discretion, but a judge must also follow the law.

On the question of what specific changes the new probate judge would bring to the office, Whitlock said you do not take a good court and mess with it too much.

“If there is a way to make it simple I’ll do it,” Whitlock said. “We have a good court.”

Kiser essentially agreed, saying that the Fayette Probate Court is one of the best in Georgia. He did suggest that the office needed to better on computerization and might transition a part-time position into a full-time slot.

Jackson said she would work with employees to see if changes were needed, adding that she will keep up with the laws as they change over time. Jackson and others noted the change that would occur after the 2010 census, where an increase in population will bring new duties to the probate court, such as the option for residents to have jury trials.

Probate judge candidates were also asked what, aside from experience, makes them most qualified for the office. Whitlock said what helped him most was that he learned from people throughout his life.

Jackson said she deals with thousands of customers each year in her position in Fulton County court system. Jackson said she would hit the ground ready to work and would be compassionate with those served by her office.

Kiser said he would hit the ground running, adding that he knows the court and the county.

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Submitted by McGerkin88 on Sat, 07/12/2008 - 6:40pm.

the question of how much do you have in campaign funds currently and who is your biggest contributer. Another character flaw for the Sheriff position. Managing and accounting for money not your forte?

"Hannah added that criminal activity is being addressed when it occurs." How 'bout "crime prevention!"

"On the question of whether he agreed with Johnson about the level of crime in the county, Hannah offered no response." Actually, I think he refused, but I was falling out about this time.

Who ya gonna call? Simmons!

Submitted by doright on Mon, 07/14/2008 - 6:58am.


We are trying not to have shady deceitful people in high positions in Fayette County. Thank you for trying though.

Submitted by leonardtucker on Sat, 07/12/2008 - 5:03pm.

I read with great interest what some of the candidates had to say. I was concerned that Mr. Hannah chose NOT to answer the question about crime in Fayette County. As "#2" man in the Sheriff's Department, wouldn't he KNOW?? Why refuse to answer the question?? GIVE me a break. We all want someone who is going to be straight forward and honest with us. I like adding the precinct that both Mindar and Babb want to implement. We need it! I was also happy to see the age issue brought up. The best person for the job should get it, and that means not looking at their age, but someone who can answer our questions, say YES or NO when needed, and make our county safer for everyone. Babb and Mindar are two great candidates, and I hope we get to see one of them elected as our new sheriff. Thank you. Leonard Tucker

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