Elections

Monroe voters have choices in three local races

Monroe County voters must select candidates in three races during the July 15 primary: sheriff, County Commission chairman and tax commissioner.

The sheriff's race has just two candidates, incumbent John Cary Bittick and challenger John Waldrop, both Democrats, so barring a write-in candidacy in November, the primary winner will take the office.

The primary winners in the commission chairman's and tax commissioner's races will face challengers in November.

The candidates in the July primary have been invited to a political forum at the board of education auditorium in Forsyth at 6:30 p.m. July 10.

SHERIFF'S RACE

Bittick, 54, is seeking his eighth term in what has been a family dynasty. Beginning with his great-uncle and including his grandfather and father, a Bittick has been sheriff in Monroe County for all but two terms since 1922.

Bittick began his law enforcement career in 1972 as a radio operator under his father, L. Cary Bittick Jr., then succeeded him in 1983. As did his father, John Cary Bittick has served as president of the National Sheriff's Association, and he is now chairman of its congressional affairs committee. He also has been president of the Georgia Sheriff's Association and served on the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

This is the first time since 1988 that Bittick has faced opposition and only the second time in his career. He said it has provided a good opportunity for him to go around the county and thank people for their support through the years.

"When you've been at this as long as my father and I, the people in the community become like your family. I've enjoyed going out and talking with them and letting them know I still want to serve," Bittick said.

Challenger Waldrop, 53, also has spent his adult life in law enforcement. He retired in 2006 after 34 years with the Georgia State Patrol. He rose to the rank of sergeant first class and served as the Griffin post commander for his last 3 years. Before that, Waldrop served as a trooper in the Forsyth post for 15 years and as a member of the fatal accident investigation training team at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth for six years.

After retiring from the state patrol, Waldrop worked as criminal investigation commander in the Lamar County Sheriff's Office until he resigned in May to devote all his attention to the campaign.

Waldrop said he knows he faces an uphill battle to try to unseat Bittick, whom he considers a friend, but he said he can bring some needed changes to the department.

Waldrop said Bittick spends too much time and money traveling to be involved in the National Sheriff's Association, and that the Monroe Sheriff's Office would be better if that money was invested in training deputies. He also said the department focuses too much on traffic enforcement and not enough on criminal investigation.

Waldrop said rumors that he intends to make wholesale personnel changes if elected are not true.

"There are a lot of good people there, and a lot of them are my friends. I'm not looking to clean house and start over," he said.

As for Waldrop's criticisms, Bittick said he doesn't travel nearly as much as in the past, when he was the association's president. But Bittick said the benefits of that travel, seeing the good things other departments do and bringing those ideas home to Monroe County, far outweigh any negatives.

And he said his department's criminal investigation division is just as important as its traffic and patrol divisions.

"You need all of them working together," Bittick said. "We have the third lowest crime rate in Middle Georgia, so we must be doing something right."

COMMISSION CHAIRMAN'S RACE

In the County Commission chairman's race, incumbent Harold Carlisle must win twice to remain in office.

He faces W. James Green in the Republican primary July 15, and the winner will then battle Democratic challenger James A. Vaughn in November.

A retired brigadier general in the Georgia National Guard and a former owner of an auto parts store and auto repair shop, Carlisle, 77, is completing his third term on the Monroe County Commission - the first two as a district commissioner and this term as chairman.

Carlisle said he entered politics because he loves a challenge and wanted to give back to the county and state. He said he wants to remain in office another term to see through efforts to extend water service in the county and to be sure other projects to be funded through the penny sales tax initiative passed last year are completed. Among them are building a new administrative building for the county, making improvements to Monroe County Hospital and improving roads.

Green, 59, is a Monroe County native who moved back home from Michigan in 2004 after retiring from RJR Nabisco as a division sales manager. He is a member of the Monroe County Industrial Development Authority and president of the Hubbard Alumni Association.

Green tried to run for mayor in Forsyth last year but was disqualified when he couldn't prove that his home in Forsyth was his primary residence rather than another home he owns in unincorporated north Monroe County.

"This is a countywide office, and I definitely live in Monroe County, so that isn't a problem this time," he said.

Green said he decided to run because he thinks the commission needs better leadership to stop the bickering among members that he said now plagues the body.

"I think with my leadership we can make some positive changes and have a better dialogue on the commission and with other city and county officials to make all of Monroe and Forsyth better," he said.

Carlisle, however, said that the commission isn't as dysfunctional as it might seem when the members argue during meetings.

"We're getting things done," he said. "Our different personalities serve as a means of checks and balances, because when we disagree it makes us look deeper into issues before maybe rubber-stamping something we aren't sure about."

TAX COMMISSIONER'S RACE

Three candidates are vying to replace longtime Tax Commissioner Patsy Miller, who is retiring. Lori D. Andrews and Joy Phillips meet in the Democratic primary next month. The winner will face Republican Barbara Baswell in the November general election.

Andrews and Phillips both have experience working in the office.

Andrews, 32, began work there in 2000 and was promoted to her current post as chief deputy tax commissioner in 2005.

She said Miller has trained her to do all of the work in the department, and that experience makes her the best candidate for the job.

"The ladies in this office are a good bunch to work with, and we're willing to help the taxpayers with any problems they may have," Andrews said.

She said she hopes to improve customer service in the office if elected and to do more to educate taxpayers about how to file for homestead exemptions and to be familiar with any changes in tax laws.

Phillips, 57, worked in the tax commissioner's office, mostly dealing with property taxes, for five years before leaving in 2004. She was a teller and assistant head teller at Monroe County Bank until resigning April 30 to concentrate on her campaign.

She said her goal, if elected, will be to make the office more customer friendly.

"I left because of a difference of opinion with the retiring tax commissioner on how to treat taxpayers. There was a little rudeness when I was there that I didn't like," Phillips said. "It was like we were doing taxpayers a favor to collect their taxes. We've just had a complete revaluation in the county, so there are a lot of dissatisfied people. I want to be there to help people get through these tough times."

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 744-4489.

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