Primaries likely to settle races in Jones

Jones County voters will cast ballots July 15 in three primary races that, barring any last-minute write-in campaigns this fall, will sew up a school board post and two County Commission seats.

Republicans Larry Childs and Greg Becham square off for the County Commission District 1 seat, while Republicans Mell Merritt and Tommy Robinson meet in the County Commission District 3 race. In the school board race, Democrats Willie Fluellen and Alfred Pitts go head to head for the District 2 seat.

Since there are no opposite party candidates on the November ballot, the primary winners are all but assured of claiming the seats.

The primary candidates have been invited to take part in a forum at 7 p.m. Monday at the W.E. Knox Civic Center in Gray.


Childs, 55, is completing his third term in office. A general contractor whose company specializes in renovating shopping complexes, Childs said his experience supervising large projects has helped him as a commissioner.

"I've been in charge of projects worth up to $1.5 million as a contractor, so I know what is involved in some of the big projects we have with the county," he said.

Childs said accomplishments he's most proud of are working with the Jones County Industrial Authority to purchase the land for an industrial park on the south end of the county, expanding the water system and getting a park built off Upper River Road.

Childs also said he's proud of the new recreational park in the western part of the county. The water projects and park aren't completed, but they are expected to be finished by the end of the year.

As for his plans if he returned to office, Childs said developing the industrial park and extending water and sewer service up Gray Highway from the Bibb County line to Creekside are his main goals.

"Both of those will bring the industrial and commercial growth we have to have to lessen the property tax burden on homeowners," he said.

Childs said he also favors new impact fees for the county to shift the burden of the county's growth away from longtime residents to new people and businesses moving in.

Other goals include boosting tourism by developing access and recreation along the Ocmulgee River and improving the tourism draw to Old Clinton.

Becham, a 34-year-old grading crew supervisor who also works as a part-time firefighter in Monroe County and as a volunteer firefighter in Jones County, said he decided to challenge Childs because the current commission hasn't always made wise decisions spending the county's limited resources.

"I like helping people," he said.

Becham said the county should seek more federal and state grants for the fire department with a goal of having a paid department. He also said the county has wasted money by using a surface treatment of tar and fine gravel on roads rather than repaving them with asphalt.

The commission must work to attract more industry and bring higher paying jobs to the county, he said, and work with the school board to expand the preschool program and increase pay for teachers.


Merritt, 40, is finishing his first term.

Securing land for the industrial park has been his top accomplishment, he said, as well as making public works more efficient.

"We've made some good strides in recreation, so we can hopefully get more ball fields and a gym in the next four years," said Merritt, a loan officer and assistant vice president at Security Bank of Gray.

Challenges still ahead include providing enough recreation facilities to keep up with the county's growth, funding a new animal shelter and attracting more industry and commercial growth to balance the county's tax base.

Robinson, 56, retired last year after 27 years with J.M. Huber Co.

"I truly do want to serve others. That's why I'm running," Robinson said.

If elected, he plans to work hard along with the industrial authority and chamber of commerce to develop the industrial park and bring more business and industry to the county.

"I've been to over 2,000 houses since I started campaigning, and I've only met good people," he said. "But the thing people talk to me about is that if our property taxes keep going up, the elderly and retired people are going to be taxed out of their homes. We need the commercial growth to relieve the property tax burden on homeowners."

Robinson said he also wants to be responsive to the needs of those in his district and the rest of the county.

"I have the time to be available to answer people's calls and meet with them to help them solve their problems. I'm not trying to criticize anyone, but the people I'm talking to say we're missing that now," he said.


Fluellen, 77, said he first ran for the school board 21 years ago because his children received a good education in Jones County's public schools and he wanted to give something back.

Now, his grandchildren have attended the county's schools and his great-grandchildren are school age. Fluellen said he still wants to be sure the schools are serving the public's needs.

"I think we've got a good board and we work well together, so I'd like to keep at it," Fluellen said.

"We've really improved our CRCT scores in the last two or three years. In the past we've kind of looked at Houston County as the area system to catch up to, and this last year we caught up to Houston County in some areas. I want us to keep improving to be the best system in the area," he said.

Fluellen said the county's technology has increased four-fold in the past three years and needs to continue growing. He said he wants to be in office for the planned addition of another elementary school and possibly another high school and middle school.

"Funding is our biggest challenge, with the state mandates and decreases in state funding. But we're still getting the job done," he said.

His challenger, Alfred Pitts, recently retired after 35 years as a teacher and administrator in the Jones County system, the last 16 years as principal of Califf and Gray Station middle schools.

Pitts, 58, agrees that the county has quality schools, but he said there's room for improvement. The board needs to be more proactive in planning for the future, he said, to be sure they continue to improve.

"We need to work on our test scores. We've had trouble making Annual Yearly Progress the last couple of years. We need to do more to evaluate students and get them the help they need to do better," he said. "We have a lot of wonderful students, but we also have children who are just coming to school and not participating."

Pitts said the system must concentrate even more on using new technology to help struggling students and assist teachers. He also said the county needs to increase the size of its pre-K program to allow all children to participate.

"We only have room for some of our children now, and the ones who don't go through the pre-K program come in behind. The kindergarten teachers have to work with them so much so they can catch up that they can't spend enough time with the students who were in pre-K, and they get bored waiting for the something to do."

Pitts also said the board must work more with city and county officials to attract more industry and commercial growth to the county to increase the tax base to pay for improvements.

"I believe my experience in the system will allow me to address the needs of our students because I understand the procedures we need to improve and I know what our teachers are facing," he said.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 744-4489.