NEWTON, Ga. — The upcoming Baker County election is highlighted by the sheriff’s race, where two separate challenges have been mounted to unseat first-term Democractic incumbent Dana Meade.
Meade, 43, has lived in Baker County since leaving the military 20 years ago. He cites his experience in law enforcement in his re-election bid and says that Baker County crime, especially burglaries, are down during his years as Sheriff. According to Meade, the decrease comes in part from an increased visibility of law enforcement personnel.
“My record speaks for itself,” Meade said. “What we’ve been doing in Baker County is working.”
Timothy Joe Williamson, 59, a Democrat, opposes Meade. Williamson, a Newton resident, is a graduate of Westwood Academy in Camilla and attended (then) Albany Junior College. Williamson has an extensive background in law enforcement, including narcotics investigation, and is currently employed as a road deputy in Decatur County. He’s lived in Baker County six years.
“I want to be a sheriff for all the people of Baker County,” Williamson said. “I want to make sure we stay within the budget and to make the county a better place to live.”
Kelly Smith, 43, also a Democrat, graduated Calhoun County High School and attended Albany Technical College. He has owned and operated KC Farms since 1995 and KC Excavating since 1997.
“The reason I feel like I need to be elected sheriff is that the Lord has called me to step forward,” Smith said. “I feel like as sheriff, I can do a lot of good to help the citizens of Baker County.”
In other races, Constance (Connie) Hobbs of Leary competes with fellow Democrat Charles Fitzgerald of Newton for the Elmodel District Baker County Commission seat, while Colquitt resident Emmitt Miller opposes Kevin Coker from Newton for the Hoggard Mill District spot. Both are Democrats
Unchallenged candidates for County Commission seats are Thomas Rentz Jr. in the Milford District, Vann Irvin in the Newton District and John Gaines in the Anna District. All incumbents are Democrats.
The Baker County Board of Education has ridden a legal seesaw in the previous two years or so, with a grand jury probe launched, thrown out by a Superior Court judge, then launched again. An ending to the probe, which alleged financial irregularities in board activities, came in January when South Georgia Judicial Circuit Judge Kevin Chason expunged the four-page probe presentments to a mere three paragraphs.
“Nothing really happened except about two and a half years of my life,” said Major Skinner, a primary investigator in the BOE probe and an unopposed candidate in the current election.
Skinner said the probe resulted from concerns of some citizens about millage rate increases for education. Skinner and his wife subsequently helped form the Baker County Concerned Citizens for Education to address what the group called the “irresponsible and uninformed spending” by the county BOE. According to Skinner, more money is spent per student in Baker County than in any Georgia county other than Fulton, while academic test scores are the lowest in the state.
Skinner said the probe, and a resulting list of admonishments from the grand jury, is the basic reason there are so many candidates for BOE seats this election. Skinner said a new crop of members would probably serve to improve the board.
In the Baker Board of Education race for the Milford District seat, Democrats Myrlene Sheffield and Bonnie R. Hudson face off. Because of a zoning change last year, both Sheffield and Hudson are listed as incumbents.
Sheffield said she was a teacher for 31 years and a school board member for 24.
“We have to work together for the betterment of our children,” Sheffield said. “I want to see CRCT scores come up.”
Bonnie Hudson was not available for comment.
In the Newton District contest, Sharon Heard challenges incumbent Carrie V. Hall in the Democratic primary.
“It’s our county, our school, our children and our money,” Heard said. “The people of Baker County need more input on the board, and I can provide that.”
Heard said she was raised in Baker County and has an education background.
Incumbent Carrie Hall said the current BOE has started some beneficial projects that she would like to see through to the end.
“We’ve been working down a deficit we’ve carried for years,” Hall said. “I’d like to see that eliminated.”
She also said classroom size has doubled with economic downsizing, and she would like to see them return to normal size. Hall has taught in Baker County and Colquitt schools.
The Hoggards Mill District candidates are incumbent Janet Anderson and Brenda King, both Democrats.
King and her husband have lived in Baker County for 19 years, she said, and until recently she worked in finance at Springleaf. According to King, in 2011 Baker County paid $13,938 per student yet scored a “2” on an important 10-point scale combining CRCT and GHSGT scores.
“Available funds must be spent wisely to aid in reaching a quality education,” King said.
Janet Anderson could not be reached.
Candidates for the board’s Elmodel District are Democrats Gloria Hall Bynes and Chasity Hay Moye.
Bynes was a teacher for 36 years, she said, and believes her experience can help bring the BOE together.
“If we put our children first, this will ensure our future,” Bynes said.
Moye has lived in Baker County for more than 30 years, she said, and wants to provide children with “the quality education that the taxpayers are paying for.”
“Our tax rate is one of the highest, and yet our children’s scores are among the lowest,” Moye said. “We need to work together as a community on both these issues.”
Other Baker County races featuring candidates who are unopposed include Probate/Magistrate Judge Angela (Angel) Hendricks, Tax Commissioner Mona Hart Smith, Coroner John Belinc and Clerk of Superior Court Betty Bush.