Blackmur Library Candidate Forum: Part Two
WATER VALLEY – In the final political speaking before the Nov. 5 General election, 11 local candidates took turns at the podium during a political forum sponsored by Blackmur Memorial Library on Oct. 17. This is part two of Herald coverage featuring input from District Two Justice Court candidates Tommy Defer and Trent Howell, District One Supervisor candidates Mickell Dunn and Cayce Washington, District 4 Supervisor candidate Eddie Harris and District 8 Senate candidate Ben Suber. The candidates comments are reported in the order they spoke:
Defer won the Democratic nomination for District 2 Justice Court Judge in August and is an attorney in Water Valley. Defer reported he is a lifelong resident of Yalobusha County and has practiced law for 18 years.
He said about 75 percent of his job is criminal practice work.
“I guess that goes back to my father and me growing up here. Y’all know me, my father was Lloyd Defer and he was sheriff here for 20 years. You go right over here to Calhoun Street to the county jail and this is where I grew up. I grew up at the jail, I grew up at the courthouse, following my dad. I almost went the law enforcement route,” the attorney explained.
Defer said growing up, he watched how judges work in justice court, chancery court and circuit court.
“I remember in December, 1983, just before my dad took office, I can remember being in that courtroom watching justice court. Watching Justice Steve Riley, the man I am hoping to replace as our judge. He was conducting a preliminary hearing. Then when my dad was sworn in as sheriff, I would go with him to circuit court. I developed a love for the law and the practice of law,” Defer said.
The attorney said his experience includes serving as a prosecutor for both Oakland and Coffeeville and he currently serves as a municipal court judge in Coffeeville.
“I am proud to say in my lifetime, I can honestly say that I have been on every side in that courtroom. I have seen the law enforcement side, the prosecutor’s side, the defense’s side and the judge’s side. And the one out of all them that is the most humbling is being the judge. When I put that robe on, it doesn’t make me any more important than anybody else. Instead it makes me humble. I keep in my judge’s notebook a copy of the judicial oath that I took. That oath says very plainly that I will be faithful to the Constitution and laws of Mississippi. That I will administer justice without respect to persons, and that I will uphold the law and do equal right to the poor and to the rich. Every so often I take that oath out and look at it to remind myself of what I am supposed to do. Everything that can come through justice court, whether it is through the civil side or the criminal side, at one point in time in the last 18-plus years, I have handled it, I have tried it and I have done it, Defer said.
“I enjoy serving, it is a humble experience, and I humbly ask for your vote on Nov. 5 and I thank you for your vote in the past in the primary,” Defer added in closing.
Howell is an independent candidate for District 2 Judge. Howell told the attendees there are two main reasons he is running for Justice Court Judge, District 2.
“First is, I enjoy being a judge. Like Mr. Defer, I too am a judge. I have been the city judge in Water Valley for 20-plus years. I enjoy it. I enjoy working with law enforcement, I enjoy working with the court staff and I enjoy working with the people. I enjoy trying to make the system work, to see the system work is a special place for me. If I can be a part of that, it gives me a special feeling, to make this thing roll and see that justice is administered. A lot of times it is just a matter of sitting over as an arbitrator to help work out a dispute between the people,” Howell explained.
Howell said the second reason he is seeking the office is because he wants to give back.
“I am not just saying that, I really truly want to give back. Yalobusha County has been good to me and family. I have been living in this county, my family has lived here for 39 years and this county has been good to me. This is an opportunity for me to step up and give back and return some of that favor,” he said.
Howell shared that when he found out incumbent judge Steve Riley was not seeking re-election, he had some concerns.
“Because I like that position, I like to know that things are being done as they should be. I have felt and still feel a special obligation to do what I can, to do the best I can to see that position is fulfilled as it should be and things stay on track to keep on running smooth as they have in the past,” Howell explained.
In closing, Howell told the group he would appreciate their vote on Nov. 5.
