Six local political candidates participated in a Town Hall Meeting at the Thomson Depot on Monday night.
The political forum drew a live radio audience, as well as a few people who came to hear the comments of the candidates in person. Two of those attending in person included McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton and Commissioner Paul McCorkle.
The Town Hall Meeting was co-hosted by The McDuffie Mirror and WTHO-FM and WTWA and The Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce. Todd Rainwater, publisher of The McDuffie Mirror and Donna Branch, news director of the local radio stations, served as moderators of the event.
The six candidates taking part in the Town Hall Meeting included: McDuffie County School Board Vice-Chairman Rick McCorkle and his challenger Kelly Evans; McDuffie County Commission Vice-Chairman Sammie Wilson, Sr. and his challenger Ray Roquemore; and 124th District State Rep. Helen "Sistie" Hudson and her challenger Charles Ashfield.
The school board candidates were selected to go first. Each candidate was given time to make opening remarks before addressing specific questions that were arranged by a pool of local reporters. None of the candidates were allowed to know the questions prior to the forum. Candidates also were given up to three minutes to make closing comments.
Mr. McCorkle, who has served as a school board member the past four years, said he is proud of the public school system in McDuffie County.
"We're in good shape; we've made a lot of decisions, some good decisions, some not so good," said Mr. McCorkle.
"I've met a lot of people. The school system belongs to the community. We made AYP last week. That's a huge accomplishment. It's a great honor for our school system. The board didn't do that. The teachers and students all worked together. The better the schools do, the better the county and city is."
Mr. McCorkle is manager of Bi-Lo on Columbia Road in Martinez.
Mrs. Evans is the former IT director for the City of Thomson and McDuffie County. She now serves as executive director of the Thomson Housing Authority.
"When I was little, my Papa taught me that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem," said Mrs. Evans. "I know we can have a strong, financially secure school system again and I know how to get us there. If I am elected that is what I intend to do. My grandfather used to also say you can have all of the book sense in the world, but if you don't use your common sense, then there ain't no use for you. Papa taught me how to think and Georgia Tech taught me how to plan and I know that I can help get our school system back on track."
One of the biggest questions Mr. McCorkle and Mrs. Evans was asked involved The Brickyard.
THE QUESTION READ: The voters passed SPLOST funds with one of the projects being The Brickyard. But that didn't happen. What is your plan to follow through with the taxpayers' wishes?
"It's a priority for our system right now," said Mr. McCorkle. "The Brickyard is a point of pride for our community. If we had the six million dollars today to do a turn-key job on The Brickyard, we would do that. But the economy is bad."
Mrs. Evans responded, saying, "Right now, the money is sitting over at the junior high school. I love that Brickyard. I can't say how we'll spend money -- not knowing the master plan and capital expenditures plan -- not knowing where the money is coming from, I can't say. I intend to understand the budget and find out those things."
In rebuttal, Mr. McCorkle said, "Our children's education is where our money has to be spent, first."
Mrs. Evans countered by saying, "What's done is done. I know it's been really hard on the community. I think it's important to move forward. But until there's a comprehensive master plan, we can't say how we will move forward."
In the race for the District 1 Commission seat, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Roquemore were each asked four questions.
One of the questions involved the possibility of consolidation between city and county governments.
"We're somewhat consolidated already," said Mr. Wilson, who has served as a county commissioner for 14 years and three months.
He is retired from the military and from McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson.
Mr. Roquemore, a retired executive with Lockheed Aircraft and a political newcomer, said he believes the finance departments could be consolidated and mentioned fire departments, too.
"We need to have long-range plans," said Mr. Roquemore, noting that streamline operations are needed.
Mr. Wilson says it is important to have "our own" finance department and that the city and county fire departments already work together in mutual-aide calls.
His challenger disagreed.
Mr. Roquemore said there's room for consolidation and that the subject should be addressed in the future.
Mr. Roquemore acquainted McDuffie County with a rosebud.
"It's a rosebud about to bloom," he said. "Let's make it bloom."
Mr. Wilson is a Democrat, while Mr. Roquemore is a Republican.
In the race for state representative, Rep. Hudson, a Democrat who has served the six counties of District 124 since 1996, described herself as "an accomplished doer" and "a common-sense, get down to business public servant."
Mr. Ashfield, a Republican, is retired from Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and now makes his home on Lake Sinclair.
He described himself as a fiscal conservative and said he had been endorsed by the Right to Life Political Action Committee.
Both candidates were asked four questions. The first one dealt with what they believe the single biggest problem facing Georgia today and if elected, how they would address it.
"Our biggest problem is the economy," said Rep. Hudson. "We're now in a slow recovery period. I think we will improve, but not next year."
Mr. Ashfield agreed.
"Definitely, the economy is the biggest concern in Georgia," said Mr. Ashfield, noting legislators should not waste money.
To hear the entire forum, go to www.mcduffiemirror.com or wtho.com