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Local sorority hosts candidate forum: Part 4

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS —  The Omicron Alpha Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., alongside several local pastors and lay leaders, hosted a forum on Oct. 6 for local/area candidates whose names will appear on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.
Those present were the following:
For Georgia State Senate, 13th District — Ruenett Melton, D-Tifton. It was announced that incumbent Greg Kirk, R-Americus was attending a similar forum in Cordele that evening.
For Georgia House of Representatives, District 138 — Incumbent, Mike Cheokas, R-Americus, and challenger, Bill McGowan, D-Americus.
Sumter County Board of Commissioners, District 1 — Incumbent Clay Jones Sr. Opponent, Harvey Claiborne, R-Americus, was not in attendance.
Sumter County Coroner — Incumbent, Greg Hancock, D-Americus, and challenger, Scott Aldridge, R-Americus.
During the question and answer period, members of the audience wrote questions on cards and indicated which candidate they wanted to answer.
This question was directed at Cheokas: You talked about being strategic, what are the immediate strategies … for addressing growth in Sumter County, in addition to enrollment growth at GSW. And also industry?
Cheokas responded, “I’ve been on the board of directors at South Georgia Tech … for years and years and we started the TechForce drive and the endowment program … job placement stands at 98-plus percent of those who attend South Georgia Technical College. Commissioner Jones mentioned earlier the opportunity of jobs that already exist in Americus and are going unfilled because we don’t have the trained workforce that we need. We have two excellent institutions. Georgia Southwestern and South Georgia Tech can change that. I want to talk about some of the growth that we have had.”
Cheokas mentioned Tepuy Activewear with 10 employees; Golden Gourmet with 65 employees; Glass Blowing Studios, “a direct result of GSW,” with six employees; Southern Glass Wholesalers with 27 employees; and H2O Sports, which recently signed a contract with Honda Marine. He also mentioned growth at TSG Specialists, TSI ….
McGowan also was given the opportunity to respond.
“I didn’t come up with 3,500 jobs … but I do appreciate any growth. The small businesses are the backbone of our country really … One thing, as a legislator, that I can do, is I can coordinate and contact with these location centers in Atlanta and around. If I run into someone in the hallway who’s interested in locating somewhere, I’m gonna talk to them about Americus. I’m gonna talk to them about Buena Vista, Ellaville, Cusseta. … I’m gonna look for the opportunity to talk with them … they’re out there; we just have to promote what we have.”
Closing statements came next. Moderator Robbie Latimore said they would allow the candidates for coroner to speak for longer since they had so few questions directed to them during the Q&A segment.
Aldridge went first. “There’s really not much to talk about … I take my job seriously and would certainly take the coroner’s job seriously. I’m totally invested in this community and have been for many years and really look forward to the opportunity to serve as coroner.”
Hancock gave his closing remarks.
“There’s a lot to talk about in the coroner’s office. There’s financial responsibility to talk about. Sixteen years, I’ve been the coroner. You’ve got a county commissioner up here, and they’ve never questioned my budget. I always have money left over at the end of the year. My budget is less now than it was when I took over 16 years ago … Professionalism is something to talk about in the coroner’s job … You’ve got to know how to treat people; you’ve got to respect people. Like I’ve said, if you want to know what kind of job I’ve done, don’t come ask me. Ask the people that I have served as your coroner, that I’ve been blessed to be able to serve. Mrs. Juanita Wilson can speak for me. She’s dealt with me; she’ll tell you … I’m confident she’ll tell you I’ve done a good job. I’ve been blessed. I appreciate ya’ll allowing me to be your coroner for the past 16 years. I’m in the community all the time, not just at election time. So think about who’s there for you all the time not just when they want something.”
Jones said, “I heard a rumor about my wife. She works out of town … in another state. I go visit her and she comes back to Georgia … She’s been doing that for a couple of years. I heard a rumor that Mr. Jones is running for office but he is not going to stay here; he’s going to move to Louisiana. That’s not true. My wife’s coming back home and she’s going to work in the area and I plan on staying here and retiring here and making this our home for the rest of our lives … On the raises (for county employees), don’t feel bad; I haven’t gotten a raise also.

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But we are at the point where we just now have the budget right where we want to have it at and hopefully in the next year or so we’ll get those raises for the county employees. I know we’re having a lot of turnover and we’re losing a few employees, but we’ll raise the pay scale on most of the jobs … law enforcement and other employees of the county. It’s hard to compete with other counties who’re paying a little bit more but we offer a lot of benefits … Sumter County’s a great place to live. Thank you for entrusting me to be a commissioner for the past three and a half years …”
McGowan then gave his final remarks. “ … My family and I love Americus and Sumter County. We’ve been here for many, many generations. We’ve taken part in public service for many, many generations. We love the people. We love the community. … When you go off to Atlanta, it’s pretty easy to sell things when you feel that way. It’s pretty easy to promote your city, your county, and the other counties you’re involved with. I’m proud of everybody in here and I’m proud of everybody in this county. And I’m gonna talk good … and I’m gonna promote everything that we have … This legislative chair doesn’t belong to anybody. It belongs to the people. … Remember that when you go to vote. It belongs to the people. It does not belong to anyone else … ”
Cheokas then spoke. “My seat at the state legislature belongs to every citizen in the district of 138, and I weigh that carefully in each decision that I make. It’s important to remember that there are 180 members in the House, 56 in the Senate, and for you to get legislation passed, you’ve gotten to get 91 votes. It’s not just one individual. I’ve got to have 91 people, and cross party lines to support the legislature. This year alone, dealing with healthcare, I passed the Jimmy Carter Access to Cancer Treatment Act. This not only affects the people in Sumter County, but it affects the whole state. It allows individuals to get access to the same type of treatment that President Carter was able to get. There is no ruling elite … everyone is equal and I felt that it was important that if this access to this healthcare was available for the former president of the United States, it should be available for every citizen in the state of Georgia. We got that passed overwhelmingly. These are some of the things I do. The other thing I was a co-sponsor of … dealing with our local hospitals, we passed legislation where there’s a tax credit for a local hospitals stating with 50 million divided by the 40 some odd local hospitals … ”

The Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce also hosted a candidates forum on campus Oct. 17. Those present were incumbent District 1 Sumter County Commissioner Clay Jones, coroner candidates Greg Hancock and Scott Aldridge, Georgia House of Representatives District 138 candidates Mike Cheokas and Bill McGowan, Georgia State Senate District 13 incumbent Greg Kirk, U.S. Senate candidate Alan Buckley, U.S. District 2 incumbent Congressman Sanford Bishop and candidate Greg Duke.

On Oct. 21, the Kiwanis Club of Americus hosted the coroner candidates and the candidates for the District 1 seat on the Sumter County Board of Commissioners. Coroner Greg Hancock was in attendance, and candidate Harvey Claiborne was also.