— County Supervisors Chancery Clerk and Justice Court Candidates
— Involving Candidates Who Have Primary Opponents
The first part of a two-part CLOPAC forum was held Tuesday, June 28th at the Columbus Municipal Complex. This part involved candidates for justice court judge, county supervisors and chancery clerk who had primary opponents in either the Democrat or Republican Primary races which will be held on August 2nd. Political journalist Sid Salter moderated the event. Salter explained that District 2 Justice Court Judge candidate Wyatt Mills had pulled out of the race. Therefore no primary race will be held for that office. Ron Cooke (Republican) will face Ted Richards (independent) in the November general election.
District 1 Justice Court Judge Chris Hemphill has no opposition, so the only primary candidates were in District 3 where longtime Judge Peggy Phillips faces a Democrat primary challenge from attorney Monique Montgomery. Salter introduced Judge Phillips, who spoke first.
“Good Afternoon,’ Judge Phillips began, “I’d like to honor my God and Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for me being here today…and the blessings He gives to all of us. And to the members of CLOPAC, thank you for your committment to keep the citizens of Lowndes County informed as to the qualifications and platforms of the candidates.”
“I am Peggy Phillips, a lifelong resident of Lowndes County and the 3rd judicial district, which consist of supervisor districts 4 and 5. I am the incumbent justice court judge and the senior judge in Lowndes County. I also serve as the Northern Vice-President of the Mississippi Justice Court Judges Association. My qualifications consist of over 1500 hours of continuing education from the Mississippi Judicial College, and the experience of civil and criminal court cases that I have heard. I am a full time judge with no other job and I’m dedicated to continue to serve the citizens of Lowndes County with a court of integrity, fairness, impartiality with firm court decisions. My performance speaks for itself…experience counts! Keep Judge Phillips working for you…please go to the polls on August 2nd and vote for the Democrat Candidate Peggy Phillips as your justice court judge. Thank you and God bless.”
Salter then called challenger Monique Montgomery to the podium (As she made her way to the podium, Montgomery stopped to hug her opponent in a show of respect for Judge Phillips. RW) “Good evening…I am attorney Monique Brooks Montgomery. I grew up here in Lowndes County. I went to elementary school at Demonstration. I went on to Hunt, Joe Cook and graduated S.D. Lee High in 1984. I then left and went to Southern Miss (University), finished with a paralegal degree…got a speech, communications degree also. I left Southern Miss and went to Atlanta, working corporate America. The most exciting job was serving in the international CNN newsroom. I did that for two years. I worked in their legal department, moved up to their international legal department and decided to come back home to go to law school. Went to Mississippi College School of Law. Graduated in 1995. Have practiced in Lowndes County for 14 years. I have over 150 COE hours in the practice of law. I’ve handled civil cases, criminal cases. I served as a public defender in Clay County for two years. I am currently a city prosecutor in Noxubee County. I ask for your support because it is my desire to serve as your next justice court judge in District 3. I have served this community in civic organizations. I’m a member of Delta Sigma-Beta Sorority. I’ve served this community through my church where my husband is the pastor of Missionary Union Baptist Church. I have been appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to serve as Women in the Professional Law for women in this community on gender fairness. I am a parent of three children who are students in the Columbus city schools. And…once again, it is my desire to serve you as your next justice court judge in District 3. Please supoort me, vote for Monique Montgomery to serve you in the way that the Lord has called me to do…Thank you.”
Salter reminded the gathering that Leon Hines had previously pulled out of the race for District 3 judge. Salter then called forward the chancery clerk primary opponents of incumbent Lisa Neese and challenger Andre Roberts, both Democrats. Republican candidate Susan Robinson is running unopposed so therefore did not speak at the forum. Salter began by informing the candidates that they had two minutes each for introduction. Incumbent Neese was the first to speak.
“I am Lisa Younger Neese and I am seeking re-election for chancery clerk for Lowndes County and I would like to thank CLOPAC for inviting me tonight. I am a lifelong resident of Lowndes County and I have been married to Michael Neese for 24 years. I am a member of the First Baptist Church. I am a member of the Link and I serve as an ambassador there. I’m a member of the Exchange Club, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council, Steens Community Center and I have chaired for United Way. I am also active in volunteering for Market Street. I have served as your chancery clerk since 2004. From 1983 till 2003, I have served as deputy clerk in the Land Records and in the court department. I have completed 8 annual sessions of specialized training in the Mississippi Chancery Court Clerks Association and many hours of specialized training from the Mississippi Judicial College.”
Salter said, “Next…we will hear from Andre Roberts…Mr. Roberts.”
