Candidates Debate

Source: Woodstock-Townlake Patch

By: Kristal Dixon 

Date: July 30, 2015 

‘One Of The Best Traditions’: Candidates Debate The Issues At Forum

A hot, steamy late July evening couldn’t keep some of Cherokee County’s most active political gadflies, elected officials, candidates and their supporters and party stalwarts from attending Tuesday’s Candidate Forum.

The forum, which was organized by the Cherokee County Farm Bureau and Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, allowed incumbents and declared candidates in local races to introduce themselves to the public and briefly lay out their platform.

Jeff Rusbridge, chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, welcomed the crowd to the event, which he described as “one of the best traditions” in Cherokee County.

That tradition was hosted at the famous Cagle’s Dairy Farm in Hickory Flat.

Rebecca Johnston, managing editor with the Cherokee Tribune, and Mike Searcy of WLJA Radio introduced the candidates to the audience and fielded questions from the audience.

Candidates who introduced themselves, but did not participate in the forum include:
•Canton City Councilman Farris Yawn, who is running in the 2015 municipal election for the Ward 3 seat;
•Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood, who is seeking a third term;
•JoEllen Wilson, who plans to qualify for the Canton City Council Ward 1 seat she held from 1981 to 2009;
•Waleska Mayor Doris Jones;
•Cherokee County School Board Chair Kyla Cromer;
•Cherokee County Probate Court Judge Keith Wood;
•Chief Judge of Magistrate Court James Drane III;
•Cherokee County State Court Judge Michelle Homier;
•Cherokee County Tax Commissioner Sonya Little;
•State Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton); and
•State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta).

The forum was reserved for the only contested race so far for the May 2016 primary: the office of sheriff.

The four Republican candidates who’ve all tossed their hat into the ring to replace Roger Garrison include: Pickens County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Frank Reynolds, Fairburn Police Chief Chip McCarthy, retired Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jeff Donley and David Waters, a retired commander with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

Each candidate introduced himself to the audience, and communicated why they were running for the office. They also had the chance to answer questions submitted by audience members.

The first question: What makes you believe you are the right candidate for sheriff of Cherokee County?

McCarthy, who lives in Woodstock, stated he’s the only person who is currently serving as chief of a law enforcement agency. McCarthy stated he’s served in every level of local law enforcement, has overseen a budget that’s similar to Cherokee County’s, has raised his children in the county and ”I’ve enjoyed being part of this community.”

“I want to keep Atlanta crime in Atlanta, and keep Cherokee like it is today,” he added.
Reynolds stated when he asked retiring Sheriff Roger Garrison what it would take to become sheriff, he told the audience that Garrison told him he needed to forge relationships with the community, gain command experience and advance his education.

“I submit to you that I am the only candidate that has done that,” he added. “It’s not just about the resume, but it’s also about building meaningful relationships with our community.”
Waters, also stated he’s a lifelong resident of Cherokee County, has “commanded every aspect of law enforcement” in his career. He also said he has experience in working the “last freedom marches” in Forsyth County, which were held in 1987.

Donley added he’s spent 31 coming through the ranks of local law enforcement and building connections with fellow residents. He added it gives him personal pleasure to see the kids he help raise come back and thank him for guiding them during their formative years.

The candidates were also asked to discuss what they think the role of the sheriff is when it comes to working with schools in the county. Reynolds stated the sheriff’s office has a great working relationship with the Cherokee County School District’s Police Department, and he wants to see that continue.

Waters added he felt the sheriff’s office’s role would be “education,” and to be more active in local schools.

Donley said he believe the role should be to work with the school system and its top administrators, and also serving as a resource for their department should they need anything in areas such as criminal investigations.

He also said he’d like to see the district “open up their doors a little bit” and allow sheriff’s deputies to possibly talk with children about issues such as drugs and bullying.

McCarthy added he believes the relationship between the sheriff’s office and the schools Police Department is “tantamount to getting success everywhere.”

Forging relationships with all public safety agencies in the county is also imperative, as is working with neighboring jurisdictions such as Forsyth, Pickens and Cobb counties.

The four men also gave their opinions on whether the sheriff’s office should buy and accept military surplus.

Waters reassured the audience that the sheriff’s office under his administration “will not have tanks.” However, there are instances in which some surplus is useful. For example, Waters said the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office had to utilize the surplus to acquire equipment such as weapons and bulletproof vests because the agency could not afford them.

“There may be certain things that can be purchased through surplus in the military, but I’ll assure you a tank will not be one of them under my administration,” he added.
Donley said he believes in having equipment, especially when it’s needed. However, that does not mean that equipment should be paraded through the streets of Cherokee County.

“At the sheriff’s office, we’ve got a lot of equipment, some of it you haven’t even seen,” he said. “We haven’t had a need for it yet, but it’s there.”

McCarthy said military surplus equipment are items that many agencies across the country have, and he even has it in the city of Fairburn. He noted he agreed with Donley’s assessment that the equipment is good to have when it’s needed, such as incidents that call for a SWAT situation.

“We have to be prepared to defend ourselves, but that equipment is not something to put on public display for everybody to fear law enforcement,” he said. “I don’t think law enforcement needs to be militarized. I don’t think our law enforcement needs to look like a Storm Trooper out here.”
Reynolds, who said he spent time in Iraq providing protection to diplomats and high-ranking military leaders as an independent contractor, said he has the “best understanding” of the concept of over-militarization.

Reynolds said the county is well-funded and well-trained, and does not need items such as tanks.

“We don’t need it in Cherokee County,” he said, adding the surplus program does allow for the selection of items such as golf cars and safety equipment.
The candidates also said they’d like to engage in some form of community policing with the citizens they serve and, once elected, they’d like to explore solutions to shore up the sheriff’s office’s manpower.