One week before the combined Dade County-Trenton City Commission election, campaigning has reached fever pitch, with candidates screaming spit-frothed manifestos from every street corner, sign-carrying partisans fighting it out as local law enforcement struggles to stem the bloodshed, and the National Guard hard put to keep a frenzied populace from open riot.
Readers, your pardon is begged if, cheated of any real election drama, The Planet occasionally succumbs to the temptation of a small, bitter joke. In point of fact, this has been the quietest election cycle in The Planet’s long and sinful tenure. Vote For Me signs posted along downtown streets by the five candidates running for Trenton City Commission are virtually the only indication that Nov. 7 will be different from any other Tuesday in Dade County.
According to poll officials on Monday, only 259 residents, city and county combined, had so far availed themselves of the early voting hours offered by the Dade Board of Elections beginning Oct. 16. “We’re happy when people come in,” said poll worker Randy Atkins.
But such moments of joy are few and fleeting. This past weekend, the election office was open for its one Saturday voting date from 8 a.m. to noon. Precisely 14 people showed up. Poll workers speculated that the cold autumn rain that spoiled other community activities on Saturday was partially to blame for the miserable turnout.
Next Tuesday, Dade County residents will vote a local option sales tax up or down. The proposed TSPLOST—transportation special purpose local option sales tax—would increase the local tax on purchases from 7 to 8 cents and be spent on transit projects such as roads, bridges, sidewalks and, especially, a new I-59 exit north of Trenton.
Trenton voters, meanwhile, will decide whether to replace or retain two sitting city commissioners, and on top of that say yes or no to a referendum on liquor by the drink. It should be explained that Dade voted countywide to allow LBTD last November, but that the city requires a separate mandate from its own voters to make its liquor laws match the county’s. Currently Trenton has an ordinance permitting wine and beer only.
Taxes and booze are two issues that usually get the spit flying in these parts, but this year airborne saliva has been thin on the ground. In fact, if there has been any campaigning at all, whether for issues or for candidates, it has been done at a low enough frequency to elude The Planet’s eagerly pricked ears entirely.
So what’s a newshound to do, besides lay its muzzle between its paws and whine? Perhaps, speculated The Planet, it was only a platform that was lacking, from which the candidates might politick. So what was The Planet, chopped liver? Thus today, only seven sunsets separated from Election Day, The Planet offered itself to the candidates as a soapbox for last-minute campaigning.
The Planet first called candidate Don Hicks. Why should you be elected Trenton police commissioner? The Planet asked Hicks.
“I just think I’m the most experienced person running,” said Hicks, who has worked for 20 years in supervisory levels at the Dade County Sheriff’s Office and is currently chief investigator there. He has also worked as a narcotics officer and as a team member of a federal drug task force.
“Business as usual doesn’t always work year after year,” said the detective. “It’s been the same down there for about the last 25, 30 years. It’s time we got some new ideas.”
Such as? prompted The Planet. What about the current situation at the Trenton Police Department is being done wrong or needs changing?
But Hicks was quick to dismiss the idea he had specific complaints about the status quo. “I’m not down there,” he said. Nor did he offer any criticism of current management at the PD. “I don’t have gripes with anybody,” said the affable Hicks.
Not the stuff of killer headlines, but the newshound presently unpinned its ears from the sides of its head, unstuck its tail from between its legs and tried again. Why should you be elected Trenton police commissioner? The Planet next asked candidate John Taylor.
“Oh, I’ve always just wanted to be a commissioner,” said Taylor. “Now that I’m retired, I thought I’d like to run.”
Taylor, who retired from the Trenton Streets Department in June, was possibly even friendlier and more soft-spoken than Hicks, and had even less criticism of the other candidates.
“I like Don. He’s always been a friend to me,” said Taylor. “I like Sandra," he added, referring to Sandra Gray, the sitting police commissioner.
“I like everybody,” concluded Taylor as the newshound hung up, gave up, and puckered its lips for a long, plaintive session of high-pitched howling.
