Sams Auditorium hosts first candidate forum of election season

Although disappointed by the small crowd of participants, Fayette county resident
Ellen Ulken said the 2014 Candidate Forum was a wonderful opportunity to hear the candidates’ last remarks before upcoming local elections.
“It’s the Democratic process at work in there. I think that they are all viable candidates,” Ulken said. “I wish there had been more of the public there to hear them.”
Held Saturday at the Sams Auditorium in Fayetteville at 11 a.m., the panel included:
Board of Commissioners (District 5), Pota Coston (Democrat) and Allen McCarty (Republican); Board of Education (District 4), Diane Basham (R), Ogechi Oparah (D) and (District 5) Leonard Presberg (D).
Presberg’s opponent Dean Dunton (R) declined to participate in the forum.
Ulken, along with a few others, stated that she already knows which candidate she’s voting for, however this forum sealed her decision.
Likewise, Edna Mikell, a Fayette resident for 8 years said, “I thought it was very informative, I was very impressed with the candidates. I have my favorites, I knew before I came, [who I would vote for] I just wanted to hear them make the presentation.”
The forum was moderated by renowned journalist and former National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent, Kathy Lohr.
All candidates were given a time limit of 2-minutes for opening and closing statements, and a minute to respond to prepared questions from both the committee and the audience.
The Board of Education candidates were the first group to be asked their stance on system issues, such as the English standard for Common Core, the possibilities of implementing charter schools, and the student-to-teacher ratio in Fayette County schools.
Board of Education candidate Ogechi Oparah mentioned in her opening statement that she is a direct product of Fayette County schools.
Being that she attended Fayette County Public Schools K-12, Oparah explained to the audience that her priority is giving students and parents hands-on experiences.
“They want internships, they want to be prepared for the world their going into. Let’s partner with Sunbelt Graphic Systems, let’s partner with ToonBoom, let’s partner with all these different companies…” she said.
Likewise, incumbent Board of Education candidate Leonard Presberg said his priority would be one in the same, “giving kids opportunities to use real life skills to do real things, whether that’s getting them out into the hospital to work with actual professionals or getting them into business and having them do engineering and manufacturing designs,” he said.
Post 4 candidate Diane Basham agreed that kids need to be prepared for the careers that are going to be created in the community.
Basham, a retired educator of 27 years in the Fayette County school system, highlighted the need for technology, but especially meaningful technology.
“We need to develop technologies and integrate them into curriculum. We need to bring our teachers and administrators, and people who are educated in technology to adequately train and make it meaningful,” Basham said.
Presberg prided himself in his opening statement for being the father of three children who are currently in Fayette County schools.
Providing the audience with this image of himself in the beginning of the forum, he later stated that his answers reflected the views of a parent, rather than a politician.
When asked his position on resource officers having access to weapons in schools, Presberg said that the officers that are in the high schools and middle schools are highly trained sheriffs and deputies.
“I think that the system that we have now with uniformed officers in our schools is working,” he said.
Along with Presberg, Basham and Oparah agreed that its comforting to know that students and staff are safe with armed resource officers in case of any incidents.
“I’m a firm believer that trained professionals have a need within our schools,” Basham said.
Board of Commissioners candidate Pota Coston was asked a similar question concerning her perspective on the revised law which expanded gun-carry rights in Georgia.
“Having a law enforcement background, it is the law at this current time, but pieces of it we need to take a look at and possibly tweak,” she said.
Coston stated that she believes weapons shouldn’t be allowed in certain public places, like bars and churches.
Serving as a law enforcement officer for 29 years, Coston also said she believes that law enforcement officers approaching cars, and individuals having weapons in cars can cause various safety issues.
Board of Commissioners candidate Allen McCarty responded, “I believe that what we got is a system that seems to be working pretty well. The Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to every citizen to be able to carry a firearm,” he said.
During his closing remarks, McCarty described himself as the ultimate people person, working for the people. McCarty explained to the audience that he’s trained in several jobs, now retired after 40 years in the broadcasting field.
He stated that serving his community has been the lowest-paying and most fulfilling, “I’m not a politician, I’m a citizen just like you.”
McCarty, along with the other four candidates, encouraged voters to make their voices count at the polls Nov. 4, and for early voting starting Oct. 13.

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