Uneventful Dade Candidate Debate Perks Up A Bit When "Z-Word" Drops

April 20, 2016

 

 

Candidates for Dade County Executives:  From left, incumbent Ted Rumley is challenged by Cliff Auman and Wes Hixon.

 

    This 2016 election year is shaping up to be a tepid one in Dade County, with few candidates challenging incumbents, and Saturday night’s political debate sponsored by local radio/TV station KWN was on the lukewarm side itself. There was, however, one say-what moment when county executive candidate Wes Hixon dropped a “Z-bomb”: “I’m absolutely in favor of zoning,” said Hixon. “I think zoning is very much needed in Dade County.” What, asked Hixon, are hardworking people to do when they have scrimped and saved to build their dream houses in Dade, only to have a junkyard or a chicken house spring up next door? What indeed? Dade dream-house owners have asked the same question throughout the years, appearing at county commission meetings with pictures of the dump across the road and modest proposals toward abating their neighbors’ ability to sabotage their property value, only to be quashed by the county’s monolithic opposition to any type of land-use regulation.

        Even an ordinance against the establishment of a methadone clinic in Dade, unanimously passed in 2011 by the county commission in response to fierce popular opposition to the clinic, came under attack because it attempted to dictate what an owner could and could not do with his property. The ordinance was eventually abandoned as legally unfeasible, the methadone clinic was successfully established, and new opposition to it emerged Saturday night as a campaign issue.

        But Hixon tossed the Z-word out without hesitation in response to a general question on the issue, an exception to his behavior pattern for the rest of the debate. He had responded, “Would you please repeat your question?” to virtually every other question—including, “You have two minutes to introduce yourself.”

       Indeed, the Wildwood-based safari purveyor, who has not made an appearance at county commission meetings since his announcement of candidacy, seemed a little absent from the debate as well. “I’ve never really thought about it,” he answered to a question about his vision for the old Dade courthouse. Construction standards have changed since it was built, he mused; probably the old building contained asbestos and lead paint. “I’d have to take a serious look at it,” he concluded.

        But back to the zoning question: Hixon might be fer, but incumbent County Executive Ted Rumley, who in his two terms at the head of the county government has had an earful of how Dade feels about the issue, came out squarely agin'. “The government’s got their nose in too much of our business today,” he said.

      But Rumley added that as a practical matter the planned extension of sewer service from the Highway 299 interstate exit south to Trenton would require some variety of land-use plan.

       The remaining candidate for Rumley’s job, Cliff Auman, acknowledged: “The word ‘zoning’ has traditionally been a bad word in the county” and opined that any change would have to be up to the voters, and closely defined.

       Auman, younger than Rumley and Hixon by a good 30 years, advocated a new direction for Dade, being “proactive” instead of “reactive,” looking toward the future and being more selective about the industries the county courts with the view of bringing in better jobs.

      Auman represented himself as qualified for the executive job by his background in corporate management, dealing, he said, with budgets bigger than Dade's, and on account of his zeal and dedication: "I've always been one to go all in for something." Hixon cited his 36 years of experience running his outdoor adventure firm, saying he did business on "several major continents." Rumley, meanwhile, said people should know his qualifications by now. "I've been with you eight years," he said..

      Asked whether they would raise taxes, all of the candidates resisted saying definitely not. Auman said if there were another tornado next week, probably, but it could be avoided if Dade had a long-range plan. Rumley pointed out that the commission had raised taxes only once in his eight years and that he didn't foresee another hike, but: "You've got to do what you've got to do." Hixon replied, "Would you ask the question again, please?" and then that he'd learned never to say never.

       The April 16 "debate" did not strictly measure up to the definition of the word, in that candidates did not directly address each other, instead answering questions read by a moderator. Though now and again it looked as if a barb of spite might make it through the process, in the end an almost soporific civility prevailed.

 

 

Another perfect day in Paradise? Deputy Danny Ellis (left), debating with his once (and perhaps future) boss, Sheriff  Ray Cross, found little to disagree with him on.

 

 

 

The Sheriff's Race

      Nowhere was this as evident as in the debate between the two sheriff candidates. First-term incumbent Ray Cross is challenged in this race by Danny Ellis, who has been a deputy in the Sheriff's Department for 17 years and presumably will go back to being one should he lose this bid to oust his boss, and did not seem eager to disagree with him in any particular.

