There are no Democratic candidates on the ballot for sheriff, so the primary election on Tuesday, July 31, will decide the race, with many observers predicting there will be runoff between the two top vote-getters.
Others participating in the forum on July 12 were candidates for clerk of the Superior Court, school board at large, county commission Districts 1 and 3, district attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit and chief magistrate. The Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce election forum was held at The Colonnade.
The question posed to the five sheriff’s candidates was whether they support open and concealed carry of a firearm. Candidate Larry Black began his answer by stating he was “dismayed” at his fellow candidates’ answers to this same question during an earlier debate hosted by the Catoosa County Tea Party.
While the other four candidates — Mike Helton, Jeff Holcomb, Ben Scott and Gary Sisk — all stated they supported the Second Amendment and a citizen's right to bear arms — either openly or concealed — Black went on record as saying that open carry made him uncomfortable.
Holcomb immediately responded by saying that he supported the Second Amendment that gives the right to every citizen to keep and bear arms. He also said that as sheriff he would be sworn to uphold and defend Georgia laws, which guaranteed the right to carry firearms either openly or concealed.
Helton, Scott and Sisk all agreed they would support and defend the Constitution as well on this issue. Helton made a point of calling for more firearms education for people who elected to carry. Sisk said that although he was bound to support the law, open carry did make him uncomfortable.
After the debate Holcomb went on record as saying he did agree with Black that it was tactically impractical to carry openly but it was the law.
Asked if he thought Black was a gun control candidate, as some in the audience had accused in a shouting match with Black, Holcomb said, “On its face it appears that Mr. Black would like to go in that direction.”
Scott told the audience of several hundred people that it is a personal decision and to carry openly comes with a high personal responsibility — that even though it is a constitutional right, they must understand that it does make others uncomfortable.
Black said he would never approach anyone carrying openly nor would he take their gun away from them, saying, “I did not say it was illegal.”
In other issues
· All five candidates agreed that drugs are the biggest challenge to law enforcement. And, it is just not the drugs that are the problem; it is the companion crimes that come with the drugs and drug dealers. Gangs were another issue that came to mind. Sisk said that to really combat the drug problem, we must devise ways to reform the dealers.
· Each candidate pretty much cited his leadership style as leading by example. Scott expanded his answer to say that he was an engaged leader but not a micro-manager, while Sisk stated that he was direct and precise. Black called himself more democratic than autocratic and that he demanded high standards.
· All agreed that their role as sheriff was to be the chief law enforcement officer in the county.
· As to qualifications, Scott cited his 32½ years in law enforcement, seven with the Chattanooga Police Department and the remainder with the DEA, working with multiple agencies. Sisk stated he had a full range of experience and is currently chief deputy at the sheriff's department.
Black told those gathered that he had 35 years of experience, holds a bachelor's degree and had attended the FBI National Academy.
Helton also has attended the FBI National Academy and has an extensive law enforcement career. He also cited his proven record as a magistrate judge and as county manager,
Citing his own degree in management, Holcomb said that it complemented his law enforcement experience. Holcomb also served a senior level police officer in Iraq, training and developing that country's police department. He also said he is the only business owner in the group of five.
· Each candidate agreed that domestic violence was a crime that needed police and outside agency intervention.
In other races
Clerk of superior court
In this race between Tracy Brown, Michael Caldwell and Daniel McMurry, all agreed that a technology upgrade to include internet access to the document on file is necessary.
Brown cited her 18 years working in the office, along with her honesty and integrity as reasons to vote for her.
Caldwell spoke of his leadership experience and having spent the past four years serving with a superior court judge and prior experience as a law office manager.
Saying teachers are leaders, McMurry cited his teaching career as good experience to serve as court clerk. He also said he has a serving spirit and is ready to make changes in the office.
Asked what changes they would make to the office, all agreed that technology was necessary to bring the office up to speed. Caldwell stated a need for additional phone lines, saying that there was only one phone line for eight employees. Brown disputed that fact, saying there were actually two public lines, a fax line and a private line.
McMurry stated he would develop a vision, mission and belief statement.
School board at large
This race is between Melvin Edwards (incumbent) and Brent Williams.
Saying that the county is below the state average in graduation rates, Williams called for a change to the curriculum that would benefit non-traditional students, while Edwards said that resources are already committed to help increase the graduation rate.
As for reforming the schools, Williams cited the need for more technology to replace traditional textbooks, while Edwards said that a recent task force was looking into giving students more options.
Both candidates agreed that there was no need to redistrict Heritage High School at this time.
County commission, District 3
Candidates are incumbent James Cutler and challenger Steven Henry.
Cutler indicated a need to build and maintain county roads as best we can. Henry said roads appear to be in good shape, but there is a need to place emphasis on safety and speeding drivers.
On TSPLOST, Henry said he would not vote for it although he called it a necessary evil. Cutler also said he would not vote for it, that while it would provide some money not all would remain in Catoosa County.
As far as their vision for the county, Cutler cited a need for maintaining a controlled and limited growth. Henry would envision the county growing economically rather than building college campuses.
This is another race that is hotly contested and between incumbent Herbert “Buzz” Franklin and challenger Doug Woodruff.
Franklin said, as far as changes to the office, he would grant raises and cost of living hikes, but “other than that I don't really see any need for any change.”
Drawing a round of laughter, Woodruff said, “The first thing I would change is who the DA is!” He said there is a rumor out there that he would fire everybody currently employed in the DA's office, but that simply isn't true. He said, “I feel every change made should be community-centered.”
Franklin told the audience he was “very approachable and very passionate about my job.”
Franklin has served 16 years as the LMJC district attorney and practiced law for 31 years.
Woodruff, who served for 7½ years as an assistant district attorney, is a former law enforcement officer and has practiced law for 16 years. Woodruff said, “I have the ability to stand up rather than walk away from the tough cases.”
Both men agreed that technology is needed in the DA's office.
Candidates James Ellis and Brad Palmer both saw a need to restore the image of the magistrate's office, while incumbent Johnny Gass disputed that, saying the problems in his office were already taken care of.
Neither Ellis nor Palmer would add additional employees, while Gass would hire an additional clerk to help with the current workload. None of the three saw a need for another judge.
Gass said he has the experience of serving in the office as well as having law enforcement experience.
Palmer said he has experience serving in courtrooms across the country and Ellis cited his 27 years in law enforcement as “court room experience.”