WESTVILLE - West Pittman Baptist Church hosted the first in a series of local political forums Saturday, July 5.
About 20 local residents came out for the opportunity to ask questions of candidates for the school board's District 1, 3 and 5 seats and candidates for the District 2 Holmes County Board of Commissioners (HCBCC) seat.
Candidates in attendance were school board candidates for District 5, incumbent Sid Johnson and challenger Drew Kriser; District 2 incumbent Jason Motley; District 1 incumbent Rusty Williams (unopposed), and District 2 HCBOCC incumbent, Monty Merchant. Merchant's challenger, Mickey Locke, did not respond to the church's invitation, and District 2 school board challenger, Alan Justice, sent his regrets that he was out of town on the day of the forum.
Moderating the event was West Pittman Baptist Church Pastor Eddie Eaton, who asked candidates to introduce themselves before beginning the question and answer session by asking about each candidate's spiritual beliefs.
All proclaimed Christain faith, and school board candidates expressed a desire to promote Creationism in Holmes County schools as opposed to Evolution.
School board candidates also answered questions about Common Core, and all stated they are opposed to students here participating in the program.
"I don't know if anyone understand Common Core, and I definitely oppose it," said Williams. "I want our students to be exposed to the best possible education they can get, and Common Core isn't it."
"I'm opposed as well," added Kriser. "It's another example of the federal government getting too much involvement. Decisions about education should be handled on the local level."
Motley added that Common Core is now referred to as Florida Higher Standards - and can have an affect on teachers' effectiveness. "Not every student who comes through our door learns the same way, and our teachers need to be able to adapt." he said.
"I don't know what the (best curriculum) is for out students, but it's not Common Cree," said Johnson.
When asked how they would respond to recent accusations made in a board meeting that school staff was hired through nepotism or favoritism, candidates had a definitive answer as to how residents could ensure this wasn't the case.
"We are held to Sunshine Law ethics," said Motley. "It specifically says in our guidelines that we can't vote for (the hiring of a family member). Anyone with concerns about a teacher or administrator's qualifications can look it up on the (Florida Department of Education's) website."
"Guidelines are in place," agreed Williams. "It is our duty and moral obligation to have a legal and ethic reason to vote yes or no for someone's hiring."
Johnson weighed in, saying he practiced the board's guidelines by recusing himself from a vote that would employ his niece's husband.
"We stick to the rules," he said.
Monty Merchant was the sole Board of County Commissioners candidate present but still took questions.
Merchant mainly addressed questions about upcoming road projects, including the replacement of 17 bridges in the county, which will be funded by federal money.
When asked how the county would provide checks and balances for funds to ensure Holmes County didn't find itself in a situation similar to neighboring Washington County, which recently approved a five cents fuel levy to help bring the county out of debt, he said it was all about paying attention.
"The board closely monitors every dime in and out," said Merchant. "We are not a rich county, and the majority of our funds come from grants. When we receive financial reports, we review them carefully."
West Pittman Baptist Church will host two more forums before the Primary Election.
The next forum is set for 6 p.m. Saturday, July 26, with candidates for County Commission District 4 and District 5 State Representative.
Another will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, August 16, with candidates for Circuit Judge, Commissioner of Agriculture, Attorney General, and Chief Financial Officer.
The church is located 1599 Bradley Road in Westville. For more information, call the church office at 956-4100.