       Cross and Ellis agreed that the department was going great guns budgetarily and that officers need to take their cruisers home so as to have quick access to them in case they are called in suddenly, though Ellis specified that if they live far outside the county they should leave the cars someplace closer in. Asked to comment whether Dade County and the city of Trenton should combine their law enforcement so as not to duplicate services and costs, neither would rise to the bait. "I think it works fine the way it is," said Cross. What he said, rejoined Ellis, plus: "Commissioner Gray had done a wonderful job." (Trenton Police Commissioner Sandra Gray was in the audience.)

​      Both agreed that methamphetamine abuse is a terrible problem in the county. Cross said the department had tried jail, rehab and everything else. "Nothing seems to work," he said. "We've been going after minnows," said Ellis. "We need to go after the bigger fish."

      Organizationally, Ellis said he wouldn't change much but might consider doing away with the deputy major position, using the captain rank instead. "I think our office is running fantastic as it is," said Cross. Ellis said if elected he would institute an open-door policy. Cross said he'd noticed he was out of town a lot. "You have to have a secretary to take down appointments," he said.

The Other Contested Races

 

"Coroners have always been kind of on the back burner," said incumbent Johnny Gray, offering an interesting metaphor, but in fact in Saturday night's debate he and the other candidate for county coroner, Courtney Gross, got moved to the front of the stove, speaking before hopefuls for the higher-profile offices discussed above.

     Last election, Gray, who has held his position 26 years, ran as a Democrat against a Republican challenger, and had to answer the question, "What's the difference between a Democratic coroner and a Republican coroner? This time, he is sidestepping that poser by running as a Republican. And this time, from the tone of the debate, it's a question of qualifications. 

     "I feel it's important to have someone with a medical background," said Ms. Gross. She highlighted her own, as a registered nurse trained in trauma and grief management, and asked of Gray what certifications he had.

     Gray, an emergency medical technician, pointed out that among his qualifications to be Dade County coroner he had: 26 years as Dade County coroner, and added that the county had invested $15,000 in his training. "You have to know exactly what you're doing," he said.

     Another contested race this year is for the third-district  board of education seat, with Jessica Castillo challenging first-term incumbent Johnny Warren. In their debate, Warren said the position was important in that, "We are the voice for the community to the school system. Ms. Castillo said, though, that she felt the board is not approachable by the public.

     Warren said the Common Core program is a problem, because, "Kids don't test the same." Ms. Castillo agreed on that one, and they similarly agreed that more needs to be done in the schools to stop bullying. Ms. Castillo took issue with the system's  wastefulness, saying she had seen stacks of unused e-readers cluttering the schools. Warren said that's being addressed by a new plan the schools are close to implementing.

     Warren asked through the moderator what experience Ms. Castillo had working with budgets; she replied none but homemaking. Both were asked if they would promise not to raise taxes. She said yes, and he said, "I will never say never."

     Otherwise, the candidates who spoke were unopposed or as good as, as State Senate Jeff Mullis confidently professed himself. "I don't remember his name," he said of his opponent. (It's Lanny Thomas, BTW.)

     District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford is challenged this year by Jamey Blevins, but not at the debate. Blevins had a prior engagement, a Boy Scout event, reportedly, and could not make it.

     Unopposed candidates who spoke included Robert Woods for board of education; Robert Goff for county commission; and John Deffenbaugh for Georgia House of Representatives.

     The debate was televised at the Dade County Library for later broadcast, and the moderator was TV sportscaster Chris Goforth. Goforth reminded all that the primary election is May 24 and that the deadline to register is April 26.

     KWN will host another debate at its North Main studio at 6 p.m. on May 21. KWN's Evan Stone said the station would reach out to candidates absent from the April 16 debate to attend the second one. 

"Other"

     Otherwise, the candidates who spoke were unopposed or as good as, as State Senate Jeff Mullis confidently professed himself. "I don't remember his name," he said of his opponent. (It's Lanny Thomas, BTW.)

     District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford is challenged this year by Jamey Blevins, but not at the debate. Blevins had a prior engagement, a Boy Scout event, reportedly, and could not make it.

     Unopposed candidates who spoke included Robert Woods for board of education; Robert Goff for county commission; and John Deffenbaugh for Georgia House of Representatives.

     The debate was televised at the Dade County Library for later broadcast, and the moderator was TV sportscaster Chris Goforth. Goforth reminded all that the primary election is May 24 and that the deadline to register is April 26.

     KWN will host another debate at its North Main studio at 6 p.m. on May 21. KWN's Evan Stone said the station would reach out to candidates absent from the April 16 debate to attend the second one. 

 

 

 

 

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