Tifton Gazette

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March 19, 2014

Local elections heat up as candidates qualify

TIFTON — The candidates have qualified and it's official – election season is underway.

After news broke that Tift State Court Judge Larry Mims would  not seek re-election, a local attorney and Municipal Court judge have thrown their hats into the ring. J.P. "Patty" Veazey and Herbert W. Benson will take each other on for Mims' seat on Election Day, May 20.

“I believe that my experience as a Municipal Court Judge will be a distinct advantage if I am fortunate enough to be elected as the State Court Judge of Tift County,” says Benson. “I know this position will present many challenges and that I will have a lot to learn; however, I believe that my experiences from both sides of the bench, as both a trial lawyer and a judge, will help to shorten the learning curve.”

Veazey said, "My fresh and energetic approach, as well as professional competence will ensure continued growth and productivity of the Tift County State Court.  I will strive to make a positive impact in the lives of the citizens of Tift County and will utilize innovative and progressive techniques and programs to ensure that Tift County State Court is of the highest quality possible. Judge Larry Mims has done an excellent job with the  Tift County State Court and I plan to continue to bring our court system forward."

Four Tift County commissioners will be running again this year: Donnie Hester (District 1), Robert Setters (District 3), Sherry Miley (District 4) and Mike Jones (District 6). Hester and Setters are running unopposed, while Miley will face Stan Stalnaker, and Jones will face Greg Wood.

Miley said she is excited to seek another term as commissioner in District 4.

"In the very least, I can say it is a continuous learning and challenging experience every day, but one that I truly love doing," she said. "Tift County is one of the few and luckiest counties in the state that has survived in the black. We currently have a reserve of nine months on hand. If Tift County sees a disaster, we are ready. Tift County has managed this because of strong, conservative leadership and management. We still have a long list of challenges and hard work to accomplish. It has been my honor and privilege to serve, and I ask for your blessing and support so I may continue to represent you, District 4."

Stalnaker said, "I am running for the Tift County Commission seat in District 4 because I feel it is time for me to expand my service to Tift County.  I have been in public service for almost half my life serving in law enforcement.  Most of that time has been spent serving in Tift and the surrounding counties and I feel now is a good time to take on additional responsibilities in order to assist with moving Tift County forward. I feel I would be a worthy choice for Tift County Commissioner because I have the necessary leadership skills, training and education to be a positive influence to Tift County."

Jones said the past seven years have been a learning experience for him, and he hopes the citizens of the county have benefitted as well.

"We all know the position we have been in with the downturn in the economy. Tift County has weathered the storm quite well, continuing to provide services that our citizens want with the millage rate remaining level for county residents. The upgrade of the county's bond rating by Moody's is proof that the current board has one common thread: striving for efficiency in local government. I pledge to continue to serve the citizens of District 6 and Tift County to the best of my ability if given the opportunity to serve another term," he said.

There are also Tift County Board of Education members running. In District 2, John W. Smith is running unopposed, as well as District 5's Marion P. Richbourg and District 6's Melanie M. Roberson.  In District 4, Mark Bennett, Keith Barr and Richard Golden will vie for the seat being vacated by Rita Griffin, who is not seeking re-election.

"With my business background, I feel like I can bring something to the board that could be beneficial," Bennett said. "I want to do my part to ensure that my children, and all the children of Tift County, get the best education, and that the teachers are taken care of."

Barr expressed concern about the budget cuts the school system has faced. "I think the No. 1 concern is educating our children with the constraints that the budget has on us and giving our teachers the assets or tools they need to get the job done,” he said. “The budget, as big as it is, we still can’t lose sight of the end goal, which is giving the teachers everything they have to have to maximize the teaching with our children. I think I can bring some different ideas on that perspective."

Golden says he’s very familiar with the local schools on many levels. “With my eight years of experience on the board of education, I know school board policy, budgets, personnel and school property,” he said, noting that he served as chairman for seven of the eight years. “I also have some ideas about school funding, property taxes and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds.”

Tom Coogle has been appointed to serve the remainder of Gannon Hall's term in District 3. Hall and his family moved to a different district, and he consequently stepped down.

Jason K. Hoffman is running unopposed to hold on to his seat as Solicitor General.

Also on the ballot on May 20 will be a special referendum asking voters to decide whether alcohol can be served on Sundays between 12:30 and 11:30 p.m., as well as whether to allow package sales of malt beverages and wine on Sundays, during those same hours.

The last day to register to vote is April 21. Early and advanced voting will begin April 28, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and will end May 16. One weekend voting session will be offered May 10. There will be no voting on May 19, as the Office of Elections prepares for Election Day, and all county precincts will be open on Election Day.

To request an absentee ballot by mail, call 229-386-7915.

Editorial Note: Wood was not available for comment by press time Wednesday. See Friday's paper for a full article on his candidacy, as we have done for other first-time candidates.

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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