As the area's long primary campaign season wound down to its final few days this weekend, candidates throughout the Albany metro area steeled themselves for a final push that they hope will resonate with voters heading to the polls Tuesday for Republican and Democratic primaries.
In Lee County, where the race for the District 3 County Commission seat currently held by Commission Chair Ed Duffy has generated a great deal of attention, Duffy shot back Saturday at challenger Lester Leggette for comments Leggette made during a called news conference Friday.
"If Mr. Leggette's allegations are true about county finances -- and its 'mountain of debt' -- how does he explain our large increase in reserves or our high bond rating?" Duffy said. "Maybe if he actually looked at the county budget, he might flip-flop on his claims like he has on Grand Island."
Leggette, who said Friday during his news conference that he supports improvements at the county-owned golf/tennis facility, had initially claimed he opposed the county's ownership of Grand Island.
The Duffy-Leggette Republican showdown is the only contested primary race in Lee County, and two other metro-area counties -- Baker and Mitchell -- have no local races that will be determined by voters Tuesday. But Dougherty, Worth and Terrell counties have a number of races up for grabs in the primaries.
One of the hot-button issues being bandied about by Duffy and Leggette in their contest is a recent restructuring of some $22 million in debt owed by the Lee Utilities Authority. Leggette has said the restructuring will end up costing taxpayers more than $7 million, while Duffy said the move will save taxpayers millions.
Utilities Authority General Manager Chris Boswell said Friday the action taken by the Authority and the County Commission was necessary to remedy immediate cash flow/debt service issues facing the utilities provider.
Boswell also revealed that while Leggette has criticized Duffy for the Authority's debt load, which was built through acquisitions and infrastructure improvements, it was Leggette who was a member of the Utilities Authority Board when much of the debt was amassed.
"Lester voted for many of the projects that built our debt when he was on the board," Boswell said. "That's why I'm surprised at some of the statements he's made during the campaign."
Leggette has chided Duffy for infrastructure improvements along U.S. Highway 82, but the current commission chair said growth along that corridor has justified the expense.
"You think Albany Tractor Company would be bringing their 70 jobs out there if water and sewage wasn't in place?" Duffy said.
Current District 1 Lee Commissioner Dennis Roland will be unopposed on Tuesday's GOP ballot, but Independent Mary Egler has collected and turned in signatures in the district that would qualify her to be placed on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot. Lee Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson said the Lee Election Board will certify those signatures at a meeting Friday.
In Dougherty County, one of the more intriguing races pits veteran District 6 County Commissioner Jack Stone against Richard Thomas in the Democratic primary. Stone, a 24-year-veteran on the Commission, says he has maintained a strong connection with the voters of the East Albany district, which Thomas has labelled "a poverty zone within a poverty zone."
On Thursday, Stone defended his vote against consolidation of the Dougherty and Albany governments, saying his vote was a response to his constituents' wishes.
"Since this issue of consolidation came up, 95 percent of the people in my district who have talked to me about it have told me they were opposed to it," Stone said. "If the vote on the issue was done fairly, I would support it 100 percent, but the people who would be most affected by consolidation really wouldn't have a say in it.
"I voted the way my constituents asked me to vote; I represent them, not myself."
Other hotly contested races in Dougherty County are for seats on the much-maligned School Board. Incumbent Milton Griffin will battle political newcomer Sherrell Byrd in the Board's District 2 Democratic primary, while Dean Phinazee and Darrel Ealum are seeking that party's nomination in District 6.
Dougherty Commission Chair Jeff Sinyard and District 2 Commissioner John Hayes have no opposition in the Democratic primary, while Republicans Lonnie Smith and Ewell Lyle are running unopposed for the District 2 and District 4 seats, respectively.
Hayes and Smith will square off in the General Election, while Lyle and the winner of the Stone-Thomas race will be guaranteed seats on the board after Tuesday's vote.