Dunn is a Republican candidate for District 1 Supervisor. Dunn attributed his decision to run for office to concerns he has heard and observed during the current term of the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors.
“When this new election came up, new year, new set of officials, I wasn’t going to run. But several people came to me and talked to me about some concerns that they had. I said, ‘for your benefit I will run.’”
Dunn said the concerns shared with him are about the rules that have been enacted, the regulations that have been put in place including ordinances and new zoning restrictions the supervisors have put in place over the last four years.
“I said, if the people feel that those have been restrictive to them and wrong to them, I will run. And that is why I am running. If elected I promise the people that there will be no new rules, no new regulations, no new ordinances and no new zoning restrictions. If it is your land, you should be able to use your land. If you want to improve your land, we should not be, as a government, restricting you on how you want to improve your land. Improving your land helps us. That will bring in more taxes, more tax base and beautify the county and all those things,” Dunn explained.
The candidate also pledged that if elected, he will work to repeal any of the current restrictions and regulations that have been put on the people.
There are a few supervisors who have already been elected and they are going to assume the position in January. I have talked to them already, there are two of them, I would make three, and that would give the majority of the board power to do things that we want to do during the upcoming time,” Dunn continued.
Dunn also questioned the county notice published in the Herald, explaining that supervisors had lowered the tax in the county by .021 percent.
“I read the whole article, at the end it said this would mean an increase in your taxes of .8 percent. I was like, the headlines looks good they are going to decrease my taxes, but in the end it is an increase overall. I can’t promise you that we will roll back any of those increases, because that money has already been spent. What I will do for you is get in that budget and we will find out how not to increase it again over the next four years,” Dunn continued.
His final reason cited for running was a bridge in District 1 that was closed due to deficiencies.
“I will do my due diligence to get on these roads, these bridges, and do what is in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We still have a few roads in District 3, even on the map, that are impassable. If you drive down them, boy the map is right, they are impassable. They have been that way in the past, they have been that way over the last four years. If I am elected, I will do what is in my power to either make those roads so you can get down them and they will be passable. Or we will give those roads back up if we don’t need them.”
Washington is seeking re-election for a second term as District 1 Supervisor as a Democrat and will face Dunn on the ballot.
Washington shared that his motivation for running is his love for the county. He also shared his work history that includes working two jobs in his entire life, not counting his public service that includes 12 years as a trustee on the Water Valley School District and almost four years as a supervisor.
“I have held two jobs in my life, I worked in the meat department in Larsons and helped work at Larson’s for six years. I worked at a machine shop that is now Valley Tool, worked for the guy for three years, did owner financing and bought it and grew it to what it is today,” Washington said about his business that currently employees 152 workers.
“You say, ‘Cayce, why did you run, you have a full plate? You are growing a business, you have a family.’ Like what Trent mentioned earlier, I care about the community,” Washington explained.
“I ended up in this community. I have a good family, a good community, people who cared about me and gave me an opportunity to live the American dream right here in small-town Mississippi,” he added.
“I care about our community because so many people before me laid the path for us to do what we do today, like the industrial park, that was a vision by people way before me. I want to be a part of that for the people behind me,” Washington explained.
The supervisor also explained he is not running for the prestige or the income.
“It wasn’t because I need a county truck, I have a yard full of them. I say all that to say that is who I am as a person. What you have today is a proven history of what I have done. What has been mentioned today are some things that have been a little bit contentious. And I would argue they are valid points, because not everybody is going to agree on things. But it is what I felt is right for our county going forward. And I will continue to do things that I think will benefit our county, but I am only one of five votes,” Washington said.
The supervisor then shared some of the challenges the county faced during the last four years including a budget shortfall the first year he was in office.
To combat the shortfall, Washington, who serves as Board President, explained cuts were made including unmandated travel by county officials and relocating county offices. The office changes saves $78,000 annually, according to Washington.
He also said supervisors support law enforcement, citing a $50,000 increase for the sheriff’s department, as well as the libraries and EMS.
