In the race for county commissioner District 1, challenger Kevin Walker and incumbent Lannie Brant participated in a virtual candidate forum Sept. 16. The forum was hosted over Zoom by the grassroots effort to Get Out the Vote and moderated by Tanya Glazebrook, one of the original members of the Get Out the Vote Team.
Candidates answered a variety of questions along with their opening and closing statements. The hour-long forum can be watched online here. The Tribune & Georgian is publishing a synopsis of the forum that includes a timestamp for each question.
7:40 — Given the mostly rural geographic nature of District 1 concerns have been expressed that accessibility to services continue to be a challenge for many residents. What role should the commission play in alleviating those concerns?
Walker — “The role that really needs to be played is that everyone that resides in the district and Camden County as a whole should be accessible whether it’s by first-responders or by our school system as far as school buses. There should be some type of accessibility and maintaining our roads and avenues and ways to get to those that we sort in this community.”
Brant — Most county departments have online functions and the county offices are in Woodbine.
“It’s not an issue if you have modern technology, a cell phone or whatever to go online and find whatever you need to do as far as information. You can actually register for things. You can pay bills online now. All of this has been installed in the last few years.”
9:30 — Infrastructure is a major responsibility of county government and that requires constant attention and funding. Where do you see the strengths and weaknesses in the county infrastructure?
Brant — The county has many strengths. The biggest weakness is dirt roads and things like that. Having a master drainage plan would help during wet times like this. Roads in District 1 have been paved and repaved. During my term, District 1 has gotten $5 million in improvements.
Walker — District 1 has lots of dirt roads and low lying areas, putting those who live on dirt roads at a disadvantage. Creeks are riding through different areas where there isn’t drainage maintenance and that water is backing up on people’s property. I think that’s something that we need to work on.
12:30 — Which roads do you think need more attention?
Walker — Those with high volume of traffic — not roads where one person lives — Kinlaw, Tarboro. Many of those dirt roads that aren’t accessible during those times. Some people can’t get in and out. I think that’s something that we have to work on.
Brant — Any county-owned dirt roads
15:20 — The Spaceport Camden project has both ardent supporters and outspoken critics. … As the commission continues to expend taxpayer funds, some residents still question whether the commission has or should have a timeline as to when the investment dollars must end if success is not imminent. How do you respond to those citizens?
Brant — I’m an ardent supporter. “They talk about the money. OK, let’s look at it this way. We also fund the JDA. What has the JDA done in the last 10 years? $10 million, and what did we accomplish through the JDA? Nobody complains about that.”
There’s a company that wants to bring 200 to 500 jobs to spaceport.
“If we don’t know something within the timeframe that the feds have told us, you have to re-evaluate but stopping now, we lose everything and that would be a big mistake.”
We’re supposed to get a definitive answer in March. Camden isn’t looking to build infrastructure on the site, that’s for people who want to come here. A rough timeline would be 12 to 18 months.
Walker — “I believe that we need to have some transparency there. We need to know when we really need to cut our losses and take those funds and reallocate those funds to other needs in the community.”
We’re into the seventh or eighth year with spaceport planning, we need to know a definite cutoff date to stop exploring or test the site.
19:39 — There have been no final decisions from government officials about if a new regional airport is viable. Given the large amount of land available in District 1, do you believe constructing a regional airport would bring jobs and commerce if it were located in your district?
Walker — Would land be available? We don’t want it to be just for 10 jobs, our employment rate isn’t as high as it could be. I don’t really know where we would benefit from having an airport in District 1 and how would it affect the environment.
Brant — The only area that is suitable is northwestern Camden County and we have airports on Jekyll and Brunswick with competing airports.
“It’s not a dead issue but it’s a wounded issue at this time.”
24 — Budgets are tight every year and the impacts of COVID suggest that they could get even tighter in ’21 and ’22. If cuts were inevitable, where would you see the priority job or program eliminations? Or where would you redirect funds if they became limited?
Walker — I would redirect those funds to our local businesses because that’s who is being hit hardest, that impacts business owners and employees and helps to stimulate economy.
Brant — Should there have to be cuts, that would be a very difficult decision to make because we have to have public safety. I don’t see us having to do that. Camden County has no debt. That’s an amazing thing.
