CLEVELAND, Ga. — A standing-room-only crowd elbowed its way into the Roy Ash, Jr. Community Building last night for the candidate forum hosted by White County News and WRWH Radio on the final week before the May 24 General Primary election.
The three contested races in White County this year are the Board of Education chairman’s race between incumbent Kendyl Brock-Hunter and Missy Jarrard, Sheriff Neal Walden and challenger Aaron Autry and the Board of Commissioners race between District 4 Commissioner Craig Bryant and Shawn Henderson.
The biggest surprise of the evening was that neither school board candidate was asked about the federal guideline issued last week by the Obama Justice and Education departments. That guideline directed school systems to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and dressing rooms consistent with their gender identity. The guideline does not carry the force of law, but administration officials have hinted that school systems that fail to comply could lose millions of dollars in federal funding.
After the forum ended, Fetch Your News caught up with the two candidates to ask where they stand on that important issue. Both were adamant that the federal government should butt out and that this is a local issue.
Hunter said, “Bottom line this is a local issue, not a federal issue. This is not something that needs to be mandated by the federal government. Let the local people decide. As a board member, I am part of a whole. So it would be something collectively we would discuss and decide on.”
Jarrard said, “This decision coming down from the federal government is just another example of how the federal government needs to stay out of local school systems. To me this is an issue that needs to be argued with the state. Let the voters go to the polls and vote on it. I don’t believe at the federal level they should be making any directives to a local school system. I personally would oppose it.”
Henderson said he would like to improve county government’s communications with its citizens. “I want to find new ways to put what we’re doing out there,” he said. “I want you to know what’s going on ahead of time.” He also said he would consider hiring a public information officer.
“I personally believe in term limits,” he added. “I believe after you have served a certain amount of time, you should stop and give somebody else a chance to serve.”
Bryant, who has served on the board for 14 years, said his greatest qualification for the office is his ability to deal with the public, “I’m a people person. I have the ability to talk to the people I’m sitting in front of. I’ll tell you the truth. I’ll tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear. Right now the county is running as smooth as it has in a long time. We’ve got money in the bank and we’re still offering services.”
Sheriff Walden, who has served White County for 37 years, including 25 as sheriff, said his staff is highly experienced and has brought White County law enforcement into the 21st century.
“My command staff collectively has about 200 years of experience,” he said. “They have the pulse of the county. We’ve taken more than $6 million worth of drugs off the street in the last four years and made over 360 arrests. That’s stomping on the drug dealers’ toes.”
Autry, who has 22 years of law enforcement experience, said the county needs a work release program. “If you sentence someone on a child support charge, how in the world is he going to do that? If we had a work release program, which will pay for itself, it will help the person being sentenced but it will also help the family. That’s an issue we need to address.”