“Good evening. My name is Andre Roberts…I was born in Lowndes County. I’m 37 years old…a father of 6. I was married once. I believe in family and I believe in God. I work in construction and in a factory. I’m majoring in psychology at EMCC. I know what it’s like to be hungry, without gas, for my lights to be off. I’m an ordained minister. Thank you.”
Salter said, “Alright…that completes our opening statements of qualifications…we will now move to question and answer. We will alternate on who goes first or second on question and answer. Our first question will go to Mrs. Neese…you will have two minutes to answer and then the same question will go to Mr. Roberts. What are you prepared to do to make the chancery clerks office the most technologically advanced office in the state in the next four years, including things like goin’ paperless and providing full online access? How can that be funded?
Neese responded, “Currently I’m online, but we’re in the discovery stage of allowing the service to the general public. Right now…2002, we started scanning every page that is recorded and we’ve been doing that ever since then. I plan to, as far as paperless, it would be great and save a lot of money for Lowndes County and the state. I’ll do anything I can to better Lowndes County in my office. We are on the internet but you do have to pay for the service as of now. Delta Systems Communications right now. When a paralegal or attorney comes in, she or he can go to my office and go to Greg Andrews office, the tax collector down the street, and they can access any information from mine or his office. So we do have internet access. It was one of my goals and for the future of my office.”
Salter said, “Ok…the same question for Mr. Roberts?” Roberts began, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes. If it means going to the federal government for funds or…I can’t tell you exactly what I would do, but I know once I get in there, hands on…I’ll give my all. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Salter said, “Next question, first to Mr. Roberts. Should incomes for chancery clerk’s across the state be capped, and if so, what should the scale be?
Roberts answered, “I don’t think they should be capped. I know the chancery clerk in Hinds County…uh, don’t quote me on that, they make like $396,000 and the one in Monroe County made like…$174,000…don’t quote me on those figures, but…the chancery clerk has a lot to do with passports and court records, child custody…I don’t think they should be capped.”
Salter said, “Alright, same question for Mrs. Neese?”
Neese answered, “Yes, I do believe they should be capped. The cap is $90,000. And I believe that’s a fair amount. I do have a lot of responsibilities…I do recordings, I make sure everyone is satisfied, I treat the public the best I can and try to make everyone happy. A lot of things like passports, like Andre said, is what we do…of course that’s over the cap. But I do believe there should be a cap because the amount is just fair enough.”
Salter said, “Ok. Next question, and we’ll go first to Mrs. Neese. How would you recommend that training be improved for your staff and for clerks across the state?” Neese answered, “The association is working on having our deputy clerks attend school. They should go to school as well as the chancery clerks. More modern technique and more computerized lessons should be taught to them. I have a great staff and they’re doing a great job.”
Salter then asked Roberts the same question. Roberts said, “The same as Mrs. Lisa said…more schooling, board meetings. Just supply them with whatever they need.”Salter said, “Ok. Final question. We’ll go first to Mr. Roberts. What’s the biggest single problem you see in the chancery clerk’s office?” Roberts answered, “I don’t see any big problems, but, I just want to lead by example.”
Salter said, “Ok…Mrs. Neese, same question?” Neese said, “My office…Lowndes County’s office of chancery clerk in my mind, I think it’s a great office. The only problem I see is that we need more modern computer technical equipment…something for us to update and learn to provide faster service to the public…and to be able to serve the public from home so they’ll be able to work at home…and that would be a great advantage for my office. I plan to work on that.”
Salter said, “Ok. That completes the questions that CLOPAC has prepared for the chancery clerk candidates. It’s now time to enter into closing statements. Since Mrs. Neese went first in opening statements, we’ll invite Mr. Roberts to go first in closing statements…you have one minute.”
Roberts began his closing statement, “Like I said earlier, I’m a family man. I believe in God. I know what it’s like to look for a job and can’t find one. To call for help and can’t get it, and knowing that the individual would help you. I’ll use my position to the fullest…bringing in jobs, lowering the gas prices…every way possible for this county.”
Salter said, “Ok, now for the closing statement from Mrs. Neese.” Neese began, “I have the best staff with a total of 120 years of experience. I have 8 years as chancery clerk, 28 years total including deputy clerk. I do believe that experience makes a difference. I care about the people of Lowndes County. And I’m always at your service. And on August 2nd, I’d appreciate it if you’d vote for me and re-elect me as your chancery clerk.”
(Note: Because of the length of the supervisors question and answer period, only the opening statements will be ran here)
Salter then asked the supervisors candidates to take their seats at the podium. This included only those with primary opponents. District 4 supervisor candidate Howard Smart didn’t attend, therefore there was no question and answer session involving District 4 candidates. Those who took their seats were District 1 candidates Harry Sanders (incumbent) and Phillip Atkins (challenger in the August 2nd Republican Primary). District 2 candidates Frank Ferguson (incumbent) and his Republican Primary challenger, Bill Brigham. And District 5 candidates Leroy Brooks (incumbent) and his Democrat Primary challenger Kenneth McFarland.
