A total of four county-level candidates answered questions the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau at the Clay County 4-H Fairgrounds. Several of the incumbent county-level candidates running unopposed in the May Primary Election also attended, but declined to answer questions, allowing those in contested races to spotlight their qualities and credentials.
The majority of questions to county-level candidates were directed toward the workings of the Clay County Prosecutor's Office, not toward the goals of Republican incumbent B. Lee Reberger and Democratic candidate Charles Hear. Republican candidate Robert (Bob) Pell was unable to attend the event, but prepared a statement which was read by Matt Huber.
Two of the questions aimed directly at Reberger inquired about why parents are charged a fee for students placed in the Court Ordered Placement for Education (C.O.P.E.) program and where that fee goes, along with where the money to pay trial deputies come from.
"The $15 fee per day they are in the program is to help pay the expense for supervisors with Clay Community Corrections taking the students for community service during the afternoons, but it does not cover the entire expense," Reberger said. "Students are still required to be in class in the morning, and they serve community service in the afternoon."
On the topic of trial deputy costs, Reberger emphasized the high case load, and the need for the prosecutor to also serve as a manager "of a very large law firm."
"The funding for the trial deputy come from the deferral fund, which is partially from those deferring traffic tickets," he said. "While defense attorneys may be granted a continuance, that option is not available to the state. Usually in any given week, there are 25 other cases with the potential to go to trial so the prosecutor has to make a choice -- either bring in a trial deputy or take on all the cases which have a priority to someone. Crime does not stop for a day so I can prepare for cases, and in some counties, they have seven deputies to assist with the case load."
Although the question was not directed toward him, Hear was given the opportunity to discuss his viewpoint on the number of methamphetamine cases and how he would deal with them.
"I have spoken with the Putnam County Prosecutor who said that any plea offer comes with a term of no less than 20 years," Hear said. "It is my pledge to make an offer of no less than 10 years incarceration when plea deals are being requested. It is time to play hardball and this would be my No. 1 priority if elected prosecutor because I am seeing the effect methamphetamine has had on the county."
Reberger said he wouldn't "commit, promise or pledge a flat sentence" in meth cases because each case is individual and "must be evaluated on its own merits."
The only other question asked during the county race portion of the forum regarded the County Council, District 3 candidates' position on county zoning.
Both Democrat incumbent Dolores Johnson and Republican Toni Carter acknowledged the topic is an issue facing the Clay County Commissioners, but said a plan would need to be in place for it to be effective.
"Clay County is one of the few counties in the state without a comprehensive plan, but it would be important to have in order to promote economic development," Carter said. "One of the first questions industries and businesses ask is if there is planning and zoning in place because they want to make sure the county will invest in them before they will invest in any county."
Four of the six candidates for the three available At-Large positions on the Clay Community School Board of Trustees -- Rob Miller, Barbara Nicoson, Ron Scherb and Leo Southworth -- were in attendance at the forum to introduce themselves. However, no questions were answered by them as none were provided by the public. School Board candidates Amy Adams and Philip Greenwell did not attend the forum
Check it out
Look for details of the questions answered by state and national-level candidates at the forum in Saturday's edition of The Brazil Times.