Candidate for circuit court judge Jim Deal said he wants to be able to work with families and has experience as an attorney for the Clay County Welfare Department and in the prosecutor's office.
Candidate for superior court judge Bob Pell said he has experience from his private law practice, judge of the circuit court, domestic violence cases and the prosecutor's office.
Superior Court Judge Blaine Akers, running for re-election, said he has served in his position for 13 years. He said he has good work ethic and a family dynamic, as well as an acute awareness of what's happening in the community.
The candidates were asked their opinions on the COPE program, an out-of-school suspension program that requires expelled students to be supervised as they do their homework and then spend the rest of the day doing community service. The program's goal is to keep students off the streets and give them an appreciation for school and education.
"I think it's been one of the greatest programs that we've had," Akers said. "We've seen a decrease in the amount of students being expelled, being in trouble because the light starts to turn on in their head."
Pell agreed with Akers.
"It is extremely important," Pell said. "I think it's a great program, and I'm all in favor of it.
Deal said he couldn't speak to the effectiveness of the program because he hadn't seen the numbers.
"I like the concept of it," Deal said. "I like the idea. I think it could maybe even be tweaked some more where we could have part of their community service attuned to the schools so they can be giving back to the schools rather than always taking from them."
Mediator Tyler Fischer asked the candidates, "With the drug problem in our community, what would you propose to do to solve this problem?"
Deal said as a judge, you don't get to participate in the prevention of the problem, but rather the punishment.
"I think part of the judge's responsibility is to make sure our laws are fairly enforced," he said. "That helps send a very strong message to everyone that you need to be ready to do the time that's required because of your crimes."
He said education is important, but "when it comes time to hand out sentences, I think the judge has to be able to hand out the sentences required by law."
Pell said it is an extremely difficult line to walk for someone who is simply an addict compared to someone who is a danger to society. He said everything is a case-by-case basis, and he feels both sides should be listened to fairly.
Akers said the drug problem could never be solved.
"It's too big," Akers said. "It doesn't mean it can't be addressed, but the word was solved. The place to start is with the individual, at that home. There are various factors as to why someone gets into a drug situation. The only place it is going to be solved is with the individual, when they finally decide, when they finally burn out."
He explained therapeutic programs help those who progress through the system.
"I could throw the key away and spend thousands of money on jails and all types of intricate programs, but that's not going to do it," he said. "The therapeutic programs are trying to change (the offender's) mind and make them understand they have got to get themselves out of that environment."
Deal responded by explaining he is a volunteer at the House of Hope.
"I've seen the change in people's lives that have been affected by drugs, so I'm not opposed to change," he said. "But I think you have to get them at a position first where they are ready to change, and that comes in the end after they've been through the hard parts."
Meanwhile, the candidates for Clay County Commissioner were asked how they would manage the limited resources in order to maintain the county's infrastructure and buildings.
Candidate Tony Fenwick said the most critical things should be done first.
"I think we need a plan," he said. "We need to sit down with the superintendent of the roads and the commissioners and set up a plan, know what we are going to be spending the money for and what man hours we'll need and what materials we'll be using for that year."
Current Clay County Commissioner President Charlie Brown said he agreed with Fenwick.
"We do have a comprehensive plan," Brown said. "We do sit down with the superintendent. Right here in front of you is a two-year plan I've been working on. But there's no way to know if a crisis may happen, like the ice storm of last year -- we're still catching up on that, it threw our budget completely off."
Brown said material alone for asphalt cost $44,000 per mile, for chip and seal the materials cost $15,000 per mile and white rock costs $2,300 per mile. He said there are 700 miles of road in the county and 1,400 miles of ditches.
"We have to maintain it with what we have," he said. "In two years, we've cut the county highway budget by $800,000. One year, we weren't even allowed to buy any equipment. We are trying to do the best we can with what we have."
Candidate Mike Wilkinson said he also agreed a plan was needed.
"I think the people that are moving need to move in a guided direction," Wilkinson said. "We need the berms cut off before the ditches are done. I think the people should be accountable. On the website of the county, it should show what roads are being done and what roads are being taken care of. The efficiency, in my opinion, is not there. It needs to be done in a more guided manner."
Current Commissioner Jack Withers, who is running for re-election, said the entire issue revolved around the wheel tax.
"If the wheel tax doesn't pass, you'll continue to drive on the types of roads that you're on right now," he said. "I don't like to see taxes passed anymore than anyone in this room. Another issue is the money is not there. One gentleman said there is money there to fix these roads -- that's not true."
Candidate Bryan Allender said the number one priority is ditching and berms before the roads can be fixed.
"I see a lot of times, we haul rock to the county garage and back," Allender said. "Some things I see need to be changed, on how they are doing stuff like wasting fuel. We are spending too much money going back and forth and not getting anything done on roads."
Fischer asked the next question, "Would you consider turning some county roads back to gravel?"
Allender said, "Right now, they are about gravel. What they need to do is if you're going to chip and seal or asphalt, we need to use real asphalt." He said what is being used doesn't hold up due to the weather conditions.
Withers said he gave the OK for two roads in his district to go back to gravel.
"They are the best roads in Clay County, the only thing is they are dusty," he said, explaining he doesn't like to turn the roads to gravel, but it is sometimes the best option when you don't have the funds you need.
"Sometimes you have to do things that aren't very popular," he said.
Wilkinson said he thought a lot of the roads would need to be turned back to gravel, but if they could get the drainage issues worked out they could save the good roads they have now.
"If we can black top one mile of road, let's black top it," Wilkinson said. "That's one mile we don't have to go back to later."
Brown said he didn't want to go back to gravel roads.
"We have to maintain our current infrastructure," he said. "I don't want to turn one more road to gravel, but you don't have a choice. You have to maintain the road, until you can come up with a solution."
Fenwick said he agreed, and they can only budget so much.
"I don't see how we have a choice but to go back to gravel," Fenwick said. "If we don't have the budget, we have no choice."