Salter informed the candidates they would have 2 minutes each for opening statements. He began with an opening statement from District 1 candidate Harry Sanders.
Sanders said, “My name is Harry Sanders and I’m the incumbent Republican candidate for District 1 supervisor. I’m a lifelong resident of Lowndes County, and I’ve lived in District 1 for over 40 years. I graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Mississippi State University. I majored in management and minored in transportation. I worked for Sanders Oil Corporation for 30 years, retiring as president and chairman of the board. Therefore I understand the issues that come up in business and how to work through these issues. I am married to Norma Sanders, a business technology teacher at Caledonia High. I’ve been a supervisor for the past 11 and a half years and board president for the last 7 and a half years. I am running again so that I can continue to work for growth and prosperity for Lowndes County. One of the most important things about being a supervisor is controlling county expenditures through a budget and raising revenue through taxation. Which we’ve been able to do as a board of supervisors without raising our millage. Working with numbers is no obstacle for me as I’ve been dealing with county figures for the last 11 and a half years. Along the way, I’ve been instrumental in moving the county forward in areas of economic development and financial stability. I’ve worked hard to land major industries such as Severstal, Paccar, Eurocopter and Aurora for Lowndes County. And to keep existing industries such as Weyerhaeuser, Baldor, Omnova and most importantly our largest employer, Columbus Air Force Base. Under my leadership, I’ve also worked for approval and construction of a new health department, justice court building, tax office and administration building and soccer complex. Growing up in a business orientated family taught me the value of hard work and that you can delegate authority but you can’t delegate responsibility. I will continue to bring these lessons to our county everyday. Thank you.”
Phillip Atkins began his opening statement, “Good evening everyone. Ladies and gentleman, my name is Phillip Atkins. I am a Republican candidate for supervisor of District 1. I’m a lifelong resident of the district. I’m proud to be a citizen of Lowndes County. I’ve been in the construction business for over 35 years as a concrete contractor. I’m also known as a builder/distributor for Ceco Steel Buildings in Columbus. I’m a member of the board of contractors for the state of Mississippi. I am a licensed contractor. I am a hunter and boat safety instructor for the state of Mississippi. I’m a life member of the National Rifle Association. I’m an active member of the Selected Services board for the federal government…which is what we used to know as the draft board. I’m a co-sponsor of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Troop 9 in Caledonia. I’m co-founder and past president and vice-president of the Caledonia Supper Club. I’m a member and currently president of the Columbus 12 Man Supper Club, the last 10 years as president. I’m a member of the Sons of the American Legion, Post 69. I’m an active member and vice-president of the Steens Community Center. I have a GED diploma and attended EMCC.”
District 2 candidate Frank Ferguson was next up with his opening statement. “I am Frank Ferguson and I’m running for re-election. I appreciate the opportunity to be here tonight. I ran for this position 3 and a half years ago. Because I thought we needed better government, I thought we could improve the board of supervisors. I also saw the trend forming where we had better industry in this county, a trend that had already been set before I got there. I have helped continue that trend. We’ve gotten many industries…I was in the office supply business for 40 years. And I knew that I had my finger on the pulse on what was happening in Lowndes County and business-wise. And if ya’ll were to remember that less than 10 years ago, Columbus and Lowndes County was not in a good position…we had lost a lot of industry, we didn’t have a lot to look forward too. But in the meantime, that has changed tremendously. Our rating has gone, up, out of site as far as what anybody thinks of this county. I’ve lived here for 70 years, im the oldest candidate up here…I don’t know if that makes any difference or not. (laughter). I’m running for re-election for the simple reason I don’t think I’ve finished the job. I don’t think the job will ever be finished but I’m asking for one more term so that I can help finish what I’ve started. I’m married to Delores Smith for the last 51 years…I hope I got that right (more laughter) and we have 2 children, 4 grand-children and 1 great grandchild. Which makes me the monarch of a 4-generation family, which I’m very proud of. I think is fairly unique. But I want to continue what I’ve started to improve on the opportunities that we have in Lowndes County to get more industry in, better education . Thank you”
