BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, along with the Blue Ridge Community Theater, hosted a candidate forum May 3 to give voters an opportunity to hear first-hand local candidates’ responses to questions about issues facing our area.
All persons running for positions on the Fannin County Board of Education and for the seat of Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner were present to share their views and explain why they should have your vote in the upcoming election.
First to take the stage were Marvin Allen (R), Bobby Bearden (R), and Jeff DePaola (D).
Allen is challenging incumbent Bearden in the May General Primary for the Republican nomination. The winner of the primary will face Democrat DePaola in the November General Election.
BOBBY BEARDEN (R) INCUMBENT
Bobby Bearden, who has served on the Fannin County Board of Education for 16 years, said, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Bearden added about his time serving, “It’s more than a privilege. It’s a blessing and an honor.”
While agreeing with his fellow candidates on many of the issues such as a board member must be a liaison between the community, parents, teachers, and students, Bearden gave insight into his feelings about what it takes to be an effective board member and what it means to serve.
“A lot of people think that the school board runs the schools, but the school board does not run the schools,” Bearden said. “The superintendent runs the schools. The school board makes sure the superintendent carries out the policies.”
Bearden spoke of accomplishments of the school board during his service specifically citing the Performing Arts Center (PAC) and the construction taking place of the new agricultural facility located on Ada Street: “I’ve got so much behind me I couldn’t tell you all of it.”
“I just heard today that we applied for a grant, a literacy grant for over 1 million bucks,” Bearden said, smiling, “and we got it.”
Bearden’s platform is unwavering, stating his top priorities are “children, children, children, and the tax payers of Fannin County.” He states that safety and quality education are his main focus.
MARVIN ALLEN (R) CHALLENGER
Marvin Allen is a product of the Fannin County School System and has raised his children in Fannin County where they all attended our public schools.
“The platform I’m running on is my concerns for the children of Fannin County,” Allen addressed the crowd of voters. “Their safety is certainly number one. Next on the list is education. Another issue I am concerned about is the consideration of the tax-paying citizens of the county.”
Allen would like to work with the superintendent to produce quality policies that make a difference and to be a good steward of taxpayers dollars when it comes to the budget.
Having helped initiate the school system’s fishing program and by being involved with his children’s educations as well as their extracurricular activities, including sports and band, Allen feels that he is qualified for a position on the Board of Education.
When asked what makes an effective school board member, Allen replied that listening and communicating with the community is a large part of the responsibility, but also being able to effectively take care of business: “There are policies you’ve got to set and a budget you’ve got to monitor.”
JEFF DEPAOLA (D) CHALLENGER
Jeff DePaola has worked with youth via mentoring programs and shows a strong resolve in helping children through community involvement.
DePaola feels that this mentoring background along with his career provides him with the experience needed to serve on the Fannin County Board of Education.
DePaola began his career with Delta at the young age of 19. Through Delta, DePaola learned the field of computer programming and went on to write and implement many programs used in this field.
“I’ve got kind of an entrepreneurial spirit about me. I feel like I have a good eye for looking at a situation and seeing opportunities to make it better,” DePaola spoke of how his career will translate on the school board.
DePaola would like to be a liason if elected to the school board. He feels that a large portion of the duty of a board member is to gather as much information as possible from students, teachers, parents and the community, and relay that information into meaningful policies.
“The platform I’m running on is opportunity through community,” DePaola stated of his goals if elected.
Next to come to the stage was the race with the largest number of candidates. These candidates include Ron Bolin (R), Mike Cole (R), Susan DeMoura (D), Steve Stanley (R), and Mike Sullivan (R).
Bolin, Cole and Sullivan are all challengers of incumbent Stanley for the Republican nomination in the May General Primary. The winner of the primary will go on to face Democrat DeMoura in the November General Election.
RON BOLIN (R) CHALLENGER
Ron Bolin opened his statements by giving voters a glimpse into his background: “I’m a retired educator. I’ve taught at all three grade levels, elementary, middle, and high school.”
Beyond having taught, Bolin has also spent time in coaching and in school administration.
Bolin is a proponent of literacy and would like to focus school assets into providing a number of tools to promote and teach these skills. Having served many years in education, Bolin stated, “When a student lags behind in this area, it makes more difficulties throughout their entire education.”
Bolin would also like to see focus put on bringing back vocational training to our schools. He believes that education has “made a huge mistake” by putting all the focus on college education and that many students do not attend college and would greatly benefit from vocational training.
MIKE COLE (R) CHALLENGER
Mike Cole is a product of the Fannin County School System and credits his success to the start he got in our county’s schools.
Cole, a small business owner, began his training at Fannin County High School in the now un-offered vocational and technical programs. Having a successful career with General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, Cole returned to Fannin County to open his own automotive repair shop.