27 — Camden is a relatively large place with three city governments and a county government. Do you think the county is doing enough to work with the cities to reduce duplication to save taxpayer dollars?
Brant — We have the same fire chief as Kingsland. Public works could be a good one, tried a collaboration with maintenance and it didn’t work out. There are so many things, buying in bulk. You can buy a truckload cheaper than you can buy a pickup truck load.
Walker — Agree with Brant. I believe the county collaborates well and I think there is room for improvement.
29:50 — Would you support continued funding for the Woodbine library?
Walker — “I would definitely support that effort because it’s needed.”
Brant — “I’ve made motion the last two years to fund it.” I’ve donated to the library and cooked for a fundraiser.
33:30 — Some say that the governor’s decisions to call all the shots, if you will, regarding managing the pandemic left local officials’ hands tied, even though local officials usually know the community needs better than Atlanta does. Do you think local government officials should be given more flexibility or is it wiser to have consistency throughout Georgia?
Brant — I think that to a degree we need local control but with this one right here, I’ve got to go along with it. I think we need the control that we have.
Walker — I believe locally that we know our communities best. I was in full support of the governor, such as when he closed schools.
36:50 — Are you satisfied with how the county has been prioritizing SPLOST projects? If not, what would you do differently, recognizing that you only have one vote among five?
Walker — We have seen some things take place that have benefited the community. I just believe that some funds that are leftover, we can manage those funds to areas that we know need more improvement.
Often times, we see the SPLOST dollars at work signs. Going back to our infrastructure, are we really taking full advantage of SPLOST to fund those areas and improve those areas?
Brant — We have to get together with the cities to set Tier 2 projects for countywide issues. Then everyone decides where their money will be going.
“We try to utilize it to the best of our advantage.”
When SPLOST comes in lower, some things have to be put on hold, then we try to pick those up in the next SPLOST. We’re always trying to improve infrastructure. It would do my heart good to have every dirt road paved and it would be cheaper in the long run but it’s more than $1 million a mile to pave a dirt road. I think we’ve utilized SPLOST well.
40 — Are District 1 parks being maintained as well as they should be?
Walker — District 1 parks could definitely use a little bit more improvements and maintenance. There’s a park where there isn’t a rim on the basketball hoop.
“We want everybody to utilize it from the youngest to the oldest, so I believe with maintaining them, yeah, we definitely can use a little bit more improvement in those areas.”
Brant — I’m the chairman of the Public Service Authority (PSA) board (which manages parks and other recreational facilities).
“I’m not aware of a north end park that has been neglected. It is a slow process to bring everything up to grade. … Mr. Cason has really turned the situation around.”
The park has upgraded at Tarboro and put in a walking trail after seniors requested it. I know improvements are being made. There’s always room for improvements regardless of what we do.
46:15 — What do you think of the transportation issues and what role should the county have — if any — in dealing with transportation concerns?
Brant — We have the Coastal Regional Commission that runs eight or nine buses countywide but not for children to participate in recreational opportunities. Those buses help people get to doctor’s appointments, to court or other places. As far as the county supplying transportation, that’s going to be a long way off.
Walker — “Public transportation is very vital. I believe that we could have more access to it in our community.”
I think the commissioners should make transportation a priority if possible.
51 — What do you think the three greatest challenges that the commission will face in the next four years?
Brant — Working to support and get better jobs for Camden County, we’re talking about serious jobs with benefits. Infrastructure and drainage. The cities are also having flooding issues.
Walker — Budget, we definitely need some more accountability and integrity in managing those matters. Police reform and jobs to keep people in our community. We need more tech opportunities.
Brant asked for a rebuttal and Glazebrook agreed.
Brant — Camden County has won awards for its budgeting, so there is accountability.
Walker — Look what happened with PSA. We didn’t know where that money went. Kids have to pay fees to play on rec teams along with paying for shirts. So we need more accountability.
Brant — You’re talking about apples and oranges when you talk about PSA because the county doesn’t manage that budget.
Glazebrook interjected that Brant was correct about who manages the PSA budget and gave each candidate three minutes for a closing statement.