Six of eight District candidates attend Q&A forum at Henleyfield

Published 1:20 am Sunday, October 24, 2010

Responding to questions from about 50 residents gathered here at the community center on Thursday night, six of the eight candidates seeking the District Two supervisor seat, currently held by interim supervisor Joyce Culpepper, showed up to participate in a question-and-answer session.

Culpepper is the widow of the late supervisor Charles Culpepper, who died in office of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 23. Supervisors appointed his widow interim District Two supervisor on Dec. 2 until the Special Election could be held in conjunction with the Nov. 2 General Election, only 10 days off.

The purpose for the Special Election is to fill the remainder of Charles Culpepper’s term, which ends on Dec. 31, 2011.

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The six candidates differed only slightly on their responses, all six saying they supported consolidating the county’s three separate school districts into one county district with three high schools if it would save tax money. They said supervisors could have input in the process but that authority to make the change would come through the state legislative process.

They clarified the issue, saying they favored consolidation of the administrations only, not the schools themselves, and at least two, Rafe Smith and Kent Dunn, said they needed further study on it before making a final decision on how they stood on the issue.

Candidate Joe Knezevich proposed putting a nonbonding resolution on a ballot next year and asking PRC voters how they feel on the issue. Knezevich said that the results, if favorable, could be used by legislators who represent the county in the State Legislature to push a measure through allowing for and helping consolidation.

He said consolidation has to be done through the legislature. He said that a strong school superintendents’ state association would oppose it.

The six attending were Culpepper, Dunn, Knezevich, Rafe Smith, Sidney A. Woodson and Daryl Smith.

Culpepper has worked 30 years at Movie Star, Dunn manages Delta World Tire, Knezevick is a retired engineer, Rafe Smith owns a construction company and Star Cafe in Poplarville, Woodson is retired from the Fish and Wildlife Service and runs a private consulting firm, and Daryl Smith is a City of Picayune department supervisor.

Not attending were Rayford Lee and Keith Stines.

The session was sponsored by the Henleyfield Community Center board of directors, known as Henleyfield Community, Inc.

The eight candidates face off in a Special Elections being held in conjunction with the Nov. 2 General Election. There will be candidates on the ballot for Fourth District congressman, a number of judges elections and a Pearl River County school board election. District Two registered voters will vote, in addition to the General Election candidates, for supervisor. The District Two race will not be on the ballot for the rest of the county.

District Two stretches from Picayune to the Lamar County line, covering mostly the western section of the county. There are approximately 6,000 voters living in the district.

All the candidates had a comment on school district consolidation, a question from the audience.

Knezevich: “It will be one of my three main goals. Desoto County has eight high schools and 22 elementary schools, and they have one superintendent and one school board that runs the school system. If they can do it there, why can’t we do it here? Of course, it will have to be done through the State Legislature. I have talked to Herb Frierson, and he is for it, but it is very difficult to get through the State Legislature.”

Culpepper: “I am for it. We should look into it, and have one board elected, and maybe the superintendent should be elected, too. We are going to be addressing that issue. It is something that has come before us.”

Rafe Smith: “I think I am for it right off hand, but I have not fully decided. I want to talk to more of the people and see what they want before I decide definitely.”

Dunn: “I think I am for it, but I am not 100 percent sure. I have talked to some people about it and they say it can’t be done. As supervisor I would take a look at it. If it would save us money, I am for it.”

Daryl Smith: “If we are talking about consolidation of administration, I am for it. My wife is a school teacher and we have discussed this many times. In fact, school districts are already being consolidated throughout the state. I think we have gone from 150 to 100. I do believe it should be done; it can be done; and in the next 10 years I believe you will see it done.”

Woodson: “I am definitely for it. I am for anything that will make the school system more efficient and save money. I can’t say exactly what I would do on this right now, but that would be one of my top issues that I would research, and I believe I could make the right decision with the proper information. We would also have to check with the state and see what we can do.”

All six candidates also cautioned about refusing state and federal funding, but their response on the issue verified slightly. Some groups have said that is the way the state and federal government controls residents and local counties through mandates, mostly tied to grants.

However, the six candidates were cautious on the issue. They all said they would look at the grants and funding from the state more closely, but most said they realized that weaning local government off state and federal money would be hard to do and take years.

On refusing state and federal funds to maintain more local control:

Woodson: “I for one don’t see how you can do it. I for one am waiting to see how those who want to take the government out of government are proposing to do it. You can be conservative and save money, and we should.”

Culpepper: “Actually, I don’t think you can do without some state and federal money.  The schools, hospitals, roads and bridges, county government offices, all get state and federal money. Without state and federal funds, we would have to raise local taxes three to four times more than what we pay right now.”

Knezevich: “This building right here (the Henleyfield Community Center outdoor facility) is an example of what citizens can do without government money. We need to get back to our roots, constitutional government. Originally, the counties were the local government and collected taxes and gave some to the state and the state gave some to the federal government. That is all now upside down and backwards.”

Rafe Smith: “I think we should keep taxes as low as possible, but there are certain things that have to be funded, like the sheriff’s dept. I think anyone who takes money from the county, should have to show us where they spend it.”

Dunn: “I don’t know that we could get by without state and federal money. However, we need to make sure that something we don’t want, like Smart Growth, for instance, is not attached to the money we are receiving. We should find out what you the people want, and then make the decision, not what just five supervisors want; what you the people want is most important.”

Daryl Smith: “We cannot get off of receiving state and federal money cold turkey. But once you control spending, live within your means, then you can control property taxes and the money you need. Our property taxes are high because we have been living above our means. It can be done but it will take a while to do it. You first have to control spending.”

The six candidates also all said they would seek more ways to attract industry. Daryl Smith said that “Partners” should be revived, which was defunded by county and the county’s two cities. “I personally know they brought in some jobs when they were in existence,” he said.

Rafe Smith and others said they would cut back on building fees to encourage more home building in the county. They also said they would ease building codes to encourage more home construction. All agreed on looking at easing fees and codes to spur more building.

They also said they would try to pave more roads, would be accessible to the taxpayers with problems and would work at the job full-time.

If nobody gets a majority of votes cast on Nov. 2, that is, 50 percent plus one, the top two will run off the election three weeks later on Nov. 23.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 2.