Cole is now a strong advocate for returning programs such as transportation class, cosmetology, residential wiring, plumbing, and welding to Fannin County schools.
“I’m not just a salesman,” Cole said, speaking of his opponent Bolin’s stance to bring back vocational classes, “but I am a client. I went through this vocational system, and I now own a business doing my career path from career tech.”
Cole now has a young child enrolled in the school system, and from involvement in his child’s education, he sees areas of what he feels are wasteful spending and mismanagement.
Citing that he has personally had to provide water to children on a field trip and has seen first-hand large amounts of food being thrown away in the schools’ cafeterias, Cole stated, “If we are a charter school and can make some decisions, we need to make decisions about the waste and mismanagement in that area.”
Cole also brought to the table the idea of using Georgia Virtual on snow days. He stated that if each child were provided a Chromebook that this option could be used to alleviate the issue of make-up school days due to inclement weather.
SUSAN DEMOURA (D) CHALLENGER
Susan DeMoura shared her experience of being a director of a rehabilitation center. With a master’s in speech language pathology, DeMoura worked many years managing a large staff and being in charge of an equally as large budget.
“I believe that my experience has prepared me to sit on this board,” DeMoura explained that she is used to working with many diverse people, “and become a liaison between the superintendent and the students and the teachers and the parents.”
When asked if school boards should be moved to a nonpartisan position, DeMoura stated that she is proud to be a member of her political party, but “I don’t see this as an area where politics need to come into play.”
DeMoura said that a key area she would like to research and try to resolve is the issue of absences in Fannin County. She cited that not all absences are due to illness and some stem from a child’s home life. DeMoura would like to provide options for these children to ensure that they are able to attend school everyday.
“My goal is to try to bridge any gap that exists,” DeMoura said of her hopes if elected,”with our students and our parents and teachers and provide the very best options, the very best alternatives for them.”
STEVE STANLEY (R) INCUMBENT
Steve Stanley has served on the Board of Education for eight years and would like to be re-elected for another four year term.
Stanley is proud of his record with the Board of Education citing several successes that have come to pass during his terms. He spoke of grants that have been awarded and progresses that have been made on all school campuses.
With Quality Basic Education (QBE) being fully funded by the state of Georgia for the first time in a number of years, Stanley stated that he will continue to be an advocate for equal state funding for Fannin County schools.
“This board will continue to work,” Stanley stated of his expectations if re-elected, “and I will continue to work.”
Stanley stated that the one thing he would do differently if elected for another term would be to spend more time in the schools.
“That has been the one thing I have wanted to do since I have been on the board is spend more time in schools,” Stanley said, explaining that his work has kept him away from spending as much time as he would like in the schools.
MIKE SULLIVAN (R) CHALLENGER
Mike Sullivan remains steadfast in his platform. Two of Sullivan’s key issues are that of school safety and of complete transparency on all levels.
Sullivan would like to see no stone left unturned when it comes to the safety of the children of Fannin County. Pursuing every option to acquire top notch safety is an issue the Sullivan is very passionate about.
Sullivan was asked of what he has done to prepare himself for the school board position if elected. He cited that beyond having attended the Board of Education monthly meetings, his military background is another advantage that he possesses.
“The military really prepares you a lot for working with diverse people,” the Air Force veteran spoke of his credentials for the Board of Education, “and I believe our board is comprised of some diverse individuals. It really prepares you for conflict.”
Sullivan agreed with his opponents on a number of issues, including that the school board should be a nonpartisan position and that the best way to keep quality teachers is to offer competitive pay and incentives.
When asked what he would do differently from incumbent Stanley, Sullivan replied that he would have active engagement on all levels, with students, parents, teachers, and fellow board members.
“We really have tremendous capabilities here,” Sullivan stated enthusiastically of his intentions, “to really excel with our kids and to lead them beyond being just 21st century learners.”
POST 2 COMMISSIONER
The final group of candidates to take the stage were those running for Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner. These candidates included Dixie Carter (D), Glenn Patterson (R), Larry Joe Sosebee (R), and William “Tripp” Ritchie (R).
Ritchie and Patterson are facing incumbent Sosebee for the Republican nomination in the May General Primary. The winner of this primary will go against Democrat Carter in the November General Election.
DIXIE CARTER (D) CHALLENGER
Dixie Carter holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work, and she feels that having worked many years in this field, she has a good understanding of people and their needs and for this reason would make an ideal candidate.
Carter is a proponent of improving the county’s recreational areas and of seeking ways to move the county’s library out of the courthouse and into a stand-alone location.
A library is a hub for many communities, according to Carter, and a place where not only learning can take place, but a facility that can offer community classes and lectures, Internet for those without, and social work and aid for those in need.
