Sparks fly at Bibb County political forum

pramati@macon.comOctober 9, 2012 

Things got testy Tuesday night between the two candidates vying this November for the Bibb County Commission chairman’s seat.

Incumbent Chairman Sam Hart, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Tom Wagoner tangled over several issues, ranging from economics to ethics. The two candidates sparred at a town hall-style debate that included candidates for the District 4 County Commission seat as well as for the district attorney and Superior Court clerk races. About 45 people attended the political forum in the Lake Wildwood neighborhood.

Wagoner accused Hart of not showing leadership in his four years as chairman.

“I’ve been attending meetings for months, and I’m totally horrified by the way they are being led, because there’s been no leadership,” said Wagoner, who touted his business experience.

Hart listed the commission’s accomplishments over the past four years during his tenure, including getting a $191 million special purpose local option sales tax passed, working out a new Service Delivery Strategy with Macon and successfully leading the fight in favor of city-county consolidation.

He also pointed to his efforts in seeking economic growth by working in partnership with other Middle Georgia cities and counties.

“You have to think regionally,” he said. “We’re bringing in as many opportunities as we can. If a new company relocates in Middle Georgia, everybody wins.”

In contrast to the chairman’s race, the race for the District 4 commission seat between incumbent Joe Allen, a Democrat, and Republican Robert Abbott was much more jovial. The two men both referred to their longtime friendship.

Allen pointed to his years of service to the community, both as a commissioner and in other arenas, such as founding the Kids Yule Love charity.

“I’m asking you to give me one more year,” Allen told the crowd, referring to the time the winner will be in office before new elections are held in 2013 for the new consolidated government. “I get satisfaction in helping people.”

Abbott described himself as a fiscal conservative who wants to implement zero-based budgeting for every department. He also wants to convert the county auto fleet to natural gas to reduce fuel costs.

“We’ve got to change the (budget) process,” Abbott said. “I’m strictly about income versus expenditure. It’s as simple as that.”

In the district attorney’s race, current DA Greg Winters and his Democratic challenger David Cooke discussed their strategies not only to reduce crime but also to come up with plans to prevent it.

Winters talked about the efficiency he has brought to the DA’s office, including increasing the number of cases that are taken to trial by 80 percent. He also noted that his office has engaged in a number of partnerships with other agencies to reduce the county’s truancy rate.

“You’ve heard about the revolving door in Bibb County,” he said. “Not anymore. The crime stats are going down.”

Cooke touted his 15 years of experience as a prosecutor, focusing on crimes against women and children, sex crimes and murders. He said he wants to get federal money to set up neighborhood prosecutors and to attack the problem of sex trafficking in the county.

“It’s no secret that these kind of crimes are not being handled,” Cooke said. “The ball is being dropped. ... Protecting our families is the most important thing we do.”

Republican Linda Tillman, who is running for Clerk of Bibb County Superior Court, touted her 15 years of experience working in that office, which has a $1.5 million budget and 25 employees.

“Our race is important,” she said. “You need a clerk who knows what they are doing.”

Tillman’s opponent, Democrat Erica Woodford, told organizers she was unable to attend the forum.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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