Washington also explained assessments on property in the county go up as value of property increases.
“Each year things go up, a house you may have built for $20,000 to $30,000 50 years ago is probably worth $80,000 to $100,000 today. So when we do the assessment, it brings the value up and we adjust the millage based on that. That is how the millage can go down but you are taxed more. My house is worth more today than when I built it and I pay a little more taxes. Speaking on that, my tax assessor shared with me that I am the seventh highest taxpayer in the county. So I understand taxes, I pay my share and my business pays its share,” he explained.
Washington acknowledged that there are some bridges out.
“That is a byproduct of years of things, that didn’t happen in four years. We do our road inspection, we lean on our engineer for that. Shame on me, when they lowered the weight limit (last year), they didn’t say we are going to close it next year. I worked on that, we are going to make it better going forward,” Washington said about the bridge inspection process.
“I have a work history with you and if I am not doing the job you want, I don’t want your vote. You are never going to hear that from anyone else. I am not a politician, I come to serve the people and make our county better. If I am not making it better, it is time to fire me. If I am doing the job, I would appreciate your vote on Nov. 5 and would like to continue to serve you,” Washington said in closing.
Harris is a Democratic candidate for Beat 4 supervisor and will face Republican candidate Curtis Hames.
“Why am I running for supervisor. Beat 4 is the worst beat in this county, just ride over it. Our roads are bad,” Harris explained.
Harris shared that he was born and raised in Coffeeville and worked for 28 years with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in another area of the state.
“After 28 years, I was coming back home. I have been back home 10 years in Coffeeville,” Harris said.
“It is just a shame the way that supervisors have been conducting business in Beat 4. We need some help, it is just a shame. Last week in the paper it was reported that another supervisor had to go over there and help do work. I promise you, I am going to do my job in Beat 4. Cayce may come and help me, but it is not because I am not going to be giving a 110 percent effort to get the job done,” Harris said.
He also said he has leadership skills.
“I work well with others, I get along with others. My motto is, ‘if you treat me right, I promise I will treat you right.’”
Harris also stressed that education is vital.
“Water Valley schools, Coffeeville schools, we have to make sure we put emphasis on education,” Harris said. This also includes providing vocational skills for the work force.
“You look around in Coffeeville, the plumbers, electricians and carpenters, we don’t have anybody. If I need my washer or dryer fixed, I have to call somebody out of Oxford or Grenada to get that. Why can’t we have young men or women in our community, train them in our community, who live in our community, work in our community and leave their money in our community,” Harris said.
“I will be a voice for Beat 4 and the county, trying to make this county a better place to live,” he continued.
Harris reiterated the importance of training the county’s workforce, which in turn will help recruit industry to the area.
Harris said he ran unsuccessfully in 2011 and decided not to run in 2015.
“When the time came to run again, somebody said ‘you have to run because we need some help.’ Ride over Beat 4, some of these roads. But a supervisor’s job is whole lot more than roads, I want you to understand that,” Harris said.
“We manage the taxpayers’ money and promise to do a good job with this money. But it is one thing I hate, to continue to raise taxes on my house, but you come through there and look at my road. It is a shame that as much taxes as I pay, I have to live on a road that tears up my vehicle. It does not make any sense,” Harris said in closing.
Suber is a Republican candidate for Senate District 8 and will face Democratic Kegan Coleman.
Suber pointed the challenges mentioned by candidates in the forum.
“We need some help,” Suber said about state leadership. Suber said that the western portion of the district needs representation.
“I am from Calhoun County, we haven’t had a senator over there in 50 years. This side of the district has not been represented,” Suber said.
He also said he currently works as an attorney.
“I was the last one to qualify, nothing against any candidate who qualified, but I just got to looking at the candidates and didn’t feel like we were going to get our representation,” Suber said.
Suber said infrastructure improvements are critical in the state.
“If elected, I will always maintain an office in this district and I am always going to be available to help,” he said.