The Planet had pretty much abandoned the hunt and was sullenly examining its butt for fleas by the time Sandra Gray returned its phone call, but rallied enough to ask the sitting police commissioner why she should be reelected to her post.
Commissioner Gray stood on her record: On her watch, said the incumbent, the police department’s shooting range had been upgraded to a first-class facility; the PD had begun hosting and championing the regional Children’s Advocacy Center; the department had saved the city money by using SPLOST (sales tax) funds for some cars and equipment and money from drug seizures to pay for many of its needs. Drug seizure money had paid for Evo, the PD’s new K-9 officer, whose efforts are expected to generate yet more drug seizures, said Commissioner Gray.
She added that, most recently, the Trenton PD’s benefit motorcycle ride event this past Sunday had generated toys to be donated to the Dade Sheriff’s Office Christmas drive for children, as well as gifts for the PD’s own Silver Bell initiative for Trenton's senior citizens.
“I have been doing this for the past 20-plus years and I take pride in all the things we’ve accomplished during that time,” said the incumbent.
How many years was that exactly? asked The Planet.
Commissioner Gray could not say precisely, and explained why: Somewhere in the middle of her 20 to 24 years on the city commission, she had sat out one election, stepping aside while Don Smith ran for and won the police commission seat. But Smith was diagnosed with cancer during his term as commissioner. Tragically, he lost his battle with the disease and died in office. Ms. Gray was appointed to serve out his unexpired term, and decided to run again when it was up. “I’ve been running ever since,” she said.
Like the other candidates, Ms. Gray was cheerful, friendly and upbeat, with nothing negative to say about Hicks, Taylor or any other living creature on the earth’s surface, to the point that your long-suffering newshound gave up on the city beat altogether and slunk off the porch like the dog in Shane. The other commission seat up for grabs this year, parks and recreation/animal control, is also contested, but The Planet will here name the candidates, and leave it at that:
Incumbent Parks & Rec Commissioner Terry Powell is challenged by Kenny Jeffery.
This shot is from last year's countywide LBTD referendum. Anti-booze signs showed up in the last week before voting in 2016. This year? Nada.
As for the liquor-by-the-drink question, if one sign has sprung up anywhere, whether to protest Demon Rum or to champion Trenton’s emergence from the Blue Law era, The Planet’s keen reportorial eye has yet to espy it, nor The Planet’s trusty camera to capture it for the edification of its esteemed readers.
The sole issue before county voters, the referendum on TPLOST, is minimally more incendiary. No actual yard signs have sprouted up around the county but The Planet did notice an 8.5 X 11 home-printed sheet arguing against the new tax taped to a wall at one of the local grocery stores, as well as assorted and sundry vituperation on Facebook
Opposition to the new tax seems centered on the fact that it is: a new tax, of which Dade already has plenty of old ones, point out its opponents online and in person. Here citizen Joanne Reynolds is pictured at the last county commission meeting, telling the commissioners they should cut spending instead of creating new taxes.
TSPLOST has been notably popular with one subset of the citizenry: The Dade County Commission, which was of course instrumental in getting the referendum on this year’s ballot. County Executive Ted Rumley said commissioners are forbidden to campaign for TSPLOST as in buying advertising for it, but that everywhere he speaks in the community he takes the opportunity to talk up the measure. “If people understood what it will do, like actually lowering their property tax, they’d be in favor of it,” he said. “It’s a good thing.”
Rumley says from his viewpoint he sees about 50/50 support and opposition for TSPLOST. He thinks it will be a close vote, especially with the low turnout.
At the Dade County Board of Elections, poll workers say they see as many county voters there to vote for the one issue before them as they do city residents coming to vote for the commission seats and LBTD referendum.
But they were unable to pronounce on any perceived will of the voters on either issue. Candidates and partisans are forbidden from campaigning at or near the polls, and poll workers from being visibly interested in anybody else’s beeswax.
Anyway. Early voting at the Dade Administrative Building ends at 2 p.m. Friday. Election Day voting resumes there and at district precincts throughout Dade at 7 a.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and your faithful newshound will as shortly thereafter as feasible report the reports doggedly in these, the faithful chronicles of The Dade Planet.