Crowd of approximately 200 attends forum By Sid Riley
On the evening of Thursday, June 12 the Panhandle Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Coalition sponsored a political forum for the ten candidates currently running for the position of Sheriff of Jackson County. A crowd of approximately two hundred supporters and citizens attended the event which was hosted by Tom Lewis, from WTVJ in Panama City.
Campaigning inside the auditorium was prohibited, but the crowd engaged in a form of silent promotion of their selected candidate thru a wide assortment of promotional apparel including hats, tee shirts, fans, pins, badges and probably tattoos and screen printed underwear. It was interesting to see the array of ten candidates sitting on the stage in a formal setting.
The program began with presentations from PANDAAP staff members who described the mission and history of PANDAAP. This was followed by a presentation by the beautiful and energetic Sarah Martinez, who is working with PANDAAP as she holds the title of Miss Sunshine State, and will compete for the title of Miss Teen USA later this year.
Scott Gosnell from the Supervisor of Elections Department explained the upcoming election schedules and processes. Some of the information provided included the following rules:
- A person can change political parties up to 29 days prior to the election, which in this case will be July 28.
- A person can vote an absentee ballot without giving any reason. All that is needed is to call or stop by the Supervisor of Elections Offices.
- Early voting will begin two weeks prior to the election date of August 26, which will be August 11. The Supervisor of Elections offices will be open from 8:30 to 4:40 Monday thru Friday for that purpose.
- On election day the precincts will be open from 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM.
The forum began with a reading of the biography of each of the ten candidates. PANDAAP had prepared six questions for the forum, and these questions were provided for the candidates several days prior to the event. Thus, each candidate had prepared in advance their responses to each of the questions.
The questions were designed to reveal the candidate’s philosophy on drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and abuse by youths. In general, the responses were similar, with some taking a more firm stance on the issues than others. As the candidates responded randomly to the questions, the audience was able to determine which performed most professionally in a public setting.
The five questions used from the six questions that were prepared were:
1. What behaviors do you expect your staff to model for today’s youth? What actions will you take if your staff does not follow your guidelines?
Answer: Generally, the candidates replied that they would demand professional and moral behavior from their staff at all times, on and off duty. Those failing to follow rules of conduct would be subject to disciplinary action and if repeated, dismissal.
2. What would you do to educate the public on the subject of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use?
Answer: Most candidates stated that they would have the Sheriff’s Department work closely with all of the agencies already in place for these programs. They would also increase education processes in the schools, believing that a key part of the program is early education on the dangers of these activities at grade school level.
3. Experts state that youths engaging in "high risk" behavior is at a crisis level. What do you see as the role of law enforcement in reducing high risk behavior by youth?
Answer: The candidates responded that dealing with individual problems as they are detected, involving the youth’s parents in the corrective processes, and having the deputies engage as role models for in-school programs are all useful techniques for reducing this problem.
4. What will be your policy on handling the individuals involved in underage drinking?
Answer: The answers to this question varied considerably. Most felt that involving the parents in the first incident, engaging the youth in "teen court", and involving counseling programs were better than having a conviction entered into the permanent record of the youth. This opinion prevailed because of the secondary penalties imposed by insurance companies, elimination for consideration for state employment, and prevention from entry into many professions if a conviction is on the youth’s record. However, a few others felt that the youth should be prosecuted to the maximum at first offense.
5. How soon after taking office will you implement your vision and policies?
Answer: The common responses to this question were "from day one", and "I will hit the ground running". Some did recognize the requirement for a brief period of orientation and review at the very beginning.
Political forums in Graceville, Sneads, and Marianna are scheduled for August 7, 12, and 21, in the weeks just preceding the August 26 election date. These forums will include candidates for all positions on the ballot. These events are being sponsored by the Jackson County Democratic Party, the Jackson County Republican Party, Chipola Television Channel 4 (CCTV-4), and the Jackson County Times. These should be informative and exciting events. Please plan to attend.