Candidate forum filled with wide-ranging issues

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Candidates for Adams County Chancery Clerk Donnie Holloway, Jack Lazarus, Brandi Lewis and Joe Murray spoke during the forum for candidates at the Natchez Convention Center Monday evening. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Candidates for Adams County Chancery Clerk Donnie Holloway, Jack Lazarus, Brandi Lewis and Joe Murray spoke during the forum for candidates at the Natchez Convention Center Monday evening. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Candidates for chancery clerk, constable, coroner and tax assessor made a pitch for Adams County’s votes Monday night.

The candidates spoke at a forum sponsored by the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce and The Natchez Democrat. A second forum — for circuit clerk and board of supervisors’ candidates — will be 5 to 8 p.m. today at the Natchez Convention Center.

Candidates will be available to meet the public at 4 p.m.

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Chancery clerk

The two of the candidates for chancery clerk — Jack Lazarus and Brandi Lewis — said the biggest misconception they run into while campaigning for the office is that most people don’t know what the chancery clerk does.

The clerk is the county’s keeper of records, treasurer, clerk of the board of trustees and serves as an advocate in drug and lunacy commitment hearings.

The other two candidates, Donnie Holloway and Joe Murray, said the biggest misconception is people think the clerk needs a legal background. Murray said the office is, “more than anything,” a financial responsibility, and only three chancery clerks in the state are attorneys.

“You do not have to be attorney to be chancery clerk,” Holloway said. “What you have to have is knowledge, financially, knowledge of people, working with people and knowledge of some of the courts. You have judges who do that. You just set the docket for them. It just has to be a person who cares, is willing to work hard and help the people.”

Lewis said she is the most qualified candidate, having worked for six of the 13 years she has been an attorney as the staff attorney in the chancery court office.

“Every other day I am in the clerk’s office,” Lewis said.

“Maintaining the records and court files is the very important duty of the clerk. I am more aware of how those records should be filed, how the summons should be issued.

“One of the other aspects is the clerk is called upon to be the court appointed advocate for conservatorships for those who don’t have someone to step forward with them. You are advocating for people who don’t have a voice generally.”

Lazarus said he has worked as an attorney in the chancery court’s lunacy hearings since 1984 and has served as special master — a form of judge — in those matters for 27 years.

“I am in the chancery clerk’s office every single day,” he said. “The most important function of the chancery clerk is the proper recording, indexing and maintenance of our records – land, deed, adoption, conservativorships and estates.

“Our records are vitally important to every body who does business in this county.”

Holloway said his 15 years as the Natchez city clerk have been in a very similar capacity to that of chancery clerk. The biggest change he would make would be to add a system that allowed online digital filing of court records, he said.

“We need to bring (the office) into the 21st century,” he said.

Murray said his work as Adams County administrator has brought him lots of experience with the office already.

“The clerk is treasurer for the county and as clerk for board of supervisors,” Murray said.

“I work every day with the chancery clerk and attend all board meetings. I understand all the business that goes on with the county. Any action that the board takes that is not in the minutes is illegal, and I understand the finances of the county better than any of these candidates.”

When the candidates were given a chance to ask any candidate any question, the other three all asked Murray if he intended to continue working as county administrator if elected, Murray said he did “not intend on keeping both positions.”

“I am glad to think so many people think I am capable of doing both jobs,” he said.

Murray said he has expressed an interest in continuing to work on the county budget.

“If I am going to be responsible for all the money coming and going, I want to have a hand in it,” he said.

Holloway was the only candidate to raise the electronic filing issue on his own, but when quizzed about it all of the candidates said they would be willing to at least look into it.


Candidates for Adams County coroner, James Lee, left, and Jeremy Fakes attended Monday evening’s candidate forum at the Natchez Convention Center. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Candidates for Adams County coroner, James Lee, left, and Jeremy Fakes attended Monday evening’s candidate forum at the Natchez Convention Center. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Coroner’s candidate Jeremy Fakes said voters should choose him because — as someone in the mortuary business — he has certifications in grief counseling and in determining the signs and causes of death.

“I promise to be on time, I promise professional investigation of all deaths,” he said.

Fakes said he would like to work with law enforcement officers to develop a scared straight program and save the lives of youth.

Incumbent coroner James Lee said he loves, in this order — God, his family and the coroner’s office.

“The biggest possible role in this job is getting it right and getting it right the first time,” he said. “That takes a tremendous amount of education and training. I have had hundreds and hundreds of hours of training in death investigation and medical training. If the coroner is unable to get it right you can sleep, you can’t eat. I have investigated over 6,000 cases to date, and I have gotten every one of them right.”

Lee said his goal for the future is to get a mobile toxicology lab for the coroner’s office.

Southern district constable

Southern district constable candidate Matthew Freeman said he decided to run for the office to “try to get the kids who are out there in the streets doing nothing involved in other organizations and programs.”

The constable carries out all the orders of the justice court and aims to serve papers in a timely manner, Freeman said, but he said he wants “to take that job to a new level and bring the youth of Adams County out there and see that law enforcement can have a smile on their face.”

Freeman has a degree in criminal justice and interned at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Natchez-Adams Metro Narcotics before taking a job as a coach.

Adam Kirk said he has been interested in the position of constable for approximately 10 years, when he began working in law enforcement after a stint in the military.

“There is not a task the contable performs that I have not done in my career,” he said. “I have worked out of justice court for the sheriff’s office, I have done just about every law enforcement function you can think of — K-9, narcotics, overseeing probation and paroles.

“Being constable, you have to have some kind of experience with that job. If you just show up and you haven’t been there to a lot of things you have been to, how do you handle it, backing up the sheriff’s office and police department?

Northern district constable

Northern district constable candidate Deselle Davis has served as the bailiff for the county’s justice court for the last four years.

“I have a great relationship with both of our judges, and I also work closely with the ACSO as well as the Mississippi Highway Patrol,” he said.

“After hearing over thousands of civil cases (in justice court), I understand the civil process, and the civil proceedings. I serve sometimes summons and subpoenas as of right now. My experience has put me in a position to do this job.”

Candidate Willie B. Jones said he is the only candidate who knows anything about law enforcement.

“I have graduated three police academies,” Jones said. “I am the only detective here who solved capital murder. I am the only detective who solved 26 felony cases in a courtroom. I am undoubtedly the most qualified man.”

Candidate Stan Owens — a career fire fighter who later served as the Adams County emergency management director — said his career has always been focused on helping people.

“When Constable Stan Owens drives into your driveway, he is probably not bringing good news, but maybe he will bring good advice,” he said. “I am a people person and I will help.”

Tax Assessor

Even though Tax Assessor Reynolds Atkins was not able to attend the forum, his challenger, Larry Hughes, spoke at the forum.

Hughes, who said he has been in the insurance business for 18 years, said being tax assessor is a “team sport, because you have to work with more than one person.”

“I am here to be a service to my county,” he said. “Customer service is very important to me.”