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Candidates for Chief Magistrate of Sumter County square off at Chamber of Commerce forum

AMERICUS – On Tuesday, October 6, the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum at Georgia Southwestern State University in which candidates running for six local public offices got an opportunity to make their cases as to why they should be elected (or sin some cases reelected) to that particular office.

The forum was held virtually and it can be seen on the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube page.

One of the offices that is up for grabs is the post of Chief Magistrate of Sumter County. Tracy Hall, the republican candidate, is running against Crystal Cleveland, the democratic candidate. Each of the candidates had a chance at the forum to explain why they should be the one to be elected and to succeed outgoing Sumter County Chief Magistrate Connie Johnson, who is retiring.

Each candidate submitted their questions to the forum moderator and both candidates had three minutes to answer both questions. Once that phase of the forum was done, each candidate had five minutes to explain why he or she (or in this case, she or she) should be the one to be elected as the Chief Magistrate of Sumter County.

Tesia Reed, a news anchor for WALB News Channel 10 in Albany, was the forum moderator. The first question was posed to Hall.

Question: The Chief Magistrate must be skilled in areas outside of the courtroom. How experienced are you in supervising staff, creating and maintaining budgets and being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

Hall: “Supervision style is very important because the staff and the Chief Magistrate set the milieu for the entire office. The staff, including the Chief Magistrate in the office, is responsible for being the voice of the community. That’s a duty I take very seriously. I have supervised staff as large as 75 to as small as 10. That group of 75 was spread out through all 159 counties in the great state of Georgia, called for a special touch. I invest in my staff, both professionally and personally and I think that the staff and the Magistrate Office can be a community of excellence. I can promise you that community. Creating and maintaining budgets is important because the magistrate dollars are your dollars and I have had experience with several different types of budgets. The largest one that I have ever managed was one that I was a federal grantee for George W Bush’s administration as a healthy marriage initiative and also as a responsible fatherhood initiative and that budget was about $1 million a year. The least amount was for my home personal business and that was an amount for $15,000.00.” Hall went on to say that no matter how big or small one’s budget is, one is always very wise to keep an eye on the bottom line and even wiser to keep an eye on both the middle and top lines.

“Integrity out of your elected officials is a must have,” said Hall. She went on to say that she would love to believe that nothing unexpected happens after 5 p.m., but realizes that life doesn’t work that way. “I have been on call my entire career,” said Hall. “I have been able to handle some of that call over the telephone. Other call has demanded that I be there with face to face contact.”

Hall went on to say that the magistrate judge will have to have face to face contact and that she has learned how to sleep with one ear open and to have an appropriate response time. “I have learned how to balance my personal with my professional life,” said Hall. “It takes dedication and I can promise you dedication. Thank you.”

The same question was posed to Cleveland and she began her answer by stating that her most recent experience in supervising has been and still is her job as a professor of American Government at South Georgia Tech (SGTC). “I would like to think that it’s a supervisory position, given the climate right now because we are completely virtual,” said Cleveland. “You have to learn how to maintain the different personalities, the different situations that each student has and be able to be empathetic and understanding to their different situations, while still getting across the content of the class, so to speak.” Cleveland also mentioned that prior to her teaching position at SGTC, she had been the Supervisor of Elections here in Sumter County. “I was on the Board of Elections and was asked to step up and be the supervisor at the time that our supervisor was offered a position somewhere else,” said Cleveland. “I stayed at that position for about a little over a year and in that time, I literally was given an election within two weeks of being asked to step into the position and that election was a run off.” Cleveland went on to say that even if one in her position is not a supervisor of the office, being able to understand the dynamics, policies and the culture of the office is highly important. She also mentioned other supervisory positions that she has held in the past, such as supervising internship positions, both inside and outside the legal field.

Crystal Cleveland, the democratic candidate for Chief Magistrate of Sumter County, is seen here addressing the Americus Kiwanis Club. Cleveland also spoke to the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, where she made her case as to why she should be elected to the position.
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As far as budgeting is concerned, Cleveland stated that she has consulted with small businesses over the years concerning their budgets and that some of those budgets were million dollar budgets. She also stated that she has done some grant writing for various organizations in the capacity of having to do budget line items.

Reed then asked Cleveland to answer her own question that she submitted:

“How have you prepared to take leadership as a Chief Magistrate?”

Cleveland responded by saying that the legal field has been something that she has wanted to be a part of since the age of five and that she has been blessed to have people in her life to encourage her in her pursuit of her dream of becoming a lawyer.

She mentioned her educational experiences, such as college and law school, as well as her internship with the Department of Juvenile Justice, where she was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including weekends and holidays. She stated that she did this while she was in law school from 2015 to 2018. Cleveland also mentioned her experience working with the SOWEGA Victims Alliance in a supervisory position over the Family Law Center and dealing with other civil matters. In addition to those experiences, Cleveland mentioned that she did some work for the Public Defenders Office in Sumter County. All of these experiences, in Cleveland’s opinion, prepared for the job of Chief Magistrate.

The same question was posed to Hall, and she responded by stating that throughout her whole professional career as a family therapist, there were only two years out of 20 that she was not the supervisor. “I started out working with adoptive families under Bill Clinton’s initiative to help out adoptive families,” said Hall. “I started in Bibb County. That area got expanded to Central Georgia, which later got expanded throughout the whole 159 counties. I became the supervisor over that. That’s the group that had the 75 people and I had to cover the entire state.”

