Last updated: May 08. 2014 12:22PM - 802 Views
By Karen Kissiah kkissiah@civitasmedia.com

Karen Kissiah | Cheraw ChronicleThe crowd of people anxious to hear what Chesterfield County political candidates had to say for themselves nearly filled the auditorium of Cheraw's Free Worship Center to capacity May 1.
Karen Kissiah | Cheraw ChronicleThe crowd of people anxious to hear what Chesterfield County political candidates had to say for themselves nearly filled the auditorium of Cheraw's Free Worship Center to capacity May 1.
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Interest in the Chesterfield County sheriff’s race may have helped draw a large crowd to the recent candidates’ forum at Cheraw’s Free Worship Center.

Four people running for sheriff — Jay Brooks, J.D. Dixon, Derrick Gordon and Raymond Wright — along with most of the candidates on the ballot for the June 10 primary participated in last week’s forum.

Candidates were given strict time limitations for their answers and the event was still more than two hours long. Leighton Bell was the mediator and asked questions solicited from the public, including inquires about crime, infrastructure, education and economic development.

The sheriff’s race has been at the forefront of many political conversations across the county for the last couple of months. There are now only five names on the ballot after former Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker was sent to prison last month on charges of embezzlement, furnishing contraband to inmates, and misconduct.

The sheriff’s candidates were asked what they would do to improve the image of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve come a long way in a year, thanks to Sheriff Lee,” said Brooks.

Brooks also said he couldn’t be surrounded by “yes men.”

“You have to put people around you that are smarter than you are.”

Dixon said that “change will come when we make the sheriff’s office transparent and hold the sheriff accountable.” Dixon reminded the audience of their voting power, to take any sheriff out of office after four years, if they’re not happy with his performance.

Improving the image of the sheriff’s office is “simple,” said Gordon. “If you see crime, you report it. I have no hidden agenda. I don’t owe anybody any favors.”

Wright said he would maintain an “open door policy.”

The participating Chesterfield County Council candidates included Al Johnson, Paul Brewer, Douglas Curtis, Todd Smallwood, Mary Anderson, and Bob Robeson. They were asked about the upcoming November referendum to add a one percent sales tax for specific infrastructure projects in the county. They were also asked if they would vote to raise taxes to handle infrastructure needs should the people fail to pass the referendum.

“As you may recall,” said Curtis. “I was one of the nay sayers. No sir, I’m a pay-as-you-go person.”

Smallwood said, “I don’t support any tax increases. I’m a conservative.”

Anderson said she would like to have more information on the proposed projects. “As a teacher, I know you don’t do anything without doing your research first.”

“I am absolutely, positively, against any tax increase, period,” said Robeson. “Folks are taxed to death.”

“I’ve never had a problem taking the vote to the people,” said Johnson. “If it (the referendum) fails, it fails. But no to taxes.”

Brewer took the opportunity with this question to ask voters to become more informed about the decisions council makes, and involved with the process of government. “You need to know what’s going on. You need to read the minutes.”

Most Chesterfield County residents vote in District 53 for the South Carolina House of Representatives. However, portions of Cheraw and Cash are in District 54. Anthony Waymyers spoke as a candidate in District 53. Patricia Hennigan and Fred Thomas faced off as candidates for District 54.

Each of these three candidates were asked to tell their personal reasons for seeking this office.

“All people matter,” said Waymyers, and all need representation.

Hennigan said that what matters most when it comes to getting funding for your county is “your zip code.” She also said, “I have a voice and I will use it.”

“I am committed and dedicated,” said Thomas. “I will be your voice in Columbia.”

The candidates for probate judge, Gail Ingram, David Huntley and Ralph Watson faced tough questions concerning current practices within Chesterfield County that call for the probate judge to hold what is commonly called “drug court,” a hearing to determine whether or not an addict or mental patient needs to be committed for rehabilitation.

Another political forum, sponsored by the African-American Ministerial Alliance is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 29, at the Cheraw Community Center.

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