Baldwin County candidates face several issues

lmorris@macon.comOctober 17, 2012 

Unemployment, education and finding sources of revenue in Baldwin County are important issues that need to be addressed, say candidates running for the county commission.

Six candidates in three districts are running as incumbents or as new candidates for commission posts in the November election.

“We’ve lost close to 4,000 jobs in the last four years,” said Republican Lawson Lawrence, who’s running for the District 1 seat against incumbent Emily C. Davis, a Democrat. “Baldwin County is in the strongest need of professional guidance than it’s ever been.”

Davis declined to be interviewed for this article.

The first thing Lawrence would like to address is the economic issue, and long-term goals should include improving education, he said.

“Some of the ministers are doing some hard work trying to keep the dropouts in school, but we’ve got a terribly high dropout rate in Baldwin County,” he said.

Lawrence said his work experience makes him better qualified than his opponent.

“(It takes) being able to run businesses, handle payroll, seeing what it takes on a day-to-day basis to keep small businesses together, running and profitable.”

Incumbent and first-timer compete

The District 4 county commissioner race pits incumbent and long-time politician Faye Smith against newcomer Henry R. Craig.

Smith, a Democrat, has served in the Georgia Senate and for the past four years as county commissioner -- the last two years as chairwoman.

She said she is running to retain her seat “because I am a good commissioner. ... I do it because I enjoy it and people trust me and I’ve been proud of that.”

Smith said it’s not an easy job. “We’ve had a lot of hard times with the budget,” she said. “It’s been a hard four years for all of us.”

If re-elected, Smith said she would like the board to look at whether it wants to be a nonpartisan board.

“That might cost me some votes by saying that right now,” she said. “But I do believe it’s an important issue we do need to look at.”

Smith said she believes she has the right personality for the job and “I’m well known. I’m not an old family name here, but I have an established name here.”

Craig, a Republican, said he decided to run after his daughter asked if she could move back home, but he didn’t think she would be able to find a job.

“I want an opportunity for my children and grandchildren to come back home if that’s what they want to do,” he said.

The community needs to work together to solve the unemployment problem and bring in new businesses, he said.

Craig said he would like to see the county develop a strategic plan.

“I feel I have the experience to help the county make the right decisions for today and help the county establish a strategic plan that will allow us to become the community we want in the future,” he said.

Craig said he intends “to not accept any compensation for my time other than some travel expenses.”

Newcomers vie for District 5 seat

Candidates for District 5 commissioner, Republican John “Johnny” Westmoreland and Democrat Dwayne Sentell, have at least one thing in common: Neither has held political office.

They are vying for the seat held by James “Bubba” Williams Jr., who did not seek re-election.

“I’m retired and I’ve got the time and want to see if I can make a difference,” Westmoreland said.

There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, he said.

“Of course, taxes. Everybody wants to talk about taxes,” he said. “We need to look at the budgets, all the budgets, and see if we can make some cuts. I know that the previous administration has already made a lot of cuts, and some more need to be made.”

About three years ago the county closed the trash collection convenience centers, and trash is now collected from each house. Payment for trash pickup was added to water bills, “and people didn’t like that,” Westmoreland said.

Since he’s retired, Westmoreland said he has the time to spend on the county’s issues.

“I am willing to go out there and do whatever I can,” he said.

Sentell said he’s running for county commissioner because he can bring his business background to the job.

“I felt like the people needed a person who is a business owner who knows what it’s like to meet payroll, balance the budget and (who can) represent all the people,” he said.

He would like to help the county figure out a way to get out of debt.

“I would like to see ways that we can improve government and its efficiency and make it more accountable to the people that it represents,” he said. “The county is in the red, and we’ve got to figure out a way to get it back.”

The county has “a lot to offer” industries and new residents, including colleges, lakes and state parks, he said.

Sentell said he didn’t think his opponent could relate “to what a small business has to go through in order to be successful and make ends meet each and every week.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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