Dougherty County School Board candidate Aaron Johnson, left, and County Commissioner Ewell Lyle speak to supporters at a joint meet-and-greet event the pair held Tuesday evening. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Threatening weather probably cut into the number of voter visits, but both Dougherty County Commissioner Ewell Lyle and Dougherty School Board candidate Aaron Johnson labeled their joint meet-and-greet at the River Pointe Golf Club clubhouse Tuesday night a success.
The event garnered a good amount of buzz because its hosts are not only running for different elected boards, one (Johnson) is a Democrat, the other a Republican.
“A lot of people told me ‘don’t do this, don’t work with another candidate,’” Lyle, the incumbent District 4 County Commissioner, said during remarks at the meet-and-greet. “But I thought it would be a great opportunity to exchange ideas. I wish we’d do more of this kind of thing in the community.”
Johnson, a Darton State College professor and a challenger in the District 4 School Board race, said holding a joint meeting with Lyle puts the public on notice that his campaign is not business as usual.
“I’m running a different political race,” the first-time candidate said. “I happen to believe the only way our community will grow and prosper is by working together. We’re so worried about ‘winning’ a (political) debate, that we don’t listen to the other side and consider how we could compromise to reach a common beneficial goal.
While Lyle has no challenger in the May 20 Republican primary and will face either Pat Garner or Tracy Taylor in the Nov. 4 general election, Johnson is squaring off against Melissa Strother in the Democratic primary with a seat on the School Board hinging on the outcome of that vote.
Lyle told supporters at the meet-and-greet that he’s tried to bring attention to inefficiencies within the commission during his first four-year term in office. He points to his role on the board’s Finance Committee as an example.
“The year before, after we voted to raise the millage rate in the county — and I fought that increase to the bitter end; (District 2 Commissioner) John Hayes and I voted against it — I was told that ‘there’s nothing in the budget left to cut,’” Lyle said. “I was involved in the last budget process from the beginning, and guess how much we cut from the budget. We cut $860,000.
“That shows that everything that’s called such is not essential. And it shows that I have the ability to effect chage.”
Johnson, meanwhile, said he wants to increase college readiness within the county public school system, to facilitate an increase in parental involvement and to empower the students within the system.
“We as citizens should demand measurable outcomes of our public officials,” he said. “It’s a simple thing to take the easy route, but I want to raise the bar for our students, raise expectations. When you do that, students tend to meet those (raised) expectations.
“I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and my roots are there. But the reason I want to run for the Dougherty County School Board is walking out that door right there. (Johnson points to his almost-2-year-old daughter Olivia, exiting with her mother, Victoria.) She is very much an Albanian, and I want her to be proud of that fact.”