All Wilcox County candidates for commission and board of education seats who have opposition July 20 were invited to meet at the Ag Center here Thursday night for a forum.
As nearly 50 citizens listened, commission candidates Lanier Keene, Jowan Johnson and Tracy Tyndal Sr. and BOE candidate Allen Ellicott answered questions and told voters what they hope to accomplish if they are elected.
Keene is running against District 5 incumbent Lee Hollingsworth. Johnson is challenging District 1 incumbent Leslie Reid, and Tyndal is trying to unseat District 4 incumbent Clarice Morrison.
Ellicott is opposing District 5 BOE incumbent, Jill McDuffie. A retired educator, he said he actually decided to run for the school board 15 years ago. For the past 11 years, he’s been a teacher, substitute teacher and bus driver in Wilcox County. “I’m acquainted with what goes on in the schools and the buses,” he said.
Tyndal said his business experience makes him a good candidate for commissioner. “Budgetary planning is my specialty,” he says.
In his opening statement, Tyndal said, “I’m disturbed by poor accounting practices, lack of accountability, no implementation of motions and no plan in county government.”
Keene said he got involved in county government because “I realized that things weren’t quite right.” Referring to all citizens of the county at a later point in the forum, Keene said, “it’s our fault for not questioning things in the past. We hadn’t pushed and asked for information.
“Commissioners must follow the law and let the people know where their money is going,” he added.
Johnson who is a state prison employee said he is willing to learn all he can about county government. If elected, he says, “I will let the people know that I have a willing ear. I will listen to the people and do what they want.”
Commission candidates were asked first if they would support the hiring of a county manager. All three were in complete agreement that Wilcox County needs a manager.
“This person would be accountable to the commissioners and could save the county a lot of money,” says Tyndal.
“We need a county manager,” Johnson agreed. “We can’t prosper without someone in that position.
“We must find the right person who knows how to get things done,” Keene said. “That person could help the commissioners find ways to cut expenses without raising taxes. Everybody has to make concessions,” he added.
When asked about changing the time and place for monthly commission meetings, all three men agreed that night meetings would be better than morning sessions. Johnson suggested that meetings be held in different parts of the county, and Tyndal proposed a quarterly open forum at which citizens would be invited to ask questions and make comments.
“I understand the need to maintain order and stick to a schedule at the regular meetings, so citizens could be invited to speak at these forums,” Tyndal said.
To begin working to solve the county’s financial problems, Keene said, “all departments would have to make concessions. We must have a balanced budget, so we would have to make cuts, hopefully without raising taxes.”
Keene proposed that SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) monies be designated for debt reduction if that’s possible. He also said that road paving might have to be stopped for a while except for roads where churches are located.
To turn things around, Tyndal said he would (a) hire a county manager; (b) set up a purchase order system; (c) establish an accrual system; and (d) have a basic financial statement so that when problems are detected, the proper department head can be alerted, and the problems can be solved.
Johnson said he is “all about accountability. We must keep up with what’s going out and what’s coming in,” he said.
“Commissioners must build trust between themselves and the people,” Keene said about accountability. “The right leadership can bring the county to that point,” he added.
“We all make bad decisions in our lives,” Tyndal said, “but we have to admit those mistakes before corrective action can be taken.
“I want a county government that will reward good work. Right now,” he says, “we don’t know who’s doing a good job.”
Johnson said he would support the county-wide election of a commission chairperson. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Keene and Tyndal said they think that should be done if a county manager isn’t hired. Without a county manager, they agreed, the chairperson’s position “would have to be a full-time position.”
“Part-time doesn’t cut it,” Keene reiterated.
In explaining how they would be responsive to the people, Keene said he would write down problems he hears about and carry them to the appropriate county employee, then check to be sure problems have been corrected.
Tyndal stressed the need for better communication. “Listen to the people. Make people feel like they can be heard,” he said.
To make county government more efficient, Johnson says, “better management is necessary. Be there for the community.”
Keene says, “demonstrate leadership and work out a plan for improving efficiency. Department heads should have regular contact with the commissioners.”
Tyndal says, “we must have good processes and procedures.” He proposed committees within the commission who will check on things and report back to the full body.
Ellicott says the four-day school week has been the most controversial issue in the school system recently. “I hope we can go back to a five-day week when funding improves,” he said. “I think five days is better for the students. I am interested in taxpayers and students.”
In closing, the BOE candidate said a board “should do what is right, not what is easy.”
Johnson agreed, “it’s all about doing the right thing. I want the opportunity to help people.”
Referring to the election, Tyndal said, “it’s purely a business decision. Voters have to decide who they think can fix the problems.”
“Give me a chance to do better,” Keene concluded.