Candidates state their case at Lions forum

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Cedar Key Lions Club brought out its best desserts, coffee, tea and water and the local candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot made their best pitches for election to about 100 people in a political forum hosted Sept. 25 by the Lions.

While there were few questions from the audience, each candidate had the opportunity to talk for a preset time. All pledged to do a good job, said they were qualified and identified their deep connections in Levy County. 

Robin Chancey said the Levy County Commission voted recently to raise the fire assessment from $40 per property to $100 and asked the candidates for county commissioner what their position was on the issue.

John Meeks,  candidate for Commission District 1, said, “Maybe we need to revisit that.” Meeks said he was interested in looking into possibly breaking the county into five fire districts. “That would allow to manage (them) for less money.” He said he also did not understand why the Rosewood fire station was being staffed.

Meeks opponent, Jamie Griffin, said, “I am never for raising taxes.” He said he understood the commission was trying to assure everyone bears the burden if supporting fire protection, but the increase was too much. “I'd vote for maybe $20 more.”

Al Macri, candidate for Commission District 3 said, “I don't want to see taxes go up.” He said he understood the current commission's thinking that an assessment is paid by everyone to fund the fire department,”But I don't think that's the proper way.” The fire protection has been financed by an assessment as well as property taxes, which Macri aknowledged some folks do not pay due to exemptions.

Scooter Joyner, son of District 1 Commissioner Mike Joyner who is opposing Macri in the District 3 race, said he would like to get Chancey's contact information and have his father speak to her in person. The younger Joyner spoke because his father was out of town at training.

The other two inquiries from the audience concerned the residency of sheriff candidate Lee Sullivan who faces Bobby McCallum in the race.

Doris Michael asked, “Is it true you don;t vote int his county … do not pay taxes in this county?”

Sullivan said it is true he does not vote, reside or pay property taxes in Levy County.

His answer was followed by a quick question from another person asking if he would live in the county. 

Sullivan said state law requires the sheriff live in the county and he plans to move to Levy from Marion County if elected and before the January deadline to do so. Earlier in his speech, Sullivan said he grew up in Chiefland, the hometown of his opponent, and recounted how he had a job loading watermelons at one time. He said he worked in the county jail for Levy Sheriff Pat Hartley. He moved to Marion County to become a road deputy after Hartley said he did not have any openings for a road deputy. He has worked in Marion County Sheriff's Office for over 20 years. Ten years ago he returned to school and has earned bachelor's and master's degrees.

His opponent Bobby McCallum also stressed his Chiefland roots and his education, including bachelor's and master's degrees. He also mentioned his 30 years experience in law enforcement and working for four Levy County sheriffs. “No one else has that experience,” he said. “I want to be your sheriff and have prepared myself for this time.” 

County clerk, incumbent Danny Shipp said he has become state certified for the job and is bringing the office up to date with electronic and online records. “I meet and exceed the audit requirements,” he said, referring to his office's annual financial check-up.

His opponent Wilbur Dean said his experience as a farmer and on soil and water agencies would help him to be a “financial watchdog” of public money. “I know how important it is to serve you.”

Incumbent School Superintendent Bob Hastings mentioned he has spent a lifetime training for his job and is a third generation Levy County educator. Hastings time have been hard due to the economic recession, but the county system has weathered it under his leadership.

Cindy Roach, a retired educator and former teachers' union president, said her experience would serve her well. She upbeat, promising that despite hard times  “we will make (schools) better and stronger.”

School board candidate Chris Cowart mentioned his daughter attends school in Cedar Key, his volunteer, teaching and business experience and his chairmanship of the Levy County Schools Foundation. “I have visited every school and the issues are different from one side of the county to the other,” he said. 

His opponent Kyle Quincey said he is an educator who has administered the FCAT, taught history and social studies, and worked in Exceptional Student Education — an expertise that is needed. He said county schools have a fairly large population of ESE students. “You can't replace experience folks,” he said.