Conducted at the Cherokee County Republican Party Headquarters and sponsored by the Republican Party, the night kicked off with Coroner Earl Darby and Probate Judge Keith Wood, both unopposed, addressing the audience.
Elected coroner in 1993, Darby is a lifelong Cherokee resident and the longtime owner of Darby Funeral Home.
“I think we do a good job and for some reason if you think we don’t, we will do everything we can to do better,” Darby said.
Wood, who has served in the county’s probate court since 2004, was elected in 2008 as probate judge. Wood said his court employs nine individuals with a combined 80 years of experience.
“I try to hire the best, and I try to retain the best,” Wood said. “The goals are to continue to serve our public in the way they expect—to continue passion, good service and good work.”
Of the four District 23 candidates, Mandi Ballinger, Dean Sheridan and Alan Shinall were present. Otis “Harold” Welchel was notably absent, and he was also not in attendance at the recent candidate forum at Cagle’s Family Farm.
Welchel said Tuesday he was not notified of the debate until Friday afternoon and had already made a prior commitment Monday night.
Sheridan began the debate by saying that though he has not been a visible figure in the county, his interest in politics started a couple of years ago when he was concerned about a “paradigm shift” where bills were being passed that concerned him.
“I’ve always been a tireless worker and one of the reasons I was always so successful in past businesses is because I was I always the kind of person who was working instead of sleeping, and I want to be that kind of person for you,” Sheridan said.
Ballinger said her experience as a victim advocate for the District Attorney’s office and other non-profit organizations, serving on the board of the Cherokee County Arts Center and being a mother are just a few of the qualifications that make her a good fit for the role.
“I’ve been very involved in the community and I’ll bring that involvement to the table,” Ballinger said.
Shinall said he is going to represent the people of District 23 effectively.
“It’s the representation of the district that’s important (to me),” Shinall said.
When asked what the biggest issue each candidate saw facing the state, most focused on economic development.
Ballinger said government is struggling with reduced revenues and her proposed solution is the elimination of the state income tax and introducing the fair tax.
Sheridan said jobs and home values are a major issue facing Cherokeeans and that he is going to look for ways to get rid of regulations for businesses.
Shinall said a lot of people pay lip service to those ideas, but he knows how to get the job done as he has already implemented solutions as a business owner.
“I think we need to have a pro-business climate here in Georgia with a lot less burdensome regulations that stifle the businesses that make it almost impossible for incentives to be worthwhile,” Shinall said.
All of the candidates said they were supportive of school choice, with Shinall adding he would like to change school funding so it is not tied to tax digest values.
Sheridan, a father of four, said all of his children attended or currently attend public schools and each of them received a quality education.
“If you take a look at the millage rate, there’s nowhere left to go. We can’t increase the millage rate,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan added that charter schools follow a more “fiscally sound” business model and spend less money per child and said the public school system should take cues from the charter school financial model.
Ballinger disagreed, saying it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. She said her nephew, a special needs student who passed away at age 8, received many special services from the Cherokee County School District during the time he attended public school.
“Those students don’t fit into that category whenever we’re considering price per student,” Ballinger said. “And we need to keep those kids in mind… Whatever those children’s needs are, we need to give them the best.”
Every candidate also opposed the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, as many local Republican candidates have vocally contested in previous debates.