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Let Them Talk Forum Minute

by Brittany Mollis

Winston-Salem Chamber holds 2014 Candidate Forum

brittany@yesweekly.com

The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce held the 2014 Candidate Forum downtown last week. Four of the five candidates running for seats in the Forsyth County Commissioner’s race attended the forum, as did all three Republicans running for sheriff.

DISTRICT A CANDIDATES

Current Commissioner Everette Witherspoon and opposing candidate Donald Scales attended the forum to speak to the public about the issues that were most important to them.

Commissioner Walter Marshall, the third candidate running in District A, did not attend the forum, but YES! Weekly was able to get his input on some of the issues discussed.

Scales, a lifelong resident of Forsyth County, admitted that he doesn’t have as much political experience as his opposition, but he is passionate about Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

Scales pointed out that he is an active volunteer in the community, and he thinks he is the best candidate because he is committed to the people.

“I am committed to listening, and I am committed to studying,” Scales said.

Scales believes that Forsyth County’s biggest issues that need to be addressed are property taxes and affordable homes.

“If we can bring more people in, we will see things like more revenue,” Scales said.

Scales also said that he believes in collaboration and conversing with the people.

“More people should get involved,” Scales said.

“More people means bringing more ideas.”

Commissioner Witherspoon said that the future of Forsyth County depends on job creation, education and health care. Unlike Scales, Witherspoon doesn’t believe that taxes trump everything else.

“Having the lowest tax rate doesn’t necessarily mean having the lowest poverty or unemployment rate,” Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon openly called himself a liberal, and said that the Board of Commissioners is currently too conservative with money.

“We are very conservative right now,” Witherspoon said. “We have to invest.”

Some of the investments that Witherspoon mentioned have to do with the education system. He pointed out that when businesses look to branch out to different parts of the country, they will look at the area’s education system as one of the deciding factors.

Witherspoon said that developing an early college or a middle college would be a wise investment for the county.

Witherspoon also said that he was an advocate of the Nurse-Family Partnership due to the high infant mortality rate in Forsyth County.

“I am a fighter,” Witherspoon said. Commissioner Marshall was elected into office in 1997. Even after 17 years as commissioner, he is ready for another term.

Marshall believes that Forsyth County’s top priorities should be the economy, budget and more transparency in government when it comes to issues like zoning. He also believes that it is time for governments to start working more collaboratively.

“It shouldn’t be county versus city,” Marshall said. “We all share one county. We’ve grown (together) a little bit, but there is still work to do.”

Marshall cited a quote by Hubert Humphrey to sum up his idea of government.

“The moral test of government is measured by the way it treats those at the dawn of life, the children; the shadows of life, the poor and needy; and the twilight of life, the aging.”

At the forum, the candidates were asked about the length of time it takes for the Board of Commissioners to “get the ball rolling” on certain agenda items, alluding to the idea that projects should be taken care of in a quicker manner. Marshall agreed that the library project should not have taken as long as it did.

“There were conservatives who didn’t favor it, and it was delayed because of it,” Marshall said. “We are one person away from having an objective government.”

Marshall believes that in order to run a successful government, the citizens must be put first.

“The government should exist to serve the people,” Marshall said. “I just enjoy helping people, and they recognize that.”

DISTRICT B CANDIDATES

“This is a job interview,” Commissioner Mark Baker said.

Commissioner Baker believes that the top priority should be making Forsyth County a “business-friendly county.”

His approach to helping businesses is to make sure that the government isn’t in their way.

“We have to ask ourselves ‘what is the ultimate goal of the government in business,'” Baker said. “And then we have to ask what the county is doing to get in their way.”

While Baker believes in a more “hands-off” approach, opposing candidate and former superintendent of the Forsyth County School System, Don Martin, thinks it is important for the government to invest in business.

Martin believes that more money should be invested into programs such as Winston-Salem Business Inc. so that new businesses will be more inclined to choose Forsyth County as a home.

“We should use incentives while we have to,” Martin said.

While Martin is more interested in bringing new business into Forsyth County, Baker is more interested in doing more with the businesses that already occupy the county.

Both men have been important figures in the Forsyth County Education system for many years, so it is no surprise that they are passionate about education. During their time in education, they both say that they have learned to “ask good questions.”

Martin was quick to point out that the schools need efficient technology. Currently only 22 schools in the county are equipped with the right technology, and 58 schools are lacking the right technology.

When the issue of timeliness in regards to the Commissioners moving forth with projects arose, Baker defended the commissioners.

“Commissioner Linville always lets everyone have their say,” Baker said.

He also said that it was important to be conservative and that the board takes their time with issues because they don’t want to make a mistake with people’s money.

Martin brought up the library project, and said that it was “inexcusable” that the project has taken so long.

“It was passed four years ago, and we just now selected an architect,” Martin said.

SHERIFF CANDIDATES

The commissioners weren’t the only ones in the hot seat last Tuesday evening. The three Republican candidates for Forsyth County sheriff occupied the stage to answer questions about what makes a good sheriff.

“We have reduced serious crime by 38 percent since I took office,” said Sheriff Bill Schatzman. Schatzman was first elected in 2002, and he is ready for a fourth term.

“I have been honored and privileged to work with the fine men and women in the sheriff’s office,” Schatzman said.

Schatzman, a former FBI agent, is running against Dave Griffith and Clifton Kilby. Griffith is running his second campaign after losing to Schatzman in the 2010 election, and Kilby is running his first campaign for any political office.

Both Kilby and Griffith are former employees of Sheriff Schatzman.

Griffith is a retired chief deputy U.S. Marshal, and he also served as Forsyth County’s chief deputy. Kilby is a former Forsyth County deputy as well as a former military police officer.

Both men are ready for change. “This sheriff has failed,” Griffith said. “There is a lack of leadership, a lack of cooperation with task forces. Our children are at risk today.”

Griffith said that if he is elected sheriff, he plans on starting a sheriff’s advisory panel. It will be made up of individuals that can help a sheriff make good decisions based on the needs and wants of the public.

He also said that he would look into having a quarterly town hall meeting in an effort to be available and accessible to the public.

Kilby believes that if Forsyth County is going to get safer, the sheriff’s department and city police officers have to address the amount of break-ins and the county’s drug problem.

“He (Schatzman) says that the crime rate is down 38 percent, but not exactly,” Kilby said. “It depends on how it (the crime) is reported.”

Kilby believes that it is important for the sheriff to get out of the office and onto the streets.

Schatzman acknowledged that there is room for improvement in the sheriff’s department, but he pointed out that his staff is limited, making it difficult to keep up.

“The drug issue is primarily in the city, and gang violence is a concern,” Schatzman said. “All issues are being addressed with the manpower that we have. We need more manpower.”

Griffith and Kilby both criticized the sheriff for lack of manpower, claiming that is the sheriff’s fault for letting good employees go.

When asked if the sheriff’s department and the Winston-Salem police department should join forces, Schatzman and Kilby both said that it is important that there is strong communication between the two, but they should remain separate.

Griffith thinks a merge of the two forces would be a good idea given the fact that it has worked so well in places like Jacksonville.

“And it will save the taxpayers money,” Griffith said. !

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