Lee sets qualifying fees

LEESBURG -- Now that the Lee County Commission has taken care of its state-mandated duty of establishing qualifying fees for the 2010 election cycle, let the campaign season begin.

The commission officially established qualifying fees for 2010 races -- District 1 and 3 seats for both the commission and the Lee School Board -- at its business session Tuesday evening, setting the stage for poetntial candidates to start gearing up for a run at the four posts that will be decided.

County Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson confirmed Wednesday that qualifying fees for the two boards have been set: $159.62 for County Commission seats and $24 for School Board posts. Those fees are equal to 3 percent of board members' base yearly salary: $5,320.56 for the Commission and $800 for the School Board.

"Lately, the School Board races have been pretty low-key," Johnson said. "But the commission races are usually contested. It depends on the vibe of the commission."

Both commissioners whose seats are up for election -- Ed Duffy, the commission's current chairman, in District 3 (Palmyra) and Dennis Roland in District 1 (Smithville/Chokee) -- have confirmed that they will seek re-election. District 3 School Board member Louis Hatcher also said Thursday he would seek another four-year term, while his District 1 colleague, Bobby Clay, said he hasn't made up his mind whether he will seek another term.

"Certainly the budget is going to be the biggest issue the board faces because it impacts everything," Hatcher, an attorney in the Albany-based Watson Spence law firm, said. "The bottom line, though, is that we have to look at what's in the best interest of the students. And that's probably what I enjoy most about being a part of this board; everyone is there to serve the children.

"I think our school system deserves its reputation as one of the state's best, and that's a credit first and foremost to the teachers. We also have a top-notch administration and a board that is an absolute pleasure to serve on. It's amazing what our system has accomplished, especially when you look at what we're able to spend per student."

Clay, who was appointed to the Lee School Board in 1952 and served 12 years before becoming superintendent of schools -- a position he held for 32 years -- has notched eight years in his second tour on the board.

"I'm giving it serious consideration," the long-time educator said. "The qualifying fee is only $24, so that's certainly not cost prohibitive. I'm in good health, so I'll see how I feel a little later."

Roland, who outpolled then-incumbent Jackie Sizemore in 2006 to earn his first term in office, said he wants to continue to make improvements in the expansive northern portion of the county that comprises his district.

"I won't have a real big agenda, but there's no question that all the rural roads in my district need to be resurfaced," he said. "We're also trying to find some grant money that will allow us to pave some of the dirt roads in the county.

"We'll need to come up with a way to pay for personnel to man the new EMS/fire station near Smithville, too. So there are some key issues that will affect the district."

Duffy, who topped Clayton Smith in 2006 in a race to replace outgoing Commissioner Billy Mathis, who chose not to seek re-election, said in a recent profile that there's still work to be done in the county.

"We're just getting started," he said. "I want to continue to work on behalf of the citizens of Lee County to make this community an even better one. We've got issues to address, and you can believe we're going to address them."

Qualifying for the partisan commission primaries will begin April 26 at 9 a.m. and close on April 30 at noon. In the nonpartisan School Board races, qualifying will begin June 28 at 9 a.m. and end July 2 at noon.

The primary election will be held July 20 with any runoffs scheduled for Aug. 10. The general election, which includes the nonpartisan School Board races, will be held Nov. 2 with a runoff date of Nov. 30.

"There is a period between qualifying and the Nov. 2 election that independent and write-in candidates will have an opportunity to get on the ballot," Johnson said. "But they have to jump through a lot of hoops."

The elections supervisor said potential candidates can file an intent to accept campaign contribution form with her office at any time before qualifying or can file paperwork with the state expressing intent to establish a campaign committee.

Candidates who begin campaigning must file their first campaign contribution disclosure form on March 31 and must file subsequent forms June 30, Sept. 30, Oct. 25 and Dec. 31.

Johnson said 25.11 percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots in the 2006 primary (compared to 38.81 percent in 2008, a presidential election year), and 50.05 percent voted in the '06 general election. That percentage was 77.17 percent in the 2008 general election, slightly less than the record 79 percent that voted in the 2004 general election.