Democrat Carol Tharin is assured a seat on the School Board in District 4, while the survivor of the Griffin-Byrd primary battle will meet Republican Donnie Smith for the District 2 seat on Nov. 2.
Baker County will have no local races contested during Tuesday's primary, according to new Elections Supervisor Melissa Watson, while Mitchell County has only two names listed on its ballot: incumbents Benjamin Hayward, a Democrat, in the District 1 County Commission race, and Republican Reggie Bostick in the District 3 race.
Both candidates' names will be listed on the local ballot, according to Elections Supervisor Susan Taylor.
Democratic incumbent District 1 County Commissioner Lucious Holloway is the only member of the Terrell board guaranteed a return to the Commission after Tuesday's vote. Incumbents Larry Atherton and Van Phillips in Districts 2 and 3, respectively, have challengers in their Democratic primaries, while the winner in District 3 will face Republican Bob Rainey in the General Election.
"What I have done in my four years in office is spread the word about the corruptness going on here," Phillips, owner of the Dawson True Value hardware store, said. "The corruption starts with Sheriff John Bowens, who hadn't paid his property taxes in a long time. I found that out when I got in office, and he's since been forced to pay his taxes with interest and penalties.
"Having him in office is like having the fox guard the henhouse. I've written the governor, the state attorney general and POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training, which certifies law enforcement officers in the state), but so far no action has been taken against him. He's an embarrassment to our county."
Phillips will have to outpoll Larry Faust and Annie Mu'Min in the Democratic primary to get a shot at Rainey in November.
Atherton, meanwhile, faces Ernest Johnson in the District 2 Democratic primary, while Terrell voters will choose among newcomers Lolita Davis, Melvin Gilley and Brad Stafford in the District 4 Democratic race.
Republican District 3 County Commissioner Bettye Bozeman and incumbent GOP Worth School Board members Butch Jenkins (chairman) and Randy Bacon (District 4) will enjoy uncontested returns to their positions.
Incumbent County Commission members Jerry Childree (D-District 4) and Fred Dent (R-District 2) both have two challengers in their races to return to the Commission.
"You never know how voters are going to react, but I think I did a good job my first four years in office," Childree said. "We held taxes down -- there was some increase, but that was done by the state, not us -- and if anyone in my district had a problem and got in touch with me, I took care of it.
"Looking to the next four years, we've got to be more efficient on spending. There are a lot of dirt roads in our county, and it takes a lot of money to keep them up."
Childree has no opposition Tuesday, but he will face either John Kopke or Billy McDonald in November. McDonald, a Republican, is seeking a return to the Commission.
"I spent two terms as chairman from 1992-2000, but I got out because my mother was in pretty bad shape and I had some health issues," McDonald said. "But, thank the Lord and modern medicine, I'm ready to get back into it. I just enjoy working with the people in the county and trying to help them with their issues.
"Somehow, this Commission has got to slow down spending. People are telling me it's time for me to get back in there and make a difference. I am very qualififed, and I am a certified commissioner. I've been there before, I understand the budget process and what it takes to serve the people."
Kopke, meanwhile, is making a first-ever run at political office.
"My biggest thing is there is no industry here," he said Saturday. "Taxes are a big thing, but without industry you have no tax base. I'm going around meeting the people in the district, and my message to them is that they will determine what I do in office. I plan to reprsent their needs."
Dent will square off against Max Sutton in the District 2 Republican primary Tuesday with the winner taking on Democrat James McDonald Nov. 2.
"I'm retired, and I have the time to do this job," James McDonald said. "I'm not happy with the way things are going here, especially with the SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) money. SPLOST was voted on to fix roads, but we've gotten completely away from that in Worth County.
"This county is spending too much on frills: There's an old saying that you go with your needs, not your wants. If I'm elected I'll get on these roads and see what the people want. I want to be the people's candidate. We need to take the politicians out of politics."
Polls open in all area precincts at 7 a.m.