Answers, intros short at second forum

Published 11:57 am Friday, October 28, 2011

Short introductions and even shorter answers to a hot-and-cold list of questions marked Thursday night’s forum of candidates running for state and local offices Nov. 8 in Warren County, the second of three events planned before Election Day.

For 23 of 30 in local races for supervisor and two court clerk offices who showed up at the circuit courtroom, it was about job creation, improving housing, qualifications and accountability.

“We have opportunity right here in Vicksburg,” said Democrat Casey Fisher, making his first bid for public office in the District 4 supervisor race, delivering among the sharpest of introductions of 10 hopefuls and incumbents in the room. “I’m sick of hearing about Madison. I’m sick of hearing about Clinton, even Magee, when Vicksburg has more opportunities. We have more corridors than anyone in this state. I blame it on leadership.”

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Fisher, 45, a minister and retired postal worker, is opposed by incumbent Bill Lauderdale, 64, seeking his sixth, nonconsecutive term.

In response to a housing question, Fisher didn’t rule out “establishing more ordinances” to make living in Warren County more attractive. “I think we need to put things in place to make people do what they’re supposed to do, when it comes to parking on the grass and pit bulls in the front yard and everything else,” he said to applause from about 45 to 50 people jammed into the courtroom for the session, organized by Vicksburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Blacks in Government and the Warren County chapter of the NAACP.

Lauderdale said the county’s subdivision ordinance enacted in 2004 to bring development in line with drainage and road condition standards takes cooperation to remain relevant.

“By working with developers, by working with the city, by working with each other, is the only way we’re going to improve,” he said. “I can’t improve anything by myself. I’ve got to have help from other officials, contractors, developers. And that’s the only way I know to do it.”

Candidates were limited to 2-minute introductions and 1-minute responses to questions from the audience.

Questions for circuit clerk candidates dealt with fees, accessibility and whether the staff would be retained.

Questions posed to District 2 supervisor candidate Deborah “De” Reul about her desire to eliminate the Parks and Recreation Commission, plans to bring a vo-tech college to Vicksburg and about her residency and vehicle registration sparked another brief buzz.

Reul, 61, a transplant from Missouri, said she was working to redevelop Culkin Academy for her vo-tech idea. The building is owned by the school district. She said one of her vehicles has a South Dakota license plate because it’s registered to a corporation there. State law mandates residents to purchase a Mississippi tag within 30 days. Reul owns three homes in Vicksburg. She and Republican Trey Smith, 31, are challenging Democratic incumbent William Banks, 61.

Of 14 candidates for supervisor, three were no-shows — Jerry Briggs and Reed Birdsong in District 1 and Joe Wooley in District 5, all independents. James Stirgus Jr., District 3’s school board member and challenger for its county board seat, arrived about 30 minutes before the forum ended, after supervisor candidates were finished. Stirgus had been at a school board meeting.

Tax assessor candidates Angela Brown and Mike Caruthers and tax collector hopeful Patty Mekus also didn’t show; all three cited prior commitments, said Gertrude Young of Delta Sigma Theta. Brown is a Democrat; Caruthers and Mekus are Republicans.

Tax assessor candidates Ben Luckett, 39, and Doug Tanner, 53, both independents, agreed foreclosures can bring down property values. Tax Collector Antonia Flaggs Jones, 40, leaned on her experience under former tax collector Patricia Simrall, for whom she worked for 15 years, as her chief qualification.

The question of a new jail was put to Sheriff Martin Pace and challenger Bubba Comans, a former deputy. Pace, 53, again said his office continually will update supervisors on the jail, built mostly in 1907 and last renovated in the 1970s.

Comans, 56, contended the structure’s third floor, essentially an empty parapet roof, could fit “70 to 80 more beds” if renovated. The notion has been cast aside as too costly by the current county board.

Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree — under fire most of this year due to a state auditor’s investigation into fee accounting practices — used her experience as a plus when talk among four candidates turned to qualifications.

“There are some fine candidates running for this office,” she said. “What separates me from them is that I already know day-to-day operations for this office.”

Challenger Jan Hyland Daigre, 49, an independent, kept up an aggressive tone. “Management of the circuit clerk’s office is broken,” she said. Republican David Sharp, 29, stuck to his “big man for a big job” mantra, while Robert Terry, 55, an independent, said he’d dedicate all collections above state-set caps to go to a nonprofit to help children.

Republican Donna Farris Hardy, 57, one of four chancery clerk candidates, leaned on her 31 years in administrative roles at Warren Yazoo Mental Health Services.

Hardy is opposed by Vicksburg City Clerk Walter Osborne, a Democrat, and independents Alecia Ashley, 36, a legal assistant, and Gene Thompson, 70, a retired forester. Osborne, 52, city clerk since 1999, touted himself as “the only candidate with over 15 years working in the chancery clerk’s office.”

Statewide candidates faced questions about health care reform.

“Obamacare is a way to create access and affordable health care,” state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, in opening remarks. Flaggs, 58, the area’s senior legislator, seeks a seventh term in Jackson against Republican Sam Smith, whom Flaggs beat to win the seat in 1987.

Smith, a restaurant employee, described he and Flaggs as “friends,” but said the national health care law — outside the purview of the state House — would add to the state’s Medicaid roll, which numbers 600,000.

Also attending were Democrats Louis Fondren, a former state representative from Gautier challenging Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, public service commission candidate Addie Green, of Bolton, and Pickens Mayor Joel Gill, who faces state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in the race to succeed retiring agriculture and commerce commissioner Lester Spell.

The third and final forum slated before the Nov. 8 general election will be Tuesday at 6 p.m. at LeTourneau Volunteer Fire Department, 1720 Redbone Road. All countywide candidates and those for District 4 supervisor have been invited.