Supervisors, circuit clerk candidates address issues at forum

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, July 15, 2015

District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus, bottom left, responds to a question during Tuesday night’s forum. His opppnent Wes Middleton, bottom right, also spoke during the event at the Natchez Convention Center. At top, candidates for Adams County Board of Supervisors District 3 Rita Brooks, left, Ray Brown, center, and James “Rickey” Gray spoke during the forum.

District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus, bottom left, responds to a question during Tuesday night’s forum. His opppnent Wes Middleton, bottom right, also spoke during the event at the Natchez Convention Center. At top, candidates for Adams County Board of Supervisors District 3 Rita Brooks, left, Ray Brown, center, and James “Rickey” Gray spoke during the forum.

NATCHEZ — A candidate for circuit clerk and candidates for four different county supervisor positions asked for your vote Tuesday night.

The candidates introduced themselves and explored a variety of topics at the second night of a candidate forum held by the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce and The Natchez Democrat.

The evening began with incumbent Circuit Clerk candidate Eddie Walker. His opponents in the race, Jennifer Johnson and Lamar Bullen, did not attend the forum.

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Walker explained some of the duties of the circuit clerk and his experiences of the last seven and a half years, including keeping records for various courts, registering voters, and summoning jurors, to name a few.

Following Walker’s introduction, candidates for District 1 Supervisor, incumbent Mike Lazarus and Wes Middleton, took the stage.

One thing the two candidates were able to agree on was an unfavorable opinion regarding the sale of the former county-owned Natchez Regional Medical Center to the company that owned the former Natchez Community Hospital. The two hospitals today are part of Merit Health.

“We got a horrible deal,” Lazarus said. “I’m not going to deny that. We paid them to take that hospital, but I did everything I could.”

Lazarus said he made calls to the attorney general and attended every hospital board meeting he was allowed to attend.

“The fact is, the hospital deal was a failure,” Middleton said. “It sold for half of what it was worth.”

When asked about plans for recreation in the county, Middleton was not impressed by what has been done. However, Lazarus defended other projects completed before work on recreation projects took place.

Lazarus said the county’s board of supervisors voted to go ahead with plans for recreation facilities, but nothing ever came of them.

“It all comes back to the city and the county not being able to come to an agreement,” Middleton said. “Let’s just come together and get it done.”

Both candidates agreed the budget for the Adams County Sheriff’s office does not need to increase and that Natchez Inc. is doing a good job on bringing in jobs and industry.

At the end of their session, candidates were allowed to ask each other a question.

Middleton asked Lazarus how he could vote for himself after he failed with the hospital deal.

“I didn’t fail,” Lazarus said. “There are good people on that board. We had smart people who were not given the information they needed.”

“I’m going to vote for myself because I’m the best person for the job,” he continued. “We did everything we could.”

Lazarus then asked Middleton what he would do differently. Middleton said he would work to make a change in recreation, health care and education.

“I feel that it is time for a change,” Middleton said. “We are at a crossroads and it is time for the younger generation to step up.”

Next, District 3 candidates Wilbert Whittley and incumbent Angela Hutchins introduced themselves to the audience. District 3 candidate Travis Patten did not attend the forum.

Whittley and Hutchins were asked why they were running for supervisor.

“I want to make a difference in this community,” Hutchins said. “I have made a difference in this community.”

Whittley said he was running because he has previously organized recreational programs in Adams County and that he wanted to be the supervisor that made sure his constituents have a voice in his decisions.

The candidates disagreed on the how the hospital deal was handled. Hutchins was in favor of it and Whittley against it.

Hutchins and Whittley also differed on whether the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and the Natchez Police Department should consolidate.

Hutchins said she thinks consolidation could be good or bad, while Whittley was blatantly against it due to the county’s size.

They also disagreed regarding the Sheriff’s yearly budget, which has been growing for the last few years despite decreases in population.

Whittley said he does not think it makes sense for the budget to grow while the population diminishes. Hutchins said because of the uncertainty of emergencies, cuts in budget could equal cuts in service to the community.

As District 3 candidates wrapped up, District 4 Supervisor candidates James “Rickey” Gray, Ray Brown and Rita Brooks got ready to answer the same slew of questions as the rest of the supervisor candidates.

Gray introduced himself as a lifelong resident of District 4 and an city alderman for 15 years.

Brown mentioned his 30 years in law enforcement and the fact that he is in his fourth term as constable.

Brooks mentioned her education as well as work with other education programs.

All of the candidates said they wanted to run because they want to see change in their district and help the residents of that district.

They all agreed the selling of the hospital was not handled well, but for different reasons.

Brooks said she is disappointed in the lack of options for Adams County residents, who now do not have a choice between a community and a privately owned hospital.

Gray said he believes the supervisors lost the citizens’ trust when the deal occurred.

“The selling of it wasn’t a good idea because of the employees,” Brown said. “Since it was sold, and it was sold like it was, then we as a community have to come together and make what seems like a bad deal a better deal.”

Regarding relationships between the city and the county, Brooks is ready to see a better effort from both sides to work together.

“It needs to start with new leadership,” Brooks said. “We need a clean sweep all the way around if we are going to come together as a community.”

Gray and Brown agreed there are communication problems between the two entities.

“The way you can improve those relationships is to elect me for your supervisor,” Gray said, referencing his current position as city alderman. “The city trusts me and they know I’m going to do what is right. That is a way to bring the city and county closer together.”

Gray and Brooks agreed it is OK to continue raising the sheriff’s budget, depending on what it was used for, but Brown was hesitant to agree.

“I think the budget is a little top heavy,” Brown said. He said internal personnel should be downsized and more officers should be out on the streets.

Finally, District 5 Supervisor candidates incumbent Calvin Butler, S.E. “Spanky” Felter and Brenda Robinson began their segment, while missing candidates Leroy Chatman, Grady Wilson and James Berry, Jr.

Butler, in his introduction, mentioned the work he has accomplished during his time as supervisor.

Felter mentioned past experience on the supervisor board; eight years to be exact.

Robinson shared her experience in community-oriented organizations and well as her time spent developing, reviewing and submitting budgets.

Butler said he felt he was answering a call from the community by running.

“I heard the need of the community,” Butler said. “They needed someone to help them more forward.”

Robinson said she is running to implement change.

“If we keep doing things the same way, you are going to get the same results,” she said. “You have to use innovation and creativeness to make the community more efficient.”

Felter wants the position because it brings him joy.

“It is the most satisfying job there is,” he said. “There are so many things you can help so many ways.”

The candidates were asked what they thought the board of supervisors is doing well and where it is failing.

Robinson said she was pleased with its allocation of funds, service to school districts and varying policies, but thought it needs to work on needs assessment.

Butler said the board works well as a team, with Natchez Inc., in recruiting jobs and by providing service to the community without raising taxes.

Felter felt differently.

“I can’t think of a whole lot good they are doing really well right now,” he said.

He said it could improve in its work with children, especially pertaining to drug education.

The candidates were asked their opinions on recreation in the county and all thought it was a good idea, but only Felter suggested a way to achieve it.

He proposed a segmented plan in which part of the recreation plan be built in phases.

All the candidates agreed any plans made toward renovating the jail downtown, or possibly rebuilding it, should be approached with caution and with taxpayers in mind.

In conclusion, Robinson said she already has multiple plans regarding education and community issues she would like to set in motion if elected.

Butler said he would like to continue working as part of the supervisor team.

Felter said he has seen a much that needs to be done.

When asked what makes a good supervisor, Felter had a simple answer.

“Be someone who is fair and hardworking,” he said. “You can do all sorts of things for this county, it just depends on how hard you work for it.”