There are four candidates seeking to succeed Probate Court Judge DeWitt Simonton, who announced he will not seek re-election.
Jan Hunt, 63, is an associate Probate judge in Spalding County Probate Court. Her campaign Facebook page is Jan Hunt for Probate Judge.
Cary Pope, 65, retired June 1 as chief financial officer, secretary and treasurer of PetroSouth Inc. His campaign website is www.facebook.com/electcarypope.
Kaye Landrum Norris, 54, is operations manager at Storage Village. Her campaign website is www.kayelnorris.com.
Gerald Bailey, 69, is an insurance agent with Generations Insurance. He does not have a campaign website at this time.
All four candidates were invited to participate and were asked the following questions. Their responses are listed in order received.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FACING SPALDING COUNTY AND HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS IT?
HUNT: This question is probably best addressed by the Board of County Commissioners. The judge of Probate Court is an elected official with specific responsibilities. The law requires that judges must remain impartial and abide by the rules of judicial conduct. Judges must respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
POPE: Two issues. The erosion of our tax base due to declining property values and high unemployment. Property values will gradually recover as the economy improves. All of us should think local when making a purchasing decision. Do your best to support the local economy. Unemployment will also improve along with the economy. However, we should continue to support programs that target education. The better educated you are, the better your chance of getting a job.
NORRIS: The biggest challenge facing Spalding County today is the lack of growth. The solution is to attract and promote new business and industry. This will generate new jobs, new homeowners and attract more retail businesses. This resulting growth will increase our sales tax and property tax collections and perhaps eventually reduce property taxes, thus attracting more residents. It is important that we speak positively about our community. We need to promote all educational alternatives to further qualify our local labor force to attract new employers. Growth in Spalding County will raise the standard of living in our community and encourage our citizens to spend their money locally.
BAILEY: I believe the biggest problem facing Spalding County right now is the unemployment rate of almost 11 percent. We need a diligent search for new industry, be it several smaller factories, businesses or a major industry that would bring hundreds if not thousands of new jobs to Griffin. Education and drug abuse are the other areas where Spalding County needs to be focused on.
WHAT POLICIES OR PROCEDURES IN THIS OFFICE DO YOU THINK NEED TO BE CHANGED AND WHY? AND HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THEM?
HUNT: The Probate Court of Spalding County has for a long time had in place policies and procedures that demand employees be kind, courteous and respectful to anyone who enters the office. I see no need to change any of those policies or procedures. Customer service is always a priority and improvements will be addressed as necessary.
Probate judges must diligently discharge their judicial and administrative responsibilities as provided by law and the Official Code of Georgia. The Judicial Counsel of Probate Judges takes suggested changes to the Legislature for their consideration and from there it is up to the Legislature to introduce those changes.
POPE: Judge Simonton has had a very successful 27-year career as Probate judge. His policies and procedures have obviously worked. You don’t fix something that’s not broke. However, I will bring a new prospective to the position. Also, I will stress the continued education of the employees of the Probate Court and will use technology to make the court as efficient and effective as possible.
NORRIS: Accounting practices in the Probate office need to be updated. Currently the office uses a manual bookkeeping system and manual receipt system. What is needed is financial accounting software with a general ledger to provide a system of checks and balances. The possibility to take credit cards needs to be investigated to make the payment of fees more convenient to the citizens of Spalding County. All policies and procedures are spelled out by the O.C.G.A. As far as any other changes, it will be a matter of observation and evaluation.
BAILEY: If elected, I would make no major policy or procedure changes. I will be focused on the job at hand. Mr. Simonton has provided excellent leadership and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS OR EXPERIENCE DO YOU BRING TO THE OFFICE?
HUNT: I have been employed by the Spalding County Probate Court since 1989. During those 23 years I was clerk of Probate Court until 2007, when I was appointed chief clerk. I served in that capacity until 2009, when the retiring judge appointed me as his associate Probate judge. Along with that appointment I also still have the duties of chief clerk, which include processing each petition that is filed with Probate Court. During the last five years as chief clerk and associate judge I have had over 70 hours of clerks training and have for the past three years attended the yearly Probate judges seminar at UGA in Athens. I have received FBI and GBI training for the issuance of weapons carry licenses. If you have a choice of experience or inexperience, I ask that you vote for Probate Court experience.
POPE: Education: A degree in accounting from the University of Georgia. Experience: certified public accountant, 14 years as chief financial officer of PetroSouth. Maturity: 43-year career in increasingly senior positions of responsibility and authority. Skills: Skilled at interpretation and application of laws, such as generally accepted accounting principles, state and federal tax laws, estates and trusts.
NORRIS: After receiving my bachelor’s degree from Brenau College and following a short stint as an educator, I began a 25-year career in the mortgage business, where I climbed the ladder from an entry-level position to corporate officer. I served as director of quality control, training director, corporate compliance officer and branch operations manager for large, nationally known financial institutions. Not only performing these roles, but also writing manuals for each function to ensure compliance with state and federal mandates. Currently, I am operations manager for Storage Village Inc., a family-owned self-storage management and development business with six facilities and 14 employees. I manage all six stores and oversee compliance with the Georgia Lien Law. I have volunteered my time and talents to the citizens of Spalding County, serving as a poll manager since 2004 and serving on the Board of Elections and Registration since 2010.
BAILEY: Most of my adult working life has been in servicing the needs of insurance in the property and casualty category. Even as a young boy, I worked five years delivering The Griffin Daily News six days a week, “rain, snow, sleet or shine, the news had to be delivered.”
WHAT MAKES YOU THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR THIS OFFICE?
HUNT: With the 23 years that I have spent in Probate Court no other candidate can claim the knowledge of probate law that has been gained by the classroom training and on-the-job training. No other candidate has firsthand knowledge of the everyday operation of Probate Court that I have, and certainly no other candidate can provide the citizens of Spalding County as smooth a transition from the current administration to the new one as I can. My years of commitment to Spalding County speak for itself.
POPE: The Probate judge role involves understanding the law, interpreting it and applying it. The situations where people face the Probate Court are typically situations of distress dealing with the loss of a loved one, the responsibility of executing the will of the deceased, the decision to declare a loved one incapacitated, etc. The Probate judge needs to have the right education and experience, he needs to be mature and compassionate. I am confident that I am that person.
NORRIS: With over 29 years of professional experience, I have the proven management, leadership and customer service background to make a difference as Probate judge. I am committed to this community and to the citizens of Spalding County as evidenced by my record of public service. I will bring a fresh and younger approach to the tradition of excellence set by the retiring Probate judge. As a candidate for this public service position, I have made myself available throughout this campaign, and if elected, I will continue to do so. My broad background and proven track record provides me with the ability, skills and experience necessary to be the next Spalding County Probate judge.
BAILEY: Like the three other candidates, I am trusting the voters to make that final determination. I hope and pray the voters of Spalding County will come out in strong numbers and use their right to go to the polls to choose the person they feel can do the best job.