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‘God’ motto forum fodder

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By Damon Lawrence

Candidates running for District 1 County Commission and Board of Education got a chance to discuss their platforms and other issues during a forum on Thursday.

The forum was hosted by Rockwood 2000 at city hall.

Ron Berry, Barry Cofer, Roberta Dennis, Benny East, Wade McCullough, Darryl Meadows, William Bud Strader and Billy Wright are vying for District 1’s three commission seats.

East and Strader didn’t participate in the forum.

The candidates were asked about putting the motto “In God We Trust” on the Roane County Courthouse.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s come at a time when it has, at election time,” Berry said.

The resolution was filed by District 2 Commissioner Randy Ellis. He’s one of nine candidates vying for three commission seats in that district.

Berry and some others on the commission have accused Ellis of introducing the resolution to help his re-election chances. He denies those allegations.

The resolution, which is on the agenda for today’s commission meeting, doesn’t detail the size or material that will be used for the motto.

“We don’t yet know what kind of sign we’re going to put up or anything about it,” Berry said.

Cofer said he supports putting the motto on the courthouse if it’s done in a respectful way.

Dennis said she wouldn’t be offended by “In God We Trust” on the courthouse.

“Yes, we might get sued by these liberal organizations,” she said. “So what?”

Meadows said he thinks it’s unfortunate the issue has become political.

“I would support it,” he said. “If it’s good enough for our currency, if it’s good enough for the Supreme Court building, I think it’s good enough for our courthouse.”

Wright said he wouldn’t have a problem voting to put the words on the courthouse.

“I think we should be able to put it any place that it wants to be put and whoever wants to put it,” he said.

East and Berry, the two incumbents in the District 1 race, will have a chance to vote on the resolution.

McCullough wasn’t present when the “In God We Trust” question was asked. He serves on the school board and arrived late because the board had a meeting on Thursday.

The candidates were also asked about the responsibility of a county commissioner.

“The main thing for us to do is to set the property tax, and then to disperse those funds to the proper departments,” Berry said.

Berry wanted to add more, but he was cut off due to a one-minute time limit on answering questions.

Cofer said commissioners shouldn’t serve an agenda.

“You want commissioners that are open-minded — that are there working to better Roane County,” he said.

Dennis said she agreed with Berry’s answer.

“However, the problem that I have is a lot of the money gets diverted,” she said. “There’s so much corruption. Various departments are worse than others, and we don’t have a handle on it.”

McCullough said the commissioners work together to govern Roane County with other elected officials.

“The financial aspect of county commission is your primary function,” he said.

Meadows agreed that the primary role of a commissioner is to set the tax rate and allocate funds.

“You have some other issues that you have to comply with,” he said. “You have to comply with the state guidelines, the federal guidelines, so sometimes we would have to spend money we don’t really want to, but are sometimes forced to.”

Wright said commissioners are charged with spending money in a proper and fair way.

“It’s your money,” he said. “People right out there tonight are the ones we work for.”

Early voting starts on Friday and runs through Aug. 2. Election Day is Aug. 7.

District 1 encompasses the Glen Alice, Eureka, Rockwood Ward 1 and Rockwood Ward 2 precincts.

The candidates running for District 1 school board are Larry Brackett, Sam Doughty and John C. Evans.

Brackett and Evans participated in the forum.

One of the questions they were asked had to do with expanding vocational programs in the high schools.

“Everyone does not go to college,” Brackett said. “Everyone can’t go to college, but everyone does need to learn a trade and have the opportunity to learn a trade.”

Evans agreed with Brackett that not all students are headed for college.

“We need the county commission and our other elected officials to work to help provide jobs for these people,” he said. “Then the trade education becomes even more important.”

Brackett and Evans were also asked if they support higher salaries for teachers.

“My opinion of teachers and the jobs they do, I think it’s one of the easiest jobs probably to do poorly and it’s one of the hardest jobs to do well,” Evans said. “Those teachers that are doing it well deserve a decent wage.”

Brackett said he needs more information about the issue.

“I’ve not really studied teacher salaries, so I’m not going to sit up here and say I don’t want to give them a raise,” he said. “I’d really have to study that.”