WALKER COUNTY, Ga. — The July 31 election is weeks away, but interest is already strong -- judging from the standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night for a candidates' forum at the Walker County Civic Center.
Candidates for 14 offices ranging from school board to state representative were invited to the forum held by the Walker County Chamber of Commerce.
Each candidate had three minutes to respond to a single question that varied from office to office, and issues ranged widely during the two-hour forum.
Incumbent County Coroner W. Dewayne Wilson said parents need education about the dangers of killing an infant accidentally while "co-sleeping," or having the child in the parents' bed instead of a crib.
He also brought up prescription abuse as a preventable cause of death.
"Our overdose rate on prescription drugs is just crazy," Wilson said.
His opponent, Don Richie, was up front about not having formal coroner's experience, but said he understood the need for compassion, since he lost four family members in a year.
"I'll do my best to get death certificates out in a timely manner," Richie promised.
A few jabs were thrown during candidates' comments; every candidate had a chance for a 30-second rebuttal.
Sheriff candidate Freddie Roden said there were "documented cases" of the jail's gate being left open, allowing inmates to escape.
During his rebuttal, incumbent Sheriff Steve Wilson shot back, "We have never had an escape from inside the jail."
Wilson added that nonviolent criminals, such as those in child-support cases, have walked off work crews.
Sole commissioner challenger G. Paul Shaw promised to hold a special election during his second year in office, if he's elected, to establish a five-person County Commission.
"I want to be the last solo commissioner of Walker County," he said.
Incumbent Bebe Heiskell defended the institution, saying it's what county residents want.
"This office is about leadership," she said. "There is no buck-passing."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.