Richmond County school board incumbents say campaigning, not money was key to victory

Incumbents in the two contested Richmond County Board of Education races collected and spent more than their challengers but said Wednesday it was old-fashioned, face-to-face campaigning that helped them win.


District 1 incumbent Marion Barnes got 75 percent of the votes, with 6,195 to local businessman Lucien Williams’ 2,000. District 8 was a closer race, but incumbent Jimmy Atkins won with 5,136 votes, 62 percent, to challenger Robert Cheek’s 3,127.

At a time when the district is dealing with millions in state funding cuts and the complex task of raising student achievement, the incumbents said their victories are proof voters want stability in leadership.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and I think District 8 realized now is not the time to put someone with zero experience in that position,” said Atkins, who won a third term Tuesday.

Election Day fell on Atkins’ 43rd birthday, and celebrating the victory with family and friends made it the best one, he said.

Atkins greeted voters as the polls opened at 7 a.m. and brought doughnuts and chicken sandwiches to his sign-wavers throughout the day.

Atkins said his strategy was to get in touch with voters by attending forums and knocking on doors. He spent $9,681 to Cheek’s $5,336, but said his experience was evidence enough for voters.

“I ran on my record,” Atkins said. “My record is something I’m proud of, and I just felt that we accomplished some good things over the last eight years.”

The school board position, which pays $6,800 a year, is not term-limited, so both incumbents have the opportunity to run again for another term.

Williams said although he did not win his first bid for public office, he will try again when the District 1 seat opens again in four years.

While he applauds Barnes for his accomplishments in the district, Williams said he put his name in the hat to bring a new perspective to the challenges facing the school system.

“I think (Barnes) is surely an asset, and he’s still good for the school board,” Williams said. “It was a good experience, I learned a lot and I learned what I need to do more of next time.”

Williams, the owner of Williams Management accounting and income tax business, said he reached out to voters but should have knocked on more doors and made his voice a little louder than his three-term opponent.

Along with name recognition, Barnes also beat Williams in fundraising and spending, with $9,600 in contributions and $2,500 of expenditures, according to campaign disclosures. Williams said previously he would not ask for any contributions from the public and only used $1,168 of his own money.

He plans to continue attending school board meetings and following local issues to make a case to voters when his opportunity comes around again.

“It’s a tough job,” Williams said. “You really got to get out and meet people. And you’ve got to meet people who you are not used to seeing. You’ve got to go out to different communities.”

Barnes said his strategy did not change much in his fourth campaign for office. He visited neighborhoods and put advertisements in local newspapers. On election night, he skipped the stress of watching the results trickle in and instead watched the Bowling Green State University Falcons take on the Ohio University Bobcats on TV at home.

When he checked the results around 10:30 p.m., Barnes said he reflected on all the work that is yet to be done. The newest challenge, he said, is dealing with the financial repercussions of the constitutional amendment that passed Tuesday allowing the state to establish charter schools.

“We have to start looking at how all these things are going to affect us,” he said, also noting the plans to demolish Cherry Tree Crossing and how that will impact the feeder schools around the housing project.

“As board members, we have to be considering those things.”