Next opening statement came from District 2 challenger Bill Brigham. “Bill Brigham, your candidate for supervisor, District 2. I’m married to Allegra, and many of ya’ll know Allegra. She’s been in the public eye more than I have. We’ve been married for 43 years. We have 2 children and 5 grandchildren. And I have told many people that…behind every good woman, is a good man! (laughter). I graduated from S.D. Lee High School, some of ya’ll out there won’t even remember that. I was president of my senior class, I was elected to the Hall of Fame, and believe it or not, we had a pretty good athletic department and I was most-athletic. Now I know most of ya’ll don’t believe that (more laughter). I graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in banking and finance, which I think enables me to look at financial statements. I’ve had 41 years in banking and finance. I graduated also from Mississippi School of banking at Ole Miss. So I’ve got a degree from Mississippi State, Ole Miss and to round it out I got a degree from the banking of the South at LSU, all of this in banking and finance. I served 6 years in the Air Force Reserve and I’ve lived here all my life, so everything I’ve done has been here in Lowndes County. Even my 6 years in the Air Force Reserve, I served right out here at the hospital on the base. Having served in banking, many of you out there I’ve served you in many capacities. For some of you that’d be good and some not so good, but I’ve enjoyed my relationship with all of you. I’m an active member of First Baptist Church where I’m a Deacon, I’m treasurer of the church. I currently serve on the Columbus Foundation board, the YMCA board and Keep Mississippi Beautiful, it’s a state board that meets in Jackson. I have served on many previous boards too, I’ve served as a board of director of First Federal Bank, Heritage School president, The Columbus Kiwanis board , The Columbus/Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, now known as Link. I’ve been involved in many charitable organizations also. Through the years as volunteer of The American Red Cross, Kennedy Foundation, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In 2001 I was chosen by the Columbus Junior Auxillary as Pilgrimage King and that is awarded based on service to our youth in our community.”
Next up with opening statement was District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks. “Good evening, I’m Leroy Brooks, a native son of District 5 of Lowndes County. I’d like to say to the citizens of District 5, I appreciate the support you have given me during my tenure for the past 28 years. District 5 of Lowndes County is a district of diversity, black and white, rich and poor, working class retired, educated and not so educated. But these are the people that I’ve come to know and love during my 28 years on the board. In 1983 at age 30, I was elected as the youngest member of the Board of Supervisors. The citizens of District 5 sent me to be a voice of change. I came prepared to do the job at length. On my wall hung a bachelor of masters degree I earned at Mississippi State. In my special case lay the Air Force Commendation medal I earned as a good soldier in the United States Air Force. On my side was my wife and two little children and in my mind was the images of poor people working in the hay fields and cotton fields of the prairie where I had worked as a boy. I cannot forget the children that played ball in the fields avoiding cow patties and rough terrain. I can still imagine the roughness of gravel roads that I walked on while other people had nice paved roads. I came with a passion and determination to be an agent of change, I don’t have to talk about my work…it speaks for itself. Throughout District 5, roads are paved without regard social status. The hayfields and cotton fields have been replaced by plants such as Severstal, Paccar, American Eurocopter and people are making decent livings. Children are now playing in playgrounds with swings and merry-go-rounds and community centers are a place where senior citizens go and piece quilts and reminisce about days gone by. On my 28 year journey, I’ve chatted with presidents, met with senators and representatives to tell the story of Lowndes County. I’ve spared jobs with federal bureaucrats, lobbied with state Legislators and helped draft policies with governors. I’ve even helped shape the minds and thoughts of your children as a Political Science instructor at Mississippi State for 18 years. I can leave her tonight without paper or pencil…”
Next was District 5 challenger Kenneth McFarland. “First let me thank CLOPAC and all of you for coming to hear us tonight. My name is Kenneth McFarland. And, for those of you who don’t know, I’m not from here. But I am here now. I fought in the first Iraq war and my son, who is now in Atlanta, Georgia, fought in Iraq war No. 2. We paid the price to be in this community or any other community. And run for any office that we choose. I believe that’s what the Constitution states. I am a consensus-builder. We have to work together to solve problems. No longer can we seperate ourselves and get anything done. If we work together, there are so many things that we can accomplish here in Lowndes County. Lowndes County must be the best because we all live here and we want it to be the best. I’ve worked with kids in the Columbus city school system, and kids understand that…they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And if we don’t care about the people of the community, then we can only go as far as we can go and then we have to move on. What I want to do is work hard for Columbus and Lowndes County and all the municipalities within to get things done. That means black and white and any other nationality in this community. I believe we can do it. I did say Columbus and Lowndes County is the best because it is. And I believe that you know that because you are here. We have to stop allowing people to pass through the community, we want them to live here and love being here. That means we have to come together. My qualifications states that I am that consensus builder. if we partner together, we can get things done. I believe the Bible says it best. When we come together where there’s 2 or 3 gathered together, we can do anything, we can accomplish anything. By the way, I am a Baptist minister and I’m not ashamed of that, because, my dad always taught me that if you do what God says, then He will do the rest. I’m looking forward to working with this community and being your county supervisor in District 5.”