When asked about a county aquatic center, Carter replied that she would be in favor and that it would be “very beneficial to focus on our health and wellness.”
Rather than just fund this center locally, Carter feels that we could look into regional funding: “Regional collaboration is a very good thing.” She feels that surrounding counties might take interest since the center would be beneficial to their residents as well.
Carter would be in favor of expanding the current Fannin County Board of Commissioners from a three-person panel to a five-person panel.
“With three there’s a monopoly on the vote,” Carter stated of the matter. “It’s almost like it’s rigged.”
If elected, Carter said she will work to represent all citizens of Fannin County and work to change the atmosphere of the Board of Commissioners meetings, which she feels has a negative tone.
GLENN PATTERSON (R) CHALLENGER
Glenn Patterson is an educator of 33 years and has spent approximately 23 of those years as a teacher, administrator, and coach in Fannin County. Patterson currently serves on the Board of Directors at the Fannin Christian Learning Center and is chairman for Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.
Patterson said that he has no private agenda in running, just a vision and a want to make Fannin County better.
Being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money is a key element to Patterson’s platform, and a topic that he reiterated in his answers.
When asked about the county collaborating with the cities to provide an aquatic center, Patterson replied, “I would be open to look at it. I really would. A lot of factors come into play, especially paying for it.”
One area where Patterson seemed to agree with incumbent Sosebee was in not expanding the Board of Commissioners to a five-member board and keeping it at its current three member status. While he did not say that he was completely against the move, Patterson did cite that there is another way to approach the matter.
“I think the biggest thing is to get good people,” Patter said, explaining his stance. “Get people that you can trust. Get people that will work together collaboratively for a common goal.”
LARRY JOE SOSEBEE (R) INCUMBENT
Larry Joe Sosebee has held the Post 2 Commission seat since 2011 and will be seeking a third term in office.
Sosebee stated that his platform has never changed and that he will be running on the same ideals: “When I first ran for this office, my platform was for the safety and prosperity for each citizen of Fannin County.”
Not in support of turning the Board of Commissioners into a five-member board, Sosebee spoke frankly on the matter: “Three people is enough to butt heads on these decisions we make.”
Sosebee told the crowd that he would be in favor of a stand-alone building for the county library: “I’ve always supported a stand-alone library.” He then added,” I wouldn’t put the county in any bond debt whatsoever for any facility.”
Rival candidate Tripp Ritchie questioned the county’s planning strategy for the future and in particular cited the county’s emergency departments. Sosebee took offense to Ritchie’s comments and replied about these departments, “We are top notch in the state of Georgia.”
“All it takes is common sense to run this office,” Sosebee said and added that with his experience, he feels that he is the man for the job.
WILLIAM “TRIPP” RITCHIE (R) CHALLENGER
Tripp Ritchie, a sixth-generation Fannin County resident, co-owner of Ritchie Creek Farm, Inc., and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps., did not hold back during the forum as he spoke frankly about areas of the county that he feels need to be improved.
Ritchie has held strong to his belief that the county lacks proper strategic planning, and one downfall of not having such a plan is in newly constructed facilities: “We need a five-year capital improvements plan.”
“If it’s not in a capital improvements program,” Ritchie added, “you end up starting construction without knowing how you are going to pay for it.”
Ritchie also noted areas in how the Board of Commissioners run that could be improved for the public: “I don’t think we have enough public debate or public comments.”
Accusing Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton of “weaponizing” his position by having complete say in meeting agendas and arrangements, Ritchie added, “We should encourage everybody to have input from the community. We seem to forget that we are representing the citizens of Fannin County.”
Ritchie said that he would support changing the current commission board from three members to five members: “Yes, and I would go a step further. I’d change the form of government between a volunteer-elected board and a manager.”
Having a county manager to organize and oversee all areas of the county government, according to Ritchie, would be beneficial not just in efficiency but also in transparency.
Finally, Ritchie addressed the issue of our emergency management departments and said that this is another area that would greatly benefit from strategic planning. He feels the county should do more to prepare these departments for future demand.
Ritchie also cited that he had been informed that our fire department facilities are not up to code, some not being properly vented, and that firefighters had expressed concern to him about their safety: “They asked me to bring these issues to the commissioners attention. They felt like the commission didn’t have their back.”
Ritchie maintains that he is the right person for the job because he will proactively seek solutions: “I’m not a politician. I’m a pragmatist. I see a problem, and I go try to fix it.”
Early voting continues in Fannin County through May 18. You can place your early vote at the Fannin County Courthouse, 3rd Floor, Office of Elections and Registration. Regular voting for the General Primary will take place on May 22. The 2018 General Election is to be held Nov. 6.
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