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Local Candidates Participate in Chamber Forum

Local Candidates Participate in Chamber Forum

Tommy Murphy

Staff Writer

Thursday evening, the candidates for sheriff and county commissioner participated in a forum hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.

The event was moderated by Chamber of Commerce Board Member Curtis Brown and each of the candidates were given opportunities to provide timed answers to a series of questions, along with introductory and summary statements.

The candidates for sheriff, incumbent Sheriff James Woodruff and challenger Ricky Ward, were first up, answering questions on crime and jail safety.

Woodruff relied on his experience as sheriff and decades of law enforcement experience in his comments. Ward also reflected on his law enforcement experience, adding that this professional experience in Troup County would provide additional perspective.

When asked what they would do to improve Troup County’s crime rate, which is currently above the state and national average, both candidates offered community based approaches.

Woodruff said that communities rely on law enforcement to help reduce crime, but law enforcement also needs help from the community. He suggested that more citizens get involved with community watch groups or help by providing tips through Crime Stoppers. Citizens simply cooperating with law enforcement would go a long way to improving crime rates rather than refusing to speak with officers.

“It’s got to be a community effort. We’ve got to have our churches involved, our citizens involved, our businesses involved, and that’s the only way we will conquer this crime situation we have,” said Woodruff.

Ward took different approach, suggesting that he would work to speak to students in grades 8-12 to plant a seed that might grow into something better than a life of crime.

“What we have right now is a lot of kids going from high school, straight to prison,” said Ward. “I believe if we come together as a community and plant that seed in those kids’ minds at a young age on careers and college opportunities to learn they don’t have to be involved in the criminal justice system to make a living.”

The candidates were also asked about the coronavirus and safety in the jail.

Ward noted that he believes that COVID-19 should have been addressed in February rather than when the outbreak occurred. Ward also said he would have worked with judges to get misdemeanor offenders out of the jail and ask other agencies to cite and release low level offenders rather than bring them to the jail in the first place.

Sheriff Woodruff noted that most jails were on a similar learning curve with dealing with COVID, noting that they worked with the Department of Health to test every inmate and employee, and have since cleared the jail of the coronavirus.

Woodruff also said that he had already worked with judges and other agencies, much like Ward suggested, and put many safety procedures in place, but noted that the virus getting into the jail was inevitable.

The candidates for county commissioner were next. District 2 candidates, Ellis Cadenhead (Incumbent) and Andrew Moody, District 3 candidates Lewis Davis (Incumbent) and Synda Ogletree, and District 4 candidates Morris Jones (Incumbent) and Yvonne Lopez, answered questions on the budget, West Point Lake, racial divisions, and litter cleanup.

When asked if increased revenue was needed out concerns for the ongoing pandemic, none of the candidates were willing to suggest a need for increased taxes. Each of the incumbents advised they were proud of being able to have a flat budget, noting that COVID contingencies have already been put in place. Each of the current commissioners noted that they believe the county is in a health place financially and they took pride in having a balanced budget.

Ogletree noted that she is against raising revenue for the county, but noted she is open to considering cuts. Moody noted that he thinks there is far too much money being spent on recreation and not enough on housing development. Lopez advised that that she didn’t have any specific budget changes she would support, but noted she would rely on her experience budgeting The Ark Refuge when making decisions if elected.

The candidates were also asked how Troup County could continue to build on racial reconciliation measures started by LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton.

Ogletree suggested involving the community to discuss issues and visiting areas throughout the county as commissioners, rather than focusing on one area. But as to racial tensions that exist, she suggested starting with our own neighborhoods.

“We have to make sure that things that have happened in bigger cities do not happen here and we need our law enforcement to be more community oriented,” she added.

Commissioner Jones acknowledged that Troup County and the three cities haven’t always done the best job with racial issues, but he said we have done a good job with reaching out to one another to calm down unrest. He suggested that everyone needs to be a bit more understanding of others.

“I think that people need to understand each other a little bit more,” said Jones, noting that some barriers still exist since integration.

Lopez offered similar sentiments, and noted that if county and city boards were more diverse —including more female voices— then more opinions could be heard.

Commissioner Cadenhead suggested that everyone needs to be involved in discussions, especially children.

Moody echoed comments about diversity on boards, suggesting the filling boards with people from the same background causes groupthink.

Davis said that commissioners need to work for everyone in the county and noted that he was proud of his ability to work with others.

“In the end, I thing one of the biggest things a commissioner can do is be a voice and advocate for every citizen,” said Davis.

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