GOP candidates speak at forum

Apr. 20—EDITOR'S NOTE — This is the second in a two-part series related to Monday night's GOP forum. This story focuses on the candidates seeking the District 5 seat on the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners. The three candidates seeking the District 4 seat were featured in Wednesday's edition.

Two of the three candidates seeking the District 5 seat on the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners spoke at a political forum Monday night. They were joined by a third candidate's wife because he was unable to attend.

The forum was sponsored by the Baldwin County Republican Party and was held at Last Call Auction in Milledgeville.

District 5 incumbent Johnny Westmoreland and challenger Pam Peacock participated.

The third candidate in the race, Scott Little, was involved in a recruiting mission for an organization that he heads in Athens. His wife Julia was allowed by forum organizers to represent her husband and read from prepared notes.

The moderator for the event was Vikki Consiglio, who serves as the Georgia Republican Party finance chairwoman. She called the candidates in alphabetical order to speak.

Little went first. She was followed by Peacock and Westmoreland.

"Good evening everyone. Thank you for allowing me to speak on Scott's behalf," said Julia. "He does send his apologies to everyone here. He's currently in Athens, hopefully recruiting some new volunteers for Camp Dream, where he is camp director. It is a camp that supports kids and young adults with physical and deaf developmental disabilities."

She said her husband wanted to acknowledge Johnny Westmoreland's 12 years of service as a public servant and to thank him with a round of applause. The crowd then applauded.

"If you want to attend college or retire, then Baldwin County has you covered, but what about the space between those two book-ends," she said, reading from prepared notes. "What about those folks who want to build a life here? Our kids and grandkids who want to stay where they grew up to build, invest and contribute. What do we have to offer our youth if college is not for them, or worse yet, college isn't an option? Should they be denied the opportunity to find employment that allows them to raise a family within the county lines in which they grew up? I sure hope you don't think like that."

Little said that Baldwin County had failed to recover from the closing of Central State Hospital, Georgia Department of Corrections closures, Concord, Rheem, Shaw, Forstmann, and other industry closures.

"Are we being thoughtful enough preparing for the courtship of their replacement?," Little asked.

Little said there is an industrial site on Ga. Route 22 with no industry.

Little said for him it begs the question of whether "Joe CEO" is attracted to a site or the community around that site.

"I believe the latter," Little said. "Right now, I'm not confident how attracted Joe CEO would be when he looks at our infrastructure, our school system, our roads, our rec department and what we offer for kids, animal control issues, public safety, etc. so on and so forth."

Little said a lot of small picture items are crucial to the big picture.

He said when he looks at his 3-year-old daughter, he wonders where Baldwin County will be in 15 years.

"This is also the very thing that makes me unique to the other two candidates," Little said. "I have the ultimate skin in the game. The stakes are higher for me."

Little said in 15 years, he doesn't want to tell his daughter and other children to move away and go somewhere they can be successful.

The next candidate called to speak was Peacock.

She first thanked officials with the Baldwin County Republican Party for sponsoring the event.

Peacock and her husband, Terry, and their son, Will, have lived in Baldwin County for the past 19 years.

"I would like to share with you why I believe I am the best choice for commissioner of District 5," Peacock said. "To be effective in this position, I believe that one has to have excellent moral standards, a strong work ethic and professional work experience."

She said she began working as a teenager at a summer job and that she continued working part-time during high school and college.

Peacock graduated from Ogeechee Technical College with degrees in accounting and computer specialist.

"My work experience over the last 40 years has included positions in veterinary, retail, banking, mortgages, district attorney's office in Bulloch County, and 20 years in the farm credit system," Peacock said.

She said she prides herself on being reliable and dependent in her work habits and able to complete important work tasks independently or working with others.

"My principles of character were instilled in me from a very early age because my father spent 30 years in public service and law enforcement," Peacock said.

For several years, she has served as a community volunteer at the county animal shelter and later became one of the founding members of PAWS for Georgia.

She advocated for a better animal control shelter in the county and such eventually became a reality.

"While attending commission meetings, I began to learn about other business about our county of which I had concerns," Peacock said. "I watched as commissioners made decisions and voted on items or projects that would tremendously impact the spending of our tax dollars for county services."

Peacock said the SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) referendum is a hot topic among residents.

She said the change in scope and drastic cost increases on SPLOST projects have generated attention.

Peacock said the new county government complex was "a real eye opener."

She said she had spent many hours researching and requesting open records.

During the last five years, Peacock said she has been active in addressing commissioners at meetings on topics including poor road conditions, problems with trash, rising property taxes, problems with short-term rentals, lack of enforcement of county ordinances and procedures for county services.

Peacock said her platform as a commission centers on transparency and accountability.

Westmoreland, who recently celebrated his 77th birthday, is serving in his 12th year as a county commissioner and serves as chairman of the five-member board.

He is married to Janice Westmoreland, who serves as chairwoman of the Baldwin County Republican Party. The couple has made Baldwin County home for the last 20 years. They are both retired from Robins Air Force Base.

"I've heard a lot different talks tonight and things that some of y'all don't agree with that we've been doing in the past," said Westmoreland, who was born and raised in Macon.

Westmoreland remembered taking the oath of office for the first time on Dec. 20, 2012, by Baldwin County Probate Judge Todd A. Blackwell.

He recited that oath at the forum.

"It's been my honor and privilege to serve District 5 in Baldwin County for 12 years," Westmoreland said.

He said he is seeking re-election built upon the successes he has had throughout his tenure.

Westmoreland expounded on some of the projects that have been accomplished during his tenure.

One of them includes the renovation of the county courthouse. He also noted the new county government complex, the repurposing of the old county jail as the new county animal shelter and the new county health department.

Westmoreland said commissioners had also installed generators at all five of the county's fire stations.

Westmoreland said the completion of the Collins P. Lee project in the Harrisburg neighborhood was next, along with the new aquatic center at the Walter B. Williams Jr. Park.

He vowed to continue working hard to make Baldwin County as safe and as vibrant a community as he possibly can going forward.

Westmoreland said he will continue keeping his constituents as abreast on issues as possible and work closely with fellow commissioners and other local and state government leaders on issues.

After Little, Peacock and Westmoreland spoke, a question and answer period was held.