June 17, 2014

Commission candidates express skepticism at SPLOST

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— If local tea party voters are looking for candidates that pledge their fealty to the Constitution or who promise to fight wasteful spending, they found four Tuesday night at Ryman Hall.

The Dalton Tea Party hosted a forum attended by about 70 people for the candidates on the July 22 Whitfield County runoff ballot: Superior Court Judge David Blevins and his challenger, Dalton Municipal Court Judge Jim Wilbanks, and the candidates for the Republican nomination for Board of Commissioners District 1, Renee Davis and Barry Robbins.

Both Blevins and Wilbanks said a judge must be bound by the U.S. Constitution in all matters.

“You start with the Constitution,” said Wilbanks. “It is foremost in my mind.”

Blevins said the Constitution is the most important document for a judge.

“I believe the Constitution should be interpreted as intended by our Founding Fathers,” he said.

Both men were asked about their sentencing philosophy.

Blevins said sentencing is one of the most difficult and complex things a judge must do. He said sentences must take account of the law as well as the facts of a case. He noted that, in drug cases for instance, it makes a difference whether the person being sentenced is an addict or someone involved in the business of drugs. He noted that this area is fortunate to have so many options besides prison for addicts, including the Conasauga Drug Court. The Conasauga circuit includes Whitfield and Murray counties.

Wilbanks also praised the Drug Court, which provides close supervision and treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. Drug Court is a “great example,” he said, because it provides people with a structured system that can help them but also includes “consequences”  if they don’t meet the goals set by the court.

In the commissioner’s race, both Davis and Robbins expressed a desire to see greater economic growth in Whitfield County.

“I want to attract any and all types of business,” said Robbins.

He said county officials should look at ways they can encourage the construction of an east-west interstate across northern Georgia that would go through the northern part of Whitfield County. He said that would spur development.

Davis said commissioners should look at ways to support Dalton State College, especially in finding ways to build new dorms. She said that would attract more students and help the college grow, which in turn, would boost growth around the county.

Asked about a plan by the current members of the Board of Commissioners to place a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) on the March 2015 ballot, both candidates expressed some skepticism but did not outright oppose the idea.

“I am opposed to a SPLOST that is just attached to a wish list,” said Robbins, who said he could support one that paid for truly needed projects.

Davis agreed that any SPLOST should focus solely on needed infrastructure.

“We should be very careful with a SPLOST,” she said. “We should give the community a chance to get involved in deciding what it would fund. And commissioners need to be prepared to explain why they are asking for one.”

Gordon Morehouse, the Republican who currently holds the commissioner’s seat, did not run for re-election this year. No Democrat qualified.

The audience also heard from supporters of U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and Macon businessman David Perdue, who are in a runoff for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November’s general election. Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss decided not to seek re-election.

Tea Party member Kevin Tisdale, who moderated the forum, thanked all of the candidates for taking part and encouraged audience members to not only get out and vote but to get their family, friends and neighbors to vote in the runoff as well.

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The League of Women Voters of the Dalton Area and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will hold a joint forum for candidates in the July 22 runoff  on Monday at 6 p.m. at the Mack Gaston Community Center. A potluck dinner will be served by the members of the two groups. The public is invited to come hear the candidates speak, but reservations must be made to eat dinner. For more information or to make reservations, call Virgelia Meek at (706) 226-6774.