Candidates share views, plans at Columbia County forum

Monday, April 21, 2014 9:49 PM
Last updated Tuesday, April 22, 2014 5:26 AM
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Fostering job growth and strengthening infrastructure – with particular attention paid to widening existing roadways – were hot topics in Monday’s candidate forum at the Columbia County Government Complex in Evans.

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Hafeez Chaudhry (left), candidate for Columbia County Commission District 1, and Staten Heard, candidate for Board of Education District 3, participated in a candidate forum for local contested races for the May 20 general primary.   JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Hafeez Chaudhry (left), candidate for Columbia County Commission District 1, and Staten Heard, candidate for Board of Education District 3, participated in a candidate forum for local contested races for the May 20 general primary.

The forum, sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and Columbia County News-Times, featured six candidates from locally contested races for the May 20 general primary.

First to speak were incumbent county Commission Chairman Ron Cross and opponent Jim Bartley, a local builder and political activist.

When asked how he would manage future business growth, Cross said through the addition of broadband internet and continuing to offer economic incentives.

“The big thing we do to help businesses is to keep taxes low,” said Cross, citing the ongoing fight to reduce property taxes.

If elected, Bartley said he would work with officials to help nurture small businesses in the county. He said he wants to change a current ordinance requiring businesses to obtain a permit before displaying a sign near the street, adding that smaller businesses aren’t as capable of purchasing advertising as bigger counterparts.

“Big-box retail is great, but small business is the backbone of Columbia County,” Bartley said.

Candidates for the District 1 commission seat, Hafeez Chaudhry, a Martinez businessman, and Doug Duncan, a vice president with Augusta staffing firm MAU Inc., both expressed the desire to work with commissioners to improve infrastructure and roadways in advance of the population boom expected to follow the opening of Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon.

“The current Grovetown area that feeds into Fort Gordon is not enough to support the projected growth of the post over the next five years,” Chaudhry said. “Without proper planning, it will become a congested place.”

Duncan stated the need to expand sewer and waste water systems out toward Harlem and Appling.

“If a Starbucks wanted to come to Columbia County, it wouldn’t happen because we don’t have the waste water capacity,” he said. “There’s a solution in place; they’re extending sewer and water out to (Interstate 20) exit 183 out in Harlem and Appling. To me, that can’t happen fast enough.”

Mike Sleeper, the District 3 incumbent for county Board of Education, shared his ideas on how to reduce problems with class size, including adding a seventh period for high school students.

“Among other things, it will allow us to reduce class sizes for student populations in our core classes,” he said.

On the question of whether he supports the addition of a charter school in Columbia County, Sleeper’s opponent, retired logistics executive Staten Heard, said he favors the idea as long as public funding isn’t used.

“I feel that it should be funded privately under the control of its own administration,” he said. “If a charter school was funded publicly, it should fall under governance of the Columbia County school system to ensure excellence.”

Voter registration ended Monday. Early voting will begin April 28 and end May 16.

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wildman 04/22/14 - 04:40 am

Why do incumbents come up with ideas at re-election? You would think they would have already put those ideas to work and then say here's what I have done, please re-elect me so that I can continue to lead. Cross and Sleeper need to go, they have never met a camera or microphone they didn't love.

maandpa 04/22/14 - 05:42 am
A Great Idea

Mike Sleeper brings up the seventh period day as though that is his original idea that he came up with to reduce class size. Please, don't make me laugh. Oops, I did laugh.

ColCo 04/22/14 - 05:59 am

Mr. Heard stated that "30% of the students in Columbia County are minority, only 9% of the teachers are minority," and implied that the ratio should be equalized. Sounds like he's trying to bring a Richmond County mindset to Columbia County schools.

gbhs 04/22/14 - 02:15 pm
More Work

Adding a 7th period will add more work for teachers who are already overworked. Teaching an extra period means an additional 27 students or so per teacher without an extra pay.

Lee Benedict
Lee Benedict 04/22/14 - 10:27 pm
I beg to differ

Mike Sleeper cited many specifics on what has been going on, what the CCBOE is doing and what it foresees. Yes, perhaps he relishes a camera, but so what? I would think that an elected official would want air time to get the message out and inform people. PLUS, if he (or anyone else) says something that is not true in front of a camera, he will be called out on it. Sleeper did very well last night.

A teacher is paid for X amount of 8-hour days, so another period will not create an undue burden free of compensation.

I'm with ColCo; Heard did say that 36% of the students are "minority" but only 9% of the teachers are "minority" and he wants that to change.
A) "Minority"? Really? Students of all melanin counts and XX, XY combinations are under the same roof receiving the same instruction, so, cut the wha wha wha crybaby nonsense;
B) I thought that we are a colorblind society and judge by the content of character?
C) Why is it that the non-white person typically brings up hiring more "minorities", OR, a more appropriate question, not hiring white heterosexual Christian males, which, will invite many lawsuits? Since Heard said on the record that we must do this, if Heard is on this Board or any other, I applied for a teaching position in CC (or whatever board he's on) and did not get hired, I would sue.
D) Mr. Heard, since you want to go there, of all applicants for teaching positions in Columbia County, what percentage are black, white, Hispanic, male, female?
D1) Suppose 90% are white and 10% other, 50% male, 50% female. Suppose you hire 90% of the black and Hispanic applicants to feel good, then I contend that white applicants were discriminated against and should file a state and federal lawsuit.
Heard's comment was the most inane that I heard from a local candidate since I have been following candidates. Seriously, Heard and his way of "thinking" is what's wrong, and, pretty daggum dangerous. When I heard Heard say that, I almost stood up and called him a racist idiot and perhaps one or two other things.

I thought that Ron Cross made some good points, but, he exaggerated a few things and misrepresented some things. He scoffs at the CC debt and says that it's not really that much. He claims that the General Obligation bond debt is $66,000,000, which may be true. But that's not the only debt the county has. Jim Bartley did very well, and I saw Cross' face go red when Bartley said some things: the EPA shutting down a site; the millions of dollars of lawsuits pending...What Bartley didn't say, and I would have, is that the culprits are Cross donors who have polluted our land and water; Cross' campaign manager is Chair of Planning and Zoning; Cross' campaign accepted a $2500 donation from an LLC and a $1000 donation from the LLC's agent which is a big no-no; Cross has accepted thousands this year from a set of brothers, one of whom has SIX convictions (guilty pleas) for damage done to the County, each carried a $1,080 fine and 60 days probation. Cross even explained how builders/developers are given a warning, then 5-days notice to fix the mess. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT THE CROSS MEGADONOR REFUSED TO DO and has six guilty pleas to show for it.

Doug Duncan did very well and made some good points. Hafeez Chaudhry took one out of Heard's playbook - he told people to vote for him on grounds of diversity and that he does not look like most others. In other words, "I ain't white, so vote for me". Hafeez Chaudhry and Staten Heard should be ashamed.

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