All four said they believe Tired Creek Lake is a worthwhile project, the foursome support, with certain limits, working to embrace motocross here and all but one are opposed to zoning in unincorporated Grady County.
This week’s forum was hosted by WGRA AM-790 and was moderated by Jeff Lovett.
Candidates June Duke Knight, Frank Jones, Richard Jordan and Earle Jeter participated.
Lovett opened the forum by questioning the candidates about whether the multimillion dollar investment in Tired Creek Lake was a good investment for the county.
“Yes, it is a good investment. Grady County needs activities people can be engaged in,” Knight said. She noted that the project had become “a very expensive venture” but said as a commissioner she would work to see that the project generated revenue for the county.
Jones said he had been a supporter of the lake project since the late 60s early 70s when a “dig day” was held at the lake site. He said if the project could have been completed back then it would have been much larger and less expensive.
Jordan pushed his plan to sell the lake itself to the state, and the surrounding property to a single developer in order to recoup the county’s investment in the project. By selling the lake to the state and the property to a developer he estimates the county would net $18 million. He also said he was the only candidate of the four who had attended all but one of the meetings of the Grady County Lake Authority since June.
Jeter described the lake project as “a good thing” but warned that the county should not be in the real estate development business and should concentrate on collecting taxes and fees from those developing around the lake. “In the long run, the lake will be an asset. Not only from the housing around the lake, but commercial activities, fishing, and people coming here to spend money. We’ve just got to buckle down, set the course and follow that course until we win the game,” Jeter said.
Lovett asked the candidates their thoughts on how motocross, which he said was already embedded here, could be made profitable for the county.
Knight said she did not have an issue with motocross if it was on property that is isolated and had buffers to help reduce the noise. She shared that she had previously operated a sporting clay range and had to be courteous to her neighbors as to when the operation was utilized.
Jones said that it would support an expansion of the motocross industry here if the motocross people would agree to mufflers to deaden the sound emitted by the sport.
Jordan voiced his willingness to work with the local motocross industry, but suggested it would be better to locate possibly event tracks on state routes. He noted that some prime parcels between Cairo and Whigham on U.S. 84 would be prime locations. “I love money and if we’ve got someone who wants to come here and spend money then I want their money,” Jordan said.
Jeter admitted he did not know a lot about the motocross industry but said he was willing to work with anyone as long as it did not negatively impact the full-time residents of the county. “If it can be done and will bring more money into our community without a negative impact I’m for it,” he said.
On the hot button issue of zoning, Jones said he believed there was a need for some type of zoning in the county, but not a process so restrictive that the county had complete control of what property owners could do with their land.
Jordan said he would not support zoning because the residents of District 1 he had spoken with were “loud and clear” on the subject. He pledged to be a voice of the people and commented that his people were strongly opposed to zoning.
Jeter said he would have to vote the way his constituents wanted and he echoed Jordan’s allegation that the people of District 1 did not favor zoning in the county.
Knight also voiced her opposition to zoning. She said that if the county enforces the code and regulations on the books already that would handle most any problem. “The people in District 1 do not want zoning and I know that for a fact,” she said.
Lovett also asked the candidates what projects, if any, they would want to tackle on day one.
Jones said there are many issues he would like to tackle, but noted that “you can’t please everybody.” He said the maintenance and improvement of roads would be a top priority. Jones also suggested that when road department personnel go out to scrape a dirt road they could at the same time clip the shoulders along the paved roads in the county to preserve them.
Jordan said he would approach the work of county commissioner by looking for ways to share costs and reduce the county’s financial burden. He suggested improvements to County Line Road in the extreme north end of the county could be shared with Mitchell County and that likely the state would participate with two governing bodies coming together on a joint project. He said that type of innovative thinking and going after “low hanging fruit” would be his first day focus.
Jeter said he had been contacted by residents of northwest Grady County about the need for a nearby fire station. The people he talked with had said they would provide the land and the water for the station if it could be built. “That is something certainly worth looking into,” Jeter said.
Knight said she would immediately begin working with the board to address road needs and also the garbage situation. She said she favors more enforcement of litter violations rather than manned dump sites.
Touching on the reassessment of real property and the county not dropping the millage rate accordingly which created a significant tax increase for local property owners, many of the candidates said the tax hike was necessary.
Only Knight disagreed and suggested rather than funding the government primarily with property taxes she said she favored a sales tax so that all citizens shared the burden. Jordan, Jeter and Jones all described the tax increase as necessary. Jeter said there is no such thing as a free lunch and Jones said when county residents demand more and better services they have to be paid for and the primary source of revenue for the county is through property taxes.
Lovett also questioned the candidates about the debacle with the Grady County Agri Center renovation project.
All of the candidates agreed that local contractors should be used if possible, but regardless the county should have vetted the low bidder before awarding the contract to him. Recently, it became public that the contractor on the job had not paid sub contractors that had worked on the project, including some from here. The county commission recently took action to pay the subs and to seek reimbursement from the contractor.
“If I had been on the commission I would not have let that contractor come in without a performance bond,” Jordan said.
Jones said that there are “good” contractors here that could have done the work and Knight said she had always promoted “shop Cairo first.” Jeter said that was not always possible, but whenever it could be done locally a preference should be given to local vendors.
In their closing statements, the moderator challenged them to tell the voters why they should vote for them as opposed to one of the other candidates.
Jordan said, “The main reason you should vote for me is I am the only commission candidate that has been to every commission meeting since March with the exception of one.” He also noted that he had attended every Grady County Lake Authority meeting since June with the exception of one. Jordan talked about his experience as a chief financial officer and controller and said that the days of spending money on a project in hopes of hitting the bulls eye were over.
Jeter said at the age of 22 he was managing a $75 million project in today’s dollars. He said with that and other experience he would work to operate county government in complete transparency. He also pledged to the voters that if he had the money to pay for a project out of this pocket, but hesitated to do so, he would never ask the taxpayers to spend their money on such a project.
“I want to be your commissioner and I will do the best job I possibly can. It takes a team and there is no ‘i’ in team. I’m not a yes person and I’m not a no person, but I will find out everything I can before making a decision.,” Knight said.
Jones said the reason the voters should support him was due to his knowledge and experience in writing and following a budget as well as working with others. “I know how to deal with the public and I have a level head.” He said he had contemplated running for a political office for many years, but said he would have never challenged the retiring Elwyn Childs, who resigned last month due to health concerns.
“Let’s forget about the past and work for the future,” Jones said.
Early voting is now underway at the courthouse in the probate court for the District 1 special election. The advanced voting will conclude next Friday.
Knight has owned The Wine Rack & Package in Cairo for the last 37 years. Prior to that, she worked with the State of Florida and the Grady County Board of Education.
Jones is the retired Cairo postmaster having worked with the U.S. Postal Service for 35 years. He has also been active in Woodmen of the World since 1958.
Jeter, a pilot with NetJets, has flown for the company for 18 years in addition to work with a number of other airlines, private industry and Bell Telephone.
Jordan has served as a controller and chief financial officer, but concentrates on his real estate company, Private Mortgage Group LLC, which he founded in 2006 and currently has a net value of approximately $3 million.