Debate Part 2: District 4, Coroner, Sheriff, Other

For most of the candidates in this election year’s scant handful of contested races, the Saturday debate sponsored by local radio/TV station KWN was a chance to improve on what they had done at KWN’s first debate on April 16. But for Jamey Blevins, who is challenging incumbent Allan Bradford for the district 4 Dade County Commission seat, Saturday was a debut performance. He was unable to attend round 1 due Jamey Blevins (left) and incumbent Allan Bradford

to a prior commitment.

Allan Bradford, speaking first, stood on his record. During his four-year term, the commission had worked smoothly and had not raised taxes, he said, and furthermore: “We have one of the best transfer stations in the state of Georgia.”

Blevins retorted that the commission had only not raised taxes because of the massive public protest when it had tried to do so. Anyway, he said: “I think we would all be happy to pay our fair share of taxes if we knew our money was being spent responsibly.”

Bradford maintained it had been. “We’ve done the best we could with what we’ve had,” he said.

Blevins expressed concern with the new infrastructure demands posed by the 400 or so more vehicles expected to come into Trenton daily with the advent of the much-heralded new Vanguard plant. “We’ve been fairly short-sighted,” he said. He also wants to see better cooperation between Dade and the city of Trenton, not to mention the surrounding counties and municipalities. Additionally, he said, Dade carried way too much debt. With $3.5 million owed, said Blevins, “That's $1 million a year in debt service.” And he claimed Dade Sheriff’s Department's budget was twice the state average.

Bradford replied that the county didn’t waste money anywhere and had worked so hard on budgeting he fact didn’t know anywhere cuts could be made that hadn’t been. “If you don’t think it’s hard, just sit in on some of these meetings,” he said. He said the commission had succeeded in putting $400,000 back in the reserves.

Road-wise, he mentioned the Georgia Department of Transportation was about to fix Highway 136. And as far as intergovernmental cooperation goes, he said he’d be willing to work more with the school board.


Saturday’s debate between Dade County coroner candidates Johnny Gray, the incumbent, and Courtney Gross, the challenger, began with a repeat of April 16 elements: They presented dueling qualifications. She is a highly trained registered nurse with certifications in trauma, grief management,

stroke and post-

Courtney Gross and Johnny Gray

traumatic stress disorder; he, besides his training as an emergency medical technician, has been Dade’s coroner for 26 years.

But the candidates veered off the tried and true when asked to explain why so many Dade County deaths were listed as being caused by heart attacks. Ms. Gross intimated in so many words it might be a case of good old operator error. “The human body is very complex,” said Ms. Gross. “It’s very easy to choose that as the cause of death.”

Gray said that most of the time the cause of a person’s death could be discerned quickly, even before a person had in fact died. Whatever the person’s father and grandfather had died of would probably get the person as well, he said.

“It’s genetic,” said Gray. “You can’t beat it.”

Ms. Gross said that with her training and professionalism she could turn the coroner’s office around and “create some new bonds that have been broken over the years.”

“I don’t know any bonds that I’ve broken,” said Gray.

Coroners are responsible for pronouncing residents dead and determining the cause of death. In smaller counties like Dade, they are not required to be doctors but are often, as in both candidates’ cases, health care professionals.

Deputy Danny Ellis (left) wants boss Sheriff Cross's job. But not

bad enough to raise his voice or anything.

The Sheriff’s Race

The friendly exchange between incumbent Sheriff Ray Cross and challenger Danny Ellis in their April 16 debate threatened during the Saturday night version to blossom into full-scale bromance. It was a fierce competition: Would there be more I-agree-with-Danny’s or I-agree-with-Sheriff-Crosses? As far as could be discerned, the night ended in a dead heat.

They had planned it that way, Sheriff Cross explained proudly. Before the campaign started, he said, he and Ellis, who has been a deputy in the department for years and is prepared to return to that job should he lose on Tuesday, had sat down and agreed to run a clean campaign. They might be running for the same job, said Cross, but: “We are still brothers in law enforcement.”

In fact, what passed between the candidates could hardly be called debate. Both agreed the sheriff’s department was doing a fine job—“I don’t see changing anything,” said Ellis—that more deputies are always needed but that the department managed to work with what it had and stay under budget somehow—Cross said it and Ellis said, “I agree with Sheriff Cross on that”—that SUVs are the Dade cop car of choice (rough terrain, two mountains, winter weather) and that drugs are a vicious problem, with meth amphetamines now distributed by a Mexican cartel and heroin on the rise.

Ellis as veteran cop warned that drugs could be fought but never fully defeated. Cross as incumbent sheriff stressed the drug arrests he’s made lately and the efforts he’s made to rehabilitate addicts, even taking them to his own church where, he reported, 17 of them had recently been “saved.”

Cross further reported on the success of his prison trusty work details, which he said had beautified the county, saved it money and staffed public works from the road department to Dade’s famous transfer station. Only nonviolent, truly trustworthy trusties are allowed on the details, he said.

“I get compliments all the time on how nice they are,” said the sheriff.

The “debate” between the sheriff and the sheriff wannabe was also very nice—if perhaps a little lacking in drama.

Lanny Thomas (left) challenges State Senator Jeff Mullis.


The evening ended with a debate between State Sen. Jeff Mullis and Lanny Thomas, the former Trion, Ga., mayor who is challenging him in the Republican primary.They discussed dredging the Savannah River, which they both said would have an economic effect on this region; touched on making campus-carry gun rules—Mullis was in favor of arming college students for safety, while Thomas said, Let’s work with the colleges on this; and agreed heartily to hold the line on preventing school children from going into wrong-sex bathrooms: “That cannot be allowed,” said Thomas, a retired educator. “We have to fight this all the way.”

Thomas threw a jibe at Mullis for his $500-a-head golf fundraisers and said he should be elected instead because “My slate is clean.” Mullis stood on his record as the NRA and Right-to-Life endorsed incumbent.

Polls are open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. around the county. Again, the candidates urge Dade County to get out and vote.



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