Hall went on to say that after she had completed that job, somebody called her and asked her to take over a federal grant for President George W. Bush’s administration to create healthy marriages, which she did. “I took that on. I had supervisory folks, probably a staff of 20 to 25,” said Hall. “We were responsible for going, again, all over the different states and having retreats and creating a perfect experience for our married couples that were coming in.” Hall went on to say that because she was successful at that, she was asked to take on the next federal grant, which was a responsible fatherhood grant. “It was couples who were pregnant, but not married and underneath the poverty line,” said Hall. “Supervising that group of people and making sure that they have the skills needed to provide what my clients needed was an utmost responsibility.” Hall went on to say that she came back to Sumter County to become the Regional Director for the Methodist Home. She stated that it was a little bit of a different atmosphere than where she had previously been because she had been use to creating and managing programs, but in the end, as the Regional Director of the Methodist Home, Hall didn’t have to create a program.

“That staff had to provide care 24/7, which means I had to be on call for 24/7,” said Hall. She added that her leadership style is such that she will invest in her staff, both professionally and personally, but also takes personally her personal inventory to make sure that she knows where she’s at, as far as her temperament, gifts and limitations on a certain day.   “Taking that kind of inventory is something that a good supervisor does on a daily basis,” said Hall.

Now it was time for both candidates to explain to the voters why they should be the one to be elected as the Chief Magistrate for Sumter County. Each candidate was given five minutes to make their case and Hall was the first to do it.

Hall started out by mentioning that she was born and raised in Americus and is the daughter of Jeanie and Paul Hall. She also stated that she is a graduate of both Southland Academy and the Mercer University School of Medicine. Hall mentioned the fact that she is a family therapist and has served Sumter County as the Regional Director of the Methodist Home, as well as the Regional Director of Junior Cotillions and the elections office. “Write now, I’m writing for the Americus Times-Recorder,” said Hall. “I’m also very much involved in different community initiatives, as well as volunteer efforts, where I would take on leadership roles there also.”

Hall added that the Magistrate’s Court is also known as the “Peoples’ Court” and is the gateway for law enforcement to enter into the court system. “It is where the community goes to have their disputes heard without the complications of a lawyer,” said Hall. She continued her response by saying that the reason that she wants to serve Sumter County in the role of Chief Magistrate is because she wants to work with and deal with people. “Therapists are the peoplelest people of all the people,” said Hall. She went on to make her case for the position by stating that she has excellent skills to bring to the Magistrate Court, including conflict resolution, risk assessments, practicing an unconditional positive regard for people, management of staff and budgets, being available 24/7 and procuring relationships with stakeholders in the court.

Hall added that she started contemplating running for Chief Magistrate when she was robbed and pistol whipped by three men on her front porch back in 2015. “It was a very traumatic event, but one of the ways I dealt with that was to learn everything I possibly could about the judicial process,” said Hall.   She added that at that time, she believed that she could bring her skills that were required of the Magistrate’s Office into the court.

While she believed she could do the job of a Chief Magistrate based on her supervisory, organizational and people skills, Hall said that she felt she needed to ask her self whether or not she could do the things that a judge does, such as appropriately sign warrants, set bails fairly and build a foundation upon which a superior court can go forward. She asked herself whether or not she could listen with an unbiased ear to the disputes that are raised in a small claims court. She came to the conclusion that she indeed can work with two different sides. “I have walked along side victims and felons on their way to recovery,” said Hall. “I have a unique ability to be able to hold two opposing opinions and still be able to make a fair assessment and good judgments.”

Hall continued making her case for the job by stating that service is a value that is dear to her heart and that it’s also a family legacy. “I look at service like I look at potluck dinners. It’s a pretty simple thing,” said Hall. “People bring their dishes to the table and they invite you to take what you want, but there’s an expectation that you too are going to bring your best to the table. I can bring my best to the table as your Chief Magistrate.”

Hall went on to say that she promises to bring three things as Chief Magistrate: dedication, integrity and community. She stated that she will serve her neighbors just like she has served Georgia’s families for over 20 years. As far as integrity is concerned, Hall stated that there will be both easy and difficult decisions to make as Chief Magistrate, but she stressed that in the end, she will make the right decision.

As far as community is concerned, Hall stressed that as Chief Magistrate; she will do everything she possibly can to make sure that Sumter County is better for having her. “I will do all that I can to make sure she (Sumter County) is thriving like we know she can be,” said Hall. “Dedication, integrity, community: These are my promises that I make to you and I keep my promises. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your contribution to the table and thank you for your vote.”

Cleveland began her five-minute speech about why she should be elected to the position by reiterating that she had wanted to be a lawyer since the age of five and that her family and friends in the community of Sumter County encouraged her and pushed her to realize her dream of becoming a lawyer. Cleveland also mentioned that her aunt, Montena H. Fish, was a tremendous influence on her. Cleveland stated that Fish, a former police officer with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, use to take her to the courthouse and that it made a big impact on her dream to work as a lawyer and to be in law enforcement. Cleveland added that the Sumter County community supported her in her pursuit of becoming a lawyer through her education, as she came back to Americus to do internships. “That has blossomed into me not wanting to leave Sumter County,” said Cleveland.

Cleveland continued making her case for the job by asking the people of Sumter County to continue supporting her. “I appreciate each and every one of you,” said Cleveland. “Whether it was just a pat on the back or a word of encouragement, I am continuing to do this because you guys have supported me a long the way and this is why I have decided to pursue the Office of Chief Magistrate by using my education, my knowledge and experience for my home town of Sumter County and I’m asking for your vote to be your Sumter County Chief Magistrate